Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Fujishima's Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: THE WORLD OF KANAKO opens Friday

Tetsuya Nakashima’s long gestating follow-up to 2010’s psychological thriller CONFESSIONS (kokuhaku) is a deceptively masterful conception; compared to its preceding slick black pretty hate machine, THE WORLD OF KANAKO (kawaki) is a sprawling blood soaked mess.  Yet throughout the ungovernable tale are many of the director’s increasingly familiar trademark techniques and a continued concern with the way a current generation of youth is raised.  The director has once again culled from the realm of Japanese literature, a tale that shows the life of teenagers to be wracked with pain, both a vicious threat to and something to be pitied by the generations that have come before.

The subject of the film is, for the most part, Kanako Fujishima, a high school student who has gone missing and is being sought by her estranged father Akikazu, a former police officer turned private investigator after incidents led to a disgraced dismissal from law enforcement. Kanako largely remains an enigma whose true nature is chipped away at as circumstantial details are gradually put on display. It’s not like everything being put back in its right place; more like the china falling off the shelf and exploding all over the floor. Traumatic truths are revealed in the shards scattered about the floor, as both characters descend into a more nightmarish abyss the further along they go

As in CONFESSION, multiple narratives are deployed to lead viewers into the darkened world of  its central character: most prominently, that of Akikazu, her alcoholic rage fueled father, and a meek classmate who has developed a weighty crush on her. Cleverly, Nakajima presents two points of view that could not seem farther apart, yet share something crucial in common: the enraptured pursuit of Kanako. Meanwhile, the lack of representation of Kanako’s own point of view throughout the better part of the movie is itself rife with meaning.

The paths orbiting Kanako traverse both temporal as well as mental spaces, making for a dizzying and potentially confusing big picture. Nakashima has set out to make viewers feel as much as think – not so much emotions but sensations. The jumps between perspectives are disorienting, jolting even. And near everything viewed through the lens of Akikazu’s sloshed eyes is not only troubling but feels like a hangover simulation. It helps that Koji Yakusho has thrown himself fully into the role with uncharacteristic lack of restraint. 

In fact, in a weird way, Yakusho’s Akikazu can be likened to an estranged brother of Inherent Vice’s Doc Sportello. Both meandering through their pursuits with any progress they make more the result of their accidental bumbling than any kind of productivity.  Yet Akikazu’s  boiling over aggression also makes him an extreme counterpoint to Sportello’s constant mellow. With all of the baggage laden on Akikazu, as well as others, the notion of objective truth is also thoroughly called into question by Nakashima’s vision.

Music used in the film is both a source of good taste, with a range of selections to rival that of Tarantino or Wong Kar Wai, and fascination (not a surprise considering CONFESSION’s tour de force soundtrack). Not so much subtle mood enhancers, the music herein leaps out, sometimes as signposts of how we are meant to feel, other times offering stark contrasts. Perhaps most important are Barbara Borra’s ‘Gone Away Dream,’ a hazy reverie of 60’s Americana echoing the domestic dream that exists in the occasional moments of sobriety that overtake Akikazu; and an impossibly catchy facsimile of a dream pop classic (that turns out to be an original creation by famous anime soundtrack scorer Yoko Kanno and vocalist Ryo Nagano) which proves the film’s most persistent earwig. It’s a pristine embodiment of blissed out joy that the occasional adolescent narrator experiences when he thinks of Kanako, serving to intensify the blow when joy is nowhere to be found.  Other tracks eschew 70s exploitation nostalgia to play with the notion of men acting out fantasies of action hero violence or give a taste of a frantic skittery teen scene with  fractured mile a minute electropop that makes the Springbreakers soundtrack seem subdued.

The soundtrack full of pop culture associations and visual panache point out that the film is an artificial construct. While it may serve to entertain, it also holds the viewer captive, whether disturbed by its darkness or dazzled by its pizzazz, thus forced to confront the troubling realities lying beneath its artifice. Less reflective views of Nakashima’s films could misconstrue his intergenerational grudge matches as simple tales of us VS them. But KANAKO, even more pointedly than CONFESSIONS, has a strong conscious lurking beneath its grimy surface. It is a haunting tome on responsibility, and when it falls by the way side, the cycle of damage that is wrought.

THE WORLD OF KANAKO will play select theaters and is available on VOD starting Friday, December 4.

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