“I take that happiness…and with my own hands…I destroy it.”
Like a beautiful trip into hell, Tetsuya Nakashima’s The World of Kanako questions if evil begets evil, or if it runs deeper — somewhere in the blood. Kanako’s lead, Kôji Yakusho, is a wonder to behold, playing Akikazu Fujishim — a sweaty, vile, abusive, hard-drinking cop who makes Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant look like Barney Fife. Akikazu’s ex-wife informs him that their daughter Kanako (Nana Komatsu) is missing, and as the detective sets out to find her he uncovers a seedy underworld filled with characters possibly even worse than himself. Most shocking of all, though, is the slow revelation that Kanako might be the mastermind of all this chaos. As more than one terrified character recounts to Akikazu, Kanako is evil.
Tetsuya Nakashima and cinematographer Shôichi Atô make all the repulsiveness of The World of Kanako looks stunning and, at times, even beautiful, all while torrents of blood are exploding across the screen. At the same time, the script, by Nakashima, Miako Tadano and Nobuhiro Monma — adapted from Akio Fukamachi’s novel — becomes bogged down and murky as one corrupt character after another is introduced. As the story burns on, The World of Kanako reaches a point where you might need a chart to keep track of who is who, and who they’re working for. As Akikazu is drawn further and further into Kanako’s poisonous orbit, we follow one of Kanako’s former classmates (Hiroya Shimizu), who narrates how he fell in love with the girl, and the consequences that followed. He’s not alone: it seems almost every character in the film is inexplicably in love with Kanako, even the unfortunate souls who know her true nature.
As The World of Kanako draws to an end it becomes almost exhausting, with shocking twist after shocking twist pummelling the viewer into a stupor. Yet Kanako is never less than engrossing, so kinetic is Nakashima’s direction. And through it all there’s the lead performance from Kôji Yakusho, which never ceases to simultaneously entertain and repulse. From the very first frame, Yakusho is captivating. We watch as his white suit becomes increasingly filthy and bloodstained, and we can practically sense the growing insanity radiating from his fractured mind. There isn’t a single scene in the film where Yakusho isn’t either drenched in sweat, or splashed with blood, and the audience can practically smell the stink wafting from him. It’s as commanding and unique a performance as you’ll ever see. Nana Komatsu as Kanako, is, like her character, more of a mystery. None of the characters here really ever get that close to Kanako — even when they share the same space with her. She’s elusive and aloof, and the result is that we’re never quite sure what’s going on inside her devious mind. Perhaps that’s for our own safety.
With its slick style, frenetic editing, appalling subject matter and buckets of blood, The World of Kanako may very well turn a few people off. But those willing to sit back, and enjoy the trip to hell they’re about to embark on, will find themselves witnessing a remarkable, peculiar, sui generis film.