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Film / The World of Kanako

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"Une époque n'est confuse que pour un esprit confus." note 
Jean Cocteau, as quoted in the opening credits.
When she smiles...

The World of Kanako (original title Kawaki, translates to "thirst") is a 2014 Japanese movie by Tetsuya Nakashima, based on the best-selling novel Hateshinaki Kawaki by Fukamachi Akio (first published 2005).

Fujishima Akikazu is an alcoholic, violent, dysfunctional ex-cop who does not care about much anymore and seems to only procrastinate his death. But one day, his daughter Kanako, a beautiful girl and one of the best students at school, leaves all personal belongings behind in her room and goes missing.

After a talk with his wife, Akikazu starts a desperate search for Kanako using any means, in the hope of getting his "ideal" family back in place (although the very reason the family broke up was because of his problematic personality and violent behavior). Following the tracks of her past and present (that involved her so-called friends like Ogata or the unnamed narrator), and talks to her classmates (like Nagano and Emi), he starts to get to know his daughter and learns that she has a mysterious secret life.

As he enters a world of despair, guilt, dark secrets, manipulation he finds out that there's a lot more than meets the eye. Can he find his daughter, and get back his perfect happy family he has dreamed of after all these years or will he be crushed by this awful world too?

Note: This is a very spoiler-heavy movie with many plot-twists and surprises. Only uncover them if you really believe you can handle them.

All character tropes go to the character page!

This movie contain examples of following tropes:

