Drafthouse Films is dedicated to releasing the strange and obscure, everything from futuristic DDR-based comedies like The FP to straight up what-the-fuckities like Dangerous Men. No matter what they unleash onto the world, they always have the comfort of being able to screen these films theatrically in their own venues. Them dabbling in Asian Exploitation let to me being able to catch last year's The World of Kanako, a supremely unsettling revenge thriller that is just shy of being amazing. Director Tetsuya Nakashima creates a very fast paced and engaging film that assaults your senses and emotions, but contains a few odd tone clashes and confusing choices that work against it. At times, it's as if the filmmakers forgot what kind of movie they were making or let several different editors blindly work on different sections of the film. While I would still highly recommend seeing this, the few problems I had with it almost anger me in how they kept this film from being one of my very favorites of the year.
The World of Kanako sets itself up like your standard abduction/revenge film, but does well to subvert most expectations of what it's going to be. We follow disgraced Detective Akikazu Fujishima (Kôji Yakusho) getting back into the game after his estranged wife Kiriko (Asuka Kurosawa) informs him that their daughter Kanako (Nana Komatsu) has been missing for days. As Akikazu hunts for clues to his daughter's whereabouts, the film begins to take many sharp turns in revealing the truth of this family. For starters, our main character is downright despicable and has no kind of redemptive arc to speak of. His search will not get his life back in order and his motivations for looking for his daughter may be more fucked up than the world he plunges himself into to find her. While we start by seeing this low and deceptive world Kanako has gotten mixed up in, we end up seeing that she's not some innocent child swept up in danger. She's more of a mysterious stranger to all those around her and may be worse than any of them. As the story jumps from one scene to the next and we discover more about these characters, it causes multiple instances of horror and disgust, while still being entirely captivating.
I actually don't think there is a single likable character in the film. Sure, there are a few that aren't absolutely offensive and some that are wrongfully treated, but there really isn't anyone to completely empathize with. Even the few that are victims of circumstance aren't great people to begin with or turn just as bad as their antagonists. I'm only mentioning this because of how odd it is to be so wrapped up in a film with no one to really root for. It's not like I haven't enjoyed films centered on deplorable characters before, but there is usually a charisma or flashes of humanity that get you on board with them. The lead here has none of that and deserves just as much hate as the evil people he's killing to complete his mission. Kôji Yakusho gives such a committed performance full of desperation and hatred that I was transfixed by his character, even though he might have been the one to make me squirm in my seat the most. Despite the numerous characters and ultra-stylish filmmaking, The World of Kanako is his movie and he really drives this hellish romp.
The opening and closing of the film mirror my conflicting feelings of it as a whole and some of the problems that kept it from completely blowing me away. The opening credits are a throwback to 70s Exploitation films and is an entertaining promise of over the top violence and gritty storytelling. It delivers on this in spades, with a frenetic energy that can gleefully jump between gory fight scenes and disorienting drug-fueled party sequences. For the most part it powers through scene after destructive scene while barely giving you a chance to catch your breath and process everything that's happening. Then every once in a while, it will slam on the brakes and slow to a crawl, taking the form of a dream-like art picture tackling the desolate ruins of a sick mind. Although these scenes might work to great effect in another movie, they're such a jarring clash to the scenes surrounding them that it's like the movie forgot what it was doing or where it wanted to go. Once our lead has completed his journey, the last 15 minutes are dedicated to revealing the whole truth and connecting the remaining dots. This finale feels twice as long as it actually is and just keeps dragging on, despite multiple opportunities to end in a satisfying manner. Perhaps the film is trying to make some point that was just lost on me, but it was such a disappointment to be so enthralled throughout a film, only to become bored and impatient waiting for it to end.
That might be a little too harsh, as I still really enjoyed The World of Kanako and would definitely suggest seeing it. I also know that most of my praise and complaints are rather vague, but that's because I wouldn't want to spoil what is actually a very well constructed and executed story (minus a few confusing threads). I guess this is an instance of a few flaws being much more painful because they're attached to what is such a great film otherwise. If it had been mediocre throughout, I could brush it off as no more than a waste of 2 hours and forgotten about it, but I have images from it seared in my brain and inconsistencies that are still driving me crazy. It's the ones that come close to perfection but stumble as they approach the finish line that really get you. Then again, with so much bland and recycled nonsense coming out every week, a film that can surprise you, make you cringe, and anger you is something worth seeing. Check it out to rent or pre-order on Amazon.
8 out of 10 reasons to jump off a roof