Mondo Sonico de Kanako: the music of THE WORLD OF KANAKO

2-TWOK-WhisperThe WORLD OF KANAKO is the latest in a line of several films helmed by Japanese director Tetsuya Nakashima, but is closest in spirit to its immediate predecessor CONFESSIONS. Both are adapted from literature, more specifically tales of a current generation of youth acting out in ways unfathomable to those that spawned them. As a result both are forced into situations of violent conflict with, and perpetual lack of understanding for, one another.

This powerful 1-2 punch of films also chronicles various individuals’ descents into hell as they are pulled into the growing vortexes of suffering by the most pained central figures around them. The downward spirals are all encompassing, and made alarmingly entertaining at times due in no small part to the diverse and meaningful palette of music Nakashima employs. Not only does his excellent taste help to complement and enhance the emotional drama in scenes, they add a playful flair to the otherwise heavy transgressions on screen. Even more so this time around, music is a trigger to underscore particular recurring themes. It is also a sign of the culture that surrounds the characters in the story, pervades their lives, no different than us the viewers.

I decided to dive into the film another time, on this occasion attempting to recreate its dizzying path with an emphasis on its sonic features. It was a harder task than I’d imagined it would be, a virtual trip down the rabbit hole, bringing to mind the same allusion made in Kanako to Alice as an escape from reality (for some pleasurable, for others a nightmare). In my pursuit I realized Nakashima’s hip soundtrack is something of a gateway to discovery of some of Japan’s elusive underground music landscapes and edgier pop. The soundtrack itself not getting its own release (a mystery since the CONFESSIONS soundtrack did and this is very much its equal), but rather bundled with the domestic release of the movie on dvd. A sole reason I can think of for keeping the soundtrack obscured is it is a collection of music that perfectly complements themes of disorientation and confusion running through the film. Old familiar songs appear but with different twists – as covers or in a strange context. Songs that approximate moods from specific time periods or genres in American culture end up being the product of Japanese artists.

After a good chunk of my mind was blown by sonic oddities like Trippple Nipples’ ‘LSD’, and I saw my Macbook Pro survive one too many flirtations with free download website that wanted to install something unknown into it, I called it a day. So while I cannot yet tell you the artist who performed the smoldering version of ‘House of the Rising Sun’ heard throughout the film, I have compiled some videos and taken some notes on how the soundtrack of WORLD OF KANAKO is an essential element of this unrefined cinematic experience.

Panis Angelicus by Cesar Franck

This mournful religious choir performance bookends the film as a pure snow comes down on a Japanese cityscape. It is a holiday that is not celebrated for religious reasons, but people are seen going through the motions of dining out with loved ones and reveling in near new years’ cheer. Meanwhile, unseemly bouts of suffering filter through, a ghastly triple murder at the outset, and a weariness of delving into so much psychic pain at its close.

Gone Away Dream by Barbara Borra

The words “A loving life and a loving home” appear as alcoholic private detective Akikazu envisions the idealized family life that is far from his grasp. It is an easygoing waltz recalling 1960’s America, sung by an apparently Italian vocalist who has performed on other Japanese OST’s before, but whose activity is elusive. The word ‘dream’ appearing right in the title is a none too subtle reference to the theme of escape from reality that plays a big role in the movie, and it is not the only song to do so. The song appears later on, ironically, as layers of humanity are stripped from an Akikazu who has been pointed in the direction of a bigger monster, given an excuse to unleash his inner demons. We see a part of him whose desire laid bare is to destroy the dream. And this he does.

Free Fall By Yoko Kanno with Ryo Nagano

A dream pop song that I could’ve been told was a product of Elliot Smith and I would’ve bought it. It is an impossibly catchy, feel good, lush tune that desperately needs to exist in its own life outside of KANAKO. But it is utterly brilliant within it, as essential to its identity as Radiohead’s ‘Last Flowers’ was to CONFESSIONS. The song appears on cue when the film flashes back to 3 years prior to the central story, a teen beset with the most teenage case of angst is seen moping, an outcast who is constantly bullied. Yet, all pain is erased by the perfectly angelic appearance of Fujishima Kanako. It is a most pristine love at first sight experience. The (cruel) joke of it is the eventual floor dropping out to reveal a hellish abyss where salvation was thought to be. The Barbara Borra track is used to similar effect, making pain that much more palpable by dangling a truly blissful sensation in front of us. It’s absence makes the heartbreak stronger.

‘Denden Passion’ by Dempagumi

Many of the more modern-sounding tracks came in a blur during an underground rave-like party scene. Here is where visual flourishes and psychedelic effects were heavily emplyed. Songs came in a blur, starting with this song that could be regarded as J-Pop on speed. Nothing serious in mind is seriously head-spinning. Print club graphics pop onto the screen imbuing adolescent cute onto a bad acid trip, as the teen crushed out on Kanako is suddenly in way over his head. Cleverly, a snippet of this mostly harmless time stamped flash in the pan is used in such a way to instill panic and anxiety around the ritual bonding of a current generation.