  • Abusive Parents: It’s implied Akikazu was as abusive to Kanako in her youth as he was with this wife. Either way, his spectacularly terrible parenting leads to a bit of a Freudian Excuse for Kanako’s behavior.
  • All for Nothing: In the very end, after being beaten, shot and kidnapped by the Yakuza (and after dealing out a lot of punishment too), Akikazu still cannot find Kanako. As far as we know, she's dead and buried in the snow but he refuses to accept this and keeps searching for her.
  • Ambiguous Ending: When the truth in finally revealed (Kanako was killed by her teacher and buried in a windy snowfield), Akikazu still has serious doubts about this and forces the teacher to dig Kanako up but she can't remember where she lies. The movie immediately ends and we never find out if this will be successful or not.
  • Anachronic Order: The movie is told out of chronological order with a lot of flashbacks. There are basically four timelines that are interwoven (the film starts with timeline 3 and follows timeline 4 for the rest of the film to constantly make flashbacks to timeline 1 and 2 to reveal the truth):
    1. Summer of 2009 (flashbacks): Ogata commits suicide. The narrator gets bullied and gets to know Kanako who helps him to get away from them. He soon falls in love with her.
    2. Unspecified time (presumably 2009-2011, flashbacks): The narrator goes through a cycle of hell and meets Kanako in a hotel room where he finds his fate.
    3. December of 2012: Akikazu catches his wife cheating and they break up. Akikazu's life goes downhill.
    4. August of 2013 to Christmas of 2013 (most of the story takes place here): Kanako dies by the hands of her teacher and goes missing and murders occur. Akikazu starts his search, collects some information and gets caught by the Yakuza. In the finale he reaches a snowfield to meet his fate.
  • Art Shift: There are some scenes that use drawings and/or visual effects like when the narrator jumps into the water or goes on the party.
  • Art-Style Dissonance: Although the story of this movie is infested with cynicism, there are still a lot of bright lights and colors, flash cuts and fast-paced editing that give the movie a unique atmosphere, especially during Kanako's appearances and the narrator's Mushroom Samba. Also there's a Perpetual Smiler.
  • Book Ends: The first image of the movie is a windy snowfield. This will also be the last location we see.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Two characters are bullied throughout the film (Ogata and the narrator) and none of the other students come to help them. Neither do any teachers or officials. When Ogata jumps from the roof, his blood is splattering all around and no one seems to notice.
  • Camera Fiend: There is one guy at the party where the narrator goes to, who constantly takes pictures (at least 100 of them). He turns out to be one of the murder victims from the start.
  • Central Theme:
    • Manipulation. Almost every character gets manipulated in this film at some point or is a manipulator himself. The question of good and evil is not really important in this film, only who is the one who manipulates successfully. See also Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism.
    • Parental Neglect: All of the problems around Akikazu's family and especially Kanako seem to have roots in Akikazu not taking his responsibility as father.
  • Crapsack World: This movie leaves no survivors. Everyone in this world is either violent, brutal, corrupt, egoistic, manipulative or has a dark secret and the people who are good are ruthlessly bullied, manipulated or beaten up. Whoever tries to find a way out of this is completely without a chance.
  • Dark Secret: Kanako has one. Check the character page for details.
  • Downer Beginning: The start of the movie is very dark in many ways: Akikazu finds out that his wife has a lover and he loses his job after a violent outburst. Three bloody murders are detected. The narrator gives a saddening speech about how helpless his situation is. Ogata commits suicide and nobody takes notice.
  • Dysfunction Junction: Really every character is messed up in this movie: Aikawa is an alcoholic and violent cop, the other cops are corrupt, Matsunaga and the other bullies lack any kind of empathy and Kanako is a manipulative bitch with even less empathy.
  • Evil vs. Evil: While Akikazu started out as very bad character, after he rapes Detective Aikawa's wife he must at least temporarily count as a villain. This trope comes mostly into play when he fights Detective Aikawa later on, who is super-evil too. He later turns a little bit better but not much.
  • Flashback: The movie tells all of the events from 2009 to 2013 in quite long flashbacks.
  • Flashback Echo: After the narrator has gone through hell he meets Kanako in a hotel room where he confronts her but gets laughed at and finally killed. This flashback is inserted when Akikazu enters this very hotel room (in a way that resembles the aforementioned scene) and thinks he's talking to his daughter Kanako (who is not there).
  • For the Evulz: The bullies, Matsunaga, Aikawa and of course Kanako torture and torment (usually weaker) people just because they can.
  • Gang of Bullies:
    • The Matsunaga Gang consists of Matsunaga and 2-3 of his friends. They bully Ogata until he commits suicide.
    • Afterwards another gang of bullies tortures the nameless narrator who only survives their treatment because he is manipulated by his love Kanako. Kanako lets the Matsunaga Gang beat up those bullies and the narrator becomes more popular.
  • Humans Are Bastards: Almost every character is a monster and this movie shows no way out. The bullies, Aikawa, Matsunaga and Kanako of all people act just For the Evulz. Akikazu shows strong traits of this too but he's still disgusted by the other characters' actions.
  • Kafka Komedy: The narrator is put through hell just for the fun of it because he's weak to almost absurd levels. Kanako shows him that she wants to help him but it turns out that she is responsible for everything.
  • Left Hanging: The movie ends in the snowfield where Kanako is said to be buried and Akikazu has no clue about where exactly. The last thing we see is how he's still determined to find her or what is left of her in the snowfield. If this plan succeeds is left unresolved, but the odds are strongly against him.
  • A Lighter Shade of Black: The things Akikazu does go far beyond what you would call an Anti-Hero. While Akikazu's actions cannot be morally justified in any way, he's still upset by the deeds other characters do (usually just For the Evulz). He turns worse however so that the story becomes Evil vs. Evil.
  • Light Is Not Good: On a meta level, the movie uses a lot of flash cuts, bright lights and light images but portrays an insufferable Crapsack World.
  • Police Are Useless: While Akikazu, Asai and Aikawa stand out as they are highly sociopathic and/or incompetent, there's much more to it: When Ogata and the narrator are bullied, the police are nowhere to be seen and do not care in the slightest.
  • Rape as Drama: After having been heavily manipulated by Kanako, the narrator is gang-raped by the prostitution ring in a very dramatic event. Shortly afterwards he is killed.
  • Red Herring: The story with the three killed people in the beginning doesn't really lead anywhere. While Kanako and Matsunaga had to do something with them, it's rather there to get Akikazu on the wrong track.
  • Secondary Character Title: Although Kanako is a very important character, Akikazu is still the main protagonist.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: On the far end of the cynic side. In this movie the world is exclusively populated by complete assholes and scumbags who all have only the very worst things in mind and the few good people out there are either mercilessly corrupted, betrayed, bullied, manipulated or forced into isolation and it's ridiculously impossible to break out of this circle. What Akikazu does can't be morally justified in any way but still is consequent, as this movie takes place in a world that destroys anybody and crushes every dream. As this reviewer points out, the line between good and evil doesn't mean very much in this movie but rather the line between those who can manipulate effectively and those who have to subordinate themselves is everything that counts. The only bright things in this film are the bright lights and colors, the fast editing, the many flash cuts and one constantly smiling character, that give it an artificial and hard to grasp atmosphere.
  • Snow Means Death: In the very end of the film, Akikazu reaches a windy snowfield together with Kanako's teacher, who claims to have killed Kanako and buried her here. Akikazu wants to find her corpse but Kanako's teacher can't remember where she lies.
  • Starts with a Suicide: After about ten minutes in we see the suicide of Ogata (Kanako's first boyfriend), who jumps from the roof after he has been bullied for a long time by the Matsunaga Gang. Nobody seems to take much notice of this.
  • Suicide Dare: The narrator's bullies openly tells him to commit suicide while beating him up on the roof.
  • The X of Y: The World of Kanako. International title only. The Japanese title means "thirst".
  • Yakuza: At one point, Akikazu gets abducted by the Yakuza. They are looking for Kanako too because she and Matsunaga have been causing lots of trouble with their blackmailings of child molesters. When Akikazu tries to talk his way out of this, they give him the name of sociopathic cop Detective Aikawa, who Akikazu believes to be his only lead on Kanako.
    Yakuza gangster: "Garbage... destroys innocence and purity!"