After enjoying an unexpected amount of success with Confessions, director Tetsuya Nakashima must've felt the pressure to make a worth-while follow-up. It took him almost twice the time than what he spent on his previous films, but he finally managed to release The World of Kanako [Kawaki]. I've been following Nakashima for quite some time now and he has never disappointed me before, so needless to say expectations for his latest were quite high. Luckily he spent that extra time well and delivered a film that was absolutely worth waiting for.
Tetsuya Nakashima (Pako to Maho no Ehon) is not exactly a stranger to international success. In 2004 he released Shimotsuma Monogatari, a film that did pretty well for itself overseas but was ultimately destined to appeal to a very specific niche. While Kiraware Matsuko no Issho enjoyed similar positive attention, Kokuhaku differentiated itself in the sense that it finally broke free of that niche and reached a much broader audience, captivating both arthouse and genre fans alike.
My educated guess is that The World of Kanako will have a hard time repeating that. Not only because it's rawer and weirder, alienating typical arthouse crowds once again, but also because it dramatically distances itself from Nakashima's earlier films. Gone are the bright colors and magical touches, instead we find grinding revenge and blood-drenched characters at The World of Kanako's core. It's quite the switch, but Nakashima's trademark traits still shine through underneath it all.
The story revolves around Kanako's dad (Akikazu) who is trying to reconstruct the circumstances of his daughter's disappearance. Akikazu lost sight of Kananko after a painful divorce, even so her disappearance worries him deeply and he starts a personal investigation. It doesn't take him very long to discover that his daughter wasn't as sweet and innocent as she appeared to be and Akikazu is slowly pulled into a story of deceit, revenge and apathy. Still he perseveres, certain his daughter is still alive somewhere.
Nakashima has always been a very visual director, with The World of Kanako he does everything in his power to maintain that status. Mad editing, superb camera angles, slo-mos, rich and detailed settings. But also some very impressive close-ups and more dynamic camera work. There's even room for a couple short animation sequences, handled by none other than Studio 4°C (the only option if you want things done right). From start to finish the film's an absolute looker, though it might be a bit much for some people. The pacing is excruciating and it really is a two hour visual assault. You won't hear me complain though.
The soundtrack too deserves a mention. Nakashima is known to use (alternative) pop music liberally throughout his films and The World of Kanako is no exception. No Radiohead this time, but there's some alternative rock present. Nakashima branched out though, as there is also some J-Pop and even a pretty decent dubstep track to make things a bit more interesting. The original score is also awesome, coming from the hands of Japanese soundtrack legend Yoko Kanno (Tokyo.sora). It's a varied selection of quality tracks applied with a great sense of rhythm and style, as one may expect in a Nakashima film.
One of the perks of international success is that it's a lot easier to land a decent cast. Koji Yakusho (Kiyosu Kaigi) takes up the role of Akikazu, Fumi Nikaido (Watashi no Otoko), Jun Kunimura, Jo Odagiri and Ai Hashimoto all feature in solid secondary roles. They all deliver excellent performances. But it's newcomer Nana Komatsu who impresses the most as the mysterious Kanako. Not an easy character and considering it was her first serious role I'm pretty sure we'll be seeing a lot more of her in the years to come.
While The World of Kanako does little more than recount the search for a lost person, Nakashima doesn't make it very easy for his audience. The film starts at a maddening pace, does little in the way of explaining itself and jumps through time as if it's living in some alternative space/time dimension. You can't so much as blink in fear of missing something crucial. Halfway through things settle down just a little as the connections between the characters become clearer, but that's when the film reveals some of its viler plot points, making sure there's no chance of catching a breath.
There is a clear possibility of oversaturation though. The World of Kanako isn't subtle and doesn't offer much in the way of breathers. It's crazy, weird, harsh and fast-paced, piling body upon body and putting Akikazu through increasingly rough hardships. It's once again a film that will appeal to a certain niche, only a different one from Nakashima's earlier films. That said, I absolutely loved it. Nakashima can't seem to make a bad film, no matter the direction he ventures in. I hope he manages to one-up himself once more in the future, but The World of Kanako is definitely on par with his earlier work and that means it's a damn great flick.