LSD by Tripple Nipples

The party continues, as does the descent into loss of control. And the generation gap is further emphasized with the scene and sounds feeling even more alien. Musically, it’s all obnoxious screams coated in sugar and reverb, with a rave of effects whirring around and around. This trio occupies some real estate in Tokyo’s underground music scene, but information is hard to come by about this enigmatic unit.

Fog by Daoko

The party is now starting to simmer, eyes glaze over, and another side of Kanako begins to show: the center of attention, a cult of personality… Here is another artists making cult status music on Tokyo’s cool fringe, as glitchy chip hop and stream of consciousness vocals blend into a soothing spell. It is like Kanako finding herself at ease in the hidden realm of a 3 AM drug party.

‘Rusalka – Song to the Moon’ by Antonin Dvorak

A lush mournful opera from Czech plays as illusion is shattered, the innocent at first believing he had found love realizes he is the butt of a brutal joke. Akikazu is faced with ugly truths about Kanako, about himself… Is there a connection between the opera’s theme and the events onscreen? It is interesting that Rusalka involves the daughter of a goblin considering the constant reminders that Kanako is the stuff of her father, Akikazu. Rusalka seeks love despite her form, inaccessible to humans, yet everyone wants to love Kanako. Have forces beyond her control made her into what she is? Would she be better able to love if not for he that brought her into the world?

Under the Sky by Yasushi Sasamoto

A suave flash of 70s funk that could be right out of a Blaxploitation film but is in fact performed by a Japanese band of a bygone era, which little information could be obtained about. It signals the charge into action of Akikazu and a ruthless killer for hire. When Akikazu is pointed in his direction, both go at it in a blaze of guns and machismo, and both seem to revel in the violence-filled moments, even as others around them are swallowed up by the horror. Here dreams are again a surrogate for a painful and far less glamorous reality, in which men act out gun-weilding fantasies set to a grooy soundtrack.

‘Everybody Loves Somebody’ by Dean Martin

A heart-warming sentiment that is hard to swallow after enduring the psychic pain exchanged between everyone in the film and those they are connected to. With the tension ratcheted up, the kitsch novelty brings about an expulsion of air, a loosening of the knot in one’s stomach allowing a reprieve from all of that pent up aggression as the film comes to an end. It is one of the many reminders in the film that the characters do not exist in a vacuum; the culture informs them of what their dreams should be. The gap between dream and reality is a killer.

This is but a bit of the THE WORLD OF KANAKO’s diverse soundtrack. Other genres in the mix include rockabilly, dubstep, and beautiful soundscapes, the latter also arranged by Yoko Kanno. The film is playing in select theaters across the US now, and is available on VOD. It will also be shown at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Yonkers December 11 through 13.

An Ithaca Dilemma: (5 Resons) Why I Find Myself Drawn to the IIFFF

ithacs poster 2015I am going to start this journey, which could take a sharp turn off a steep cliff at any given moment, by writing in a mode I have a general disdain for: The life hack, list-centric, turn everything into a reason for being mode. Far be it from us to leave people to draw conclusions, let’s map out their reasons for sticking around lest they fear their time is being wasted, valuable time that could be spent on fingerprinting their approval on streams of photos or making up 2-choice surveys for random people to stop and click on their favorite cancelled 90s sitcom.

So while on one hand this might not be putting my best foot forward, this is also a fitting theme for stepping out into the abyss: by introducing a new institution. A new destination. A new preoccupation. New at least for me. Although in its 4th year, this is the first that the 5 day event, running from November 11 – 15, has landed on my radar and continued blipping. Steadily, til it dawned on me that I must be a part of it.

And while I find the overuse of this function-over-form way of focusing an article, it is pretty fitting here. A few times that I have tried to tackle an introduction to this festival, which I myself am just getting to know, I ended up stymied. There is that much to process. I find then, my most honest – and desperate, as I find this piece of writing fast approaching irrelevance with every passing minute – approach would be to talk about what has got me all hot and bothered about the affair. As of yet, I haven’t counted how many points there will be. But hopefully, it will be a nice countable number like 5 or 10, which would end up making the title that much more clickable and your time perceptibly that much less wasted.

Of course you could always just click on the link to the festival website: and draw your own conclusions.

  1. A Resplendent Retrospective

Without knowing a single shred of new features on the program, I was sucked in by an incredibly curated side focus on body horror. It features a razor sharp selection of touchstone works for fans of cult films and offbeat takes on the horror and scifi genres alike. Most notable for moi would be Tsukamoto Shinya’s TETSUO: THE IRON MAN, a discovery I pulled off the shelf of a Blockbuster Video store while in high school, which has had more of an influence on my apetite for Japanese movies than anything by Kurosawa Akira or Hayao Miyazaki. It is a seamless world of industrial pleasures, despite being created on a shoestring budget, which erases the boundary between sensory experience and analysis. A riff on the battles of mass destruction rendered in Godzilla along with the kaiju movies it spawned and Akira, it follows two men whose bodies transform into junky, unwieldy metal machine monsters who are drawn into a love hate battle of wills, in which one will prevail or two will merge into one bigger and more destructive machine. It is a work of nihilistic glee set to a tribal-industrial soundtrack way ahead of its time by CHU ISHIKAWA. Seeing it on a big screen can only enhance its thrills.

