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World of Kanako, The
Although they have not seen each other in years -- since the night he discovered the man she was having an affair with, crashed his car into their car, and mercilessly assaulted her lover -- Kiriko (Asuka Kurosawa) calls her ex-husband Akikazu (Koju Yakusho) to investigate the disappearance of their daughter, Kanako (Nana Komatsu). Akikazu, a bitter alcoholic, is still bursting with rage at Kiriko's infidelity and hardly knows anything about his daughter, but he agrees to find out anyway. Starting with a small tin of drugs, left behind in a purse, his search quickly begins to turn up evidence that Kanako was not just an innocent schoolgirl, but some sort of deranged mastermind, who not only dealt drugs but even pimped out fellow classmates, and had ties to the Yakuza. Before long, bodies start to pile up all over the place, and as Akikazu gets deeper and deeper into his daughter's whereabouts, he starts to lose his already tenuous grip on his own sanity.
There are many things to dislike about Kanako, but the filmmakers' repulsive treatment of women is the element laid on the thickest. Given Kanako is a critical assignment, I resolved to make it through to the end (an ordeal), but the moment when Akikazu rapes his wife and the filmmakers seem to present it as justified due to her cheating is definitely a point I would've given up on a movie I was watching casually and turned it off. Later, Akikazu manages to one-up himself by raping another man's wife in order to get to him (before his target ends up murdering her himself, because she has the gall to be furious at the situation he's put her in). Nearly every person Akikazu interviews in his search for Kanako is a woman, and he violently assaults nearly every one of them, and most of them end up getting brutally murdered as a result of his actions. Throughout, Nakashima seems to hope we will identify with Akikazu, sympathizing with his struggle.
At the center of this misogynistic atmosphere is the character of Kanako, who is slowly painted as a temptress who manipulates everyone around her to get her own way, and then gleefully disposes of them afterward, mostly at the expense of their own lives. A flashback sequence running parallel to Akikazu's investigation involves her stringing along a doormat-like student named Boku (Hiroya Shimizu), who is brutally and mercilessly beat up by every one of the school's bullies until she taps her yakuza connection and gets him some protection. He's desperately in love with her, so this act of kindness makes him extremely receptive to her, even though she frequently treats him like trash, laughing at the wounds his bullies give him and constantly comparing him to her ex-boyfriend Ogata, who killed himself. Eventually, Nakashima arrives at two reveals: the end of Kanako's friendship with Boku and a crucial moment between Akikazu and Kanako, one of his last memories of her. The first merely paints her as a next-level sex criminal on par with her father. The latter is even worse, arguably positioning Kanako as representative of a negative stereotype of all women, and again "validating" Akikazu's hatred of her in an incredibly gross way. Although I will not spoil whether or not Kanako is found, the structure of the film means we mostly see her through flashbacks, which allows Nakashima and his co-writers to paint a narrow portrait of her. Motivation is irrelevant (outside of general "female wickedness"), and she is never allowed to develop beyond being a caricature.
The film is ridiculously violent throughout, yet most of it is just an accumulation of blood and the generally scummy atmosphere of the film congealing rather than anything especially graphic (with the exception of a scene where a gangster steps on someone's exposed internal organs through a hole in their stomach). Akikazu starts out the day in a white suit that quickly turns into a blood sponge. The opening credits, with the cartoon font and blues-y theme music, suggest that Nakashima is yet another filmmaker influenced by Tarantino's blend of style and violence, but a scene where a woman's ear is being sliced off is of course shown rather than shifting away. For some viewers, this journey into depravity might be thrilling, darkly funny, or even moving in some sort of odd, deranged way. Personally, I'll leave the world of Kanako to them.
The World of Kanako arrives in a boxy transparent Blu-ray case in the same style that PS3 games use. The single-disc release features reversible artwork, not so much for the stylistic value but more in a "radio edit" sense, with a split screen of Akikazu and Kanako on the front of the "default" side of the sleeve, and a bloodier image of just Kanako on the reverse. Inside the case, there is a booklet with an essay on the making of the movie, a digital copy code that will get you a copy through Drafthouse's exclusive service, and a small fold-out poster.
The Video and Audio
Cinedigm and Drafthouse's 2.39:1 1080p AVC video and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio presentation of The World of Kanako is excellent. The film uses mood lighting that gives everything a rich and slightly neo-noirish appearance at times, and the contrast is fittingly well-adjusted, picking up on all sorts of nuance in shadow and smoothly rising up into the light without any banding issues. Detail is excellent (not that the film's minute details are all that appealing), picking up pores in Akikazu's sweat-covered face, and colors have a natural appearance. A fine layer of film grain is also visible. Each squish and splatter of the film's grisly mix is crisp and authentic, and plenty of atmosphere comes through as Akikazu travels from dive to hole trying to figure everything out. Music is lively. English subtitles are, of course, also provided.
There are three extras on the disc, two of which are quite substantial: "The Making of The World of Kanako" (31:25), an Interview with Actress Nana Komatsu (34:46), and an Interview With Author Akio Fukamachi (7:51). Although I did not quite have the fortitude to sit through them in full after seeing the movie, the first two take a non-traditional approach, with the former adopting a fly-on-the-wall perspective and the latter being an interesting compilation of clips with interview footage interspersed. The interview with Fukamachi is from the press junket. All are in Japanese and subtitled in English.
An original theatrical trailer and original teaser trailer for The World of Kanako are included in the special features under "Trailers." There are also trailers for Cheap Thrills, Graceland, Nothing Bad Can Happen, R100, and Why Don't You Play in Hell?.
Being a film critic isn't challenging, so the bar for a "walk-out" is pretty high. Kanako got me there before even half of its two-hour running time had passed, and would get me there again multiple times before it finally came to a close. It's a repulsive film, as clotted with hatred and shit as the suit that Akikazu is wearing by the time he finally takes it off. Skip it.
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