Ginger Nuts of Horror
Dir. Tetsuya Nakashima, Japan, 118 mins
There's always a certain sense of excitement and anticipation when approaching a Japanese film. It seems almost whatever the genre, Japan and many of the countries surrounding it have a superb reputation and many great directors to boot. The same very much holds true for extreme movies, and with many iconic films to try and follow on from The World of Kanako had plenty to live up to. This was not one of those movies I knew a great deal about coming in, but from little I had read there were a number of comparisons to Park Chan Wook's masterpiece Oldboy. So no pressure then?
It's not the kind of comparison to be made lightly, and I can see why that parallel has been drawn. It has many similar themes to Oldboy and is shot is a similar way, as well as the story unfolding in a pretty unorthodox way to show one fresh layer of darkness after another. The story itself follows a number of leads in a couple of timelines, headed by washed-up ex-detective Akikazu as he sets out on a quest to find his missing daughter Kanako and – simultaneously he hopes – enable him to make amends with his ex-wife in doing so. He's your classic lead in many respects – drowning in self-pity and copious amounts of alcohol, violent and desperate in his quest but stoically determined to do everything in his power to find his little girl. The mystery of the 'world' of Kanako actually runs pretty deep as we find out that her estranged father, her rather more close-at-hand mother and indeed some of her friends really had very little idea of what Kanako was getting up to in reality.
While Akikazu is our main current-day storyline, we have a flashback storyline following the story of a bullied boy who is defended by Kanako – and some of her more dubious connections – and the journey as he falls in love with her. But it doesn't take long for that feeling of love to become warped into something else entirely over time, as her world truly opens up to him and he finds out exactly what Kanako truly expected from any would-be suitor.
If my description seems a little all over the place, that's because the telling of it is delivered in a very complex way – we have a host of characters that we engage with, many different storylines and flashbacks to various different time periods. And while all of that is pretty great to look at, and can be exhilarating in places – I'm not a big of action fan, but I did love the many action set pieces in this movie – it's also a pretty riotous mess. To delve further into that comparison with Oldboy, The World of Kanako employs lots of the same devices but Oldboy does it in a cleaner fashion that is easier to follow. With that said, I did enjoy the tapestry of horror that is unfolded and just how dark Kanako's story does eventually get – this seemingly innocent student is involved in plenty of pretty dank dealings up to her elbows, as we find out piece by piece. It's a little like someone putting together a jigsaw which looks great but I feel is ultimately missing a few pieces to make it a true masterpiece.
There are a few other quibbles too – the film does feel overlong to me, and there's a lot in the closing stages that I could happily have lived without. In fact the last ten-fifteen minutes in my opinion don't really add anything. Akikazu's character becomes pretty extreme, and for me the acting from him and one of two other individuals becomes a bit over the top. I'm sure that was part of angling for a bizarre, hyper-real sort of feel, but it ends up coming over distinctly overplayed. There's no need to try that hard for dark and disturbing when you have this kind of story playing out.
The World of Kanako is dark, imaginative, daring film-making and as any Film Gutter regular will know, I do tend to like originality. However in this case that originality feels like it's employed in a slightly scattergun way – it's rarely boring, but can be muddled, and for that reason I can't really award it top marks despite its doubtless ambition. But I do think it is worth some good marks, so it's a highly creditable 7.5/10 here. If you like your movies loud, lively and multi-layered, then this could just be the film for you.