Fast forwarding a decade into Japan’s visceral canon of films, we have AUDITION, one of Miike Takashi’s first blasts of confrontational cinema to impact Western shores. It starts as a playful romp wherein as a single father engages in the most charming of abuses of power by engineering an casting call that also doubles as a search for a potential new wife/mother for his adolescent son. Then, suddenly and violently turns into an increasingly delirious drop into madness. Man’s idealized notion of woman becomes his worst nightmare, as the now iconic Eihi Shiina has her way with her suitors in queasy sequences involving needles and wires. Its another film whose effect will be enhanced by the viewer’s inability to look away.

Then there is David Cronenberg’s SHIVERS, a mischievous experiment on the zombie genre in which sex is terrifying, and an all purpose apartment complex is a microcosm for an infected organism. The 70s kitsch on display is the perfect backdrop for a yarn about uncontrollable lust for physical gratification gone to gruesome extremes. The series is rounded out by EYES WITHOUT A FACE and POSSESSION, films I have not seen and am grateful for the opportunity to catch in a theater.

2. New York, but not New York

 New York City is filled with events in the realm of film and music and art, but there is something significant to be said for getting away from the trappings of the city one is familiar with and truly escaping into an all encompassing environment. And opportunities to do so without going too far out of bounds have been on the rise. Basillica Hudson, for instance is a festival that has been earning high marks for presenting music and other arts in a moody, absconded landscape, where the lack of commercialism and the daring of the artists curated has been rewarding for those willing to travel. If coming from New York City, you’ll have to travel a bit farther to get to Ithaca but the array of experiences to take in is vast enough to make it well worth the road trip.

3. A New Sono

 Upon seeing the film fest’s lineup of international selections in competition, a question I’ve considered had a chance to be answered: Is the chance to see a new Sion Sono (in this case LOVE AND PEACE) film worth driving 3 plus hours for? To which I leapt up and cried ‘yes!’ Without worrying if it will be good or bad, his best or somewhere in the middle, I can rest assured that it will be true to his vision, that it will be unique, and therefore more than likely to be intensely interesting. Look to his existing body of work peppered with rousing acts of celluloid incitement like SUICIDE CIRCLE, LOVE EXPOSURE, and WHY DON’T YOU PLAY IN HELL.

Other films in the lineup I am looking forward to on the merit of their directors’ past work is Midnight film AAAAAAAAAH! featuring lines blurred between man and ape, helmed by Steve Oram, who helped write the quick witted Sightseers. Scherzo Diabolico looks to be a blast of societal skewering by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, whose punk fueled head splitting horror film HERE COMES THE DEVIL blasted me out of complacency.

  1. Japan

Along with TETSUO, there is a small focus on extremely independent films dubbed DIY In Japan. HARUKO’S PARANORMAL LABORATORY is one of them, a piping hot Bento box of pop culture references and hyper sexuality that betrays its Gondry-on-a-budget cuteness.

  1. Movies…. andMusic and Art

It’s nice to have a mix of mediums so as to give some perspective to all you are digesting. So it is notable that the organizers of the IIFFF had the foresight to include an art and music component to its proceedings. A gallery will host the art of Chet Zar, a noted special effects creator for the likes of Planet of the Apes and Hellboy. A documentary on the artists called I LIKE TO PAINT MONSTERS will also be screened Saturday afternoon. Concerts will take place most evenings with a focus on heavy sounds Friday, and a diverse evening Saturday, which includes visitors coming up from the Tristate SCREAMING FEMALES and AYE NAKO, whose punk and indie rock leanings are sure to stir the soul.

Oh wow, that came down to 5. Totally organically, not at all planned.

This is far from a complete overview, though, with the event also including films with a focus on the art world, another focus on the films of Turkey, as well as one dedicated to directors from New York, and others under an umbrella theme of gaming. The international competition section features a number of films that may have eluded the savvy filmgoer at fests like Tribeca, Austin Fantastic Fest, and Montreal’s Fantastia to name a few. A selection of short films will be screened, and numerous guests will be on hand including Joe Begos (THE MIND’S EYE), Michael Keating (DARLING), and artist Chet Zar along with the director of the documentary he is the subject of, Mike Corell.

For a comprehensive look, peruse the IIFFF website and download the brochure. And keep in mind, it starts the evening of Wednesday, November 11 and continues through Sunday, November 15.

See you there.