By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
“The World of Kanako” begins with a Christmas celebration or, to be more precise, several Christmas celebrations.
Snow falls slowly. Bright lights twinkle in the night. And young people, at least, dance together in a club, done up in their immaculate fashions. Intercut with this, though, is cursing, hissing, shouting, and shouting vile epithets.
That’s the first indication over the film’s 118 minutes that we’re going to get ugliness. Ugliness which, alas, all too soon subsumes anything the film might have going for it.
Most of the cursing comes from Kojji Yakusho who, at 60 years old, has been one of Japan’s most highly-regarded actors for decades. He made an impression in America when he played the doomed gangster in Juzo Itami’s “Tampopo,” back in 1985. Other prominent roles include a salaryman learning to dance in Masayuki Suko’s “Shall We Dance?” (1996), a paroled convict in Shohei Imamura’s “The Eel” (1997), a tormented police detective in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s “Cure” (1997), and several roles as a samurai, notably Takashi Miike’s “13 Assassins” (2010).
Director Tetsuya Nakashima also boasts an impressive pedigree. His murder drama “Confessions” (2010) earned an Oscar nomination, and his “Memories of Matsuko” took the audience award at the 2007 New York Asian Film Festival, with an average audience rating of 9.2.
So what are they up to here? Gore. That’s pretty much it.
Koji Yakusho’s character, Akihiro Fujishima, is a former police detective forced to retire because of mental problems and a very violent episode involving his ex-wife and her lover. His daughter, Kanako (played by Nana Komatsu), goes missing. Fujishima, enraged that his ex let their daughter slip away so easily, goes on a wild hunt to find her.
And he finds gore. Gore and decadence, but mostly gore.
Over the course of the film, to borrow a line from the rock group Devo, dreams get crushed and hopes are smashed. But never without gore. Blood runs down faces, down arms, across eyeballs. Those deemed unworthy — and that’s just about everybody — must be pounded into the pavement. Permanent injury and/or death seem the only possible outcomes.
And while I am not opposed to violence onscreen, I am opposed to violence for no worthy sake, or for its own sake. “The World of Kanako” offers no one to root for, no object for sympathy, let alone empathy. Everyone turns out to be roughly as bad as everyone else.
And the movie, worse, doesn’t believe in sympathy or empathy. The violence is never questioned. The blood simply rains down. The few quiet moments aren’t much against the garish onslaught. The title sequence and some of the background music give the film the flavor of a James Bond movie, with the expectations of action and violence raised by such films. But James Bond violence, while patently false, usually manages elegance. No elegance here.
Koji Yakusho has bled for the camera before, of course. Over his onscreen career, he’s taken heavy blows, bloodletting beatings. He’s suffered the loss of loved ones. He’s gone mad. He’s been a prisoner in a world gone mad. He’s explored the lives of salarymen, samurai, killers, yakuza, even an animated character.
But I’ve never seen him reduced to such pointlessness. I only give the movie one-half star for its inclusion of him. He survived this ordeal. I’m sorry the filmmakers felt the need to drag the rest of us into it. (end)
“The World of Kanako” opens Friday, Jan. 22, at Seattle’s Grand Illusion Cinema, located at 1403 N.E. 50th St. in Seattle’s University District. For prices and showtimes, call 206-523-3935 or visit grandillusioncinema.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.