The World of Kanako (TIFF 2014 Review)

Dir: Tetsuya Nakashima

The brutal Japanese thriller The World of Kanako seeks to shock and destroy with its stylish pastiche of American grindhouse trends. Cribbing liberally from film noir, 70’s exploitation, Robert Rodriguez’s anti-heroes of Sin City, and Tarantino’s talky scenes intercut with shocking violence, Kanako  is drenched in even more sin and far less redemption than its forebears. The result is a mixed cocktail of blood and style that is both inebriating and toxic.

After some dizzyingly edited pre-credits scenes set the tone of the film (nauseatingly violent and heavily noir inflected), a whiplash credits sequence – all 70’s cool and throttling guitar – sets an impossibly high bar that the film itself has a hard time following. In the centre of this exercise in excess is Kôji Yakusho as Akikazu, a disgraced former cop and current P.I. tasked with tracking down his estranged teenage daughter, Kanako. The plot is often a mere excuse to string along a series of beatings, intimidations, betrayals and revelations. The end result can be numbing and bleak, a kaleidoscope of human suffering.

Noir tropes like constant smoking and drinking, the lead being physically beat constantly, and plots twists aplenty are all present. Other genre nods to the Grindhouse aesthetic include: the 70’s muscle car driven by Akikazu, excellent sound design and a well curated soundtrack (which actually apes Tarantino well in this regard), and even an animated sequence a la Kill Bill Vol. 1. The tropes are shopworn and played so far to the extreme that they almost seem fresh again, or at least like winking satire.

The difference in Kanako when compared to American films of its ilk is just how far everything is taken here and how little levity there is from the darkness (although an outlandish shootout near the end will have game audiences cheering). Arcs of blood spray across the screen, heads collapse under the stomp of boots, and the sex is as ugly as everything else in the film. Hard-edged and wild, Kanako features lurid sub-plots that blow past the boundaries of good taste and a lead character that lacks any redeeming qualities whatsoever – essentially a pure anti-hero. This film is nihilistic to the point of near unwatchability, morally repugnant and in the end far more concerned with affected style than gripping plot.  Yet, those that have the stomach and fortitude may find a minor hard noir diversion that pushes the boundaries of extreme cinema. For everyone else there’s always the option to play it safe.

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