Chapter 13: The Modern Era – The Children of the 90s Grow Up
The World of Kanako (2014) – Tetsuya Nakashima
The World of Kanako is a delightfully deranged punk detective thriller / horror film that slams on the gas and gleefully explodes through the barrier of good taste seemingly without ever noticing. Nakashima employs all the tricks – animation, music video style montage, voice over, non-linear narrative – to create a hyper violent world that parallels our own but never quite seems to intersect.
Kōji Yakusho, one of Japan’s most awarded actors, plays Fujishima a dysfunctional half-insane former detective who it told by his ex-wife, who he violently abused, that their daughter, Kanako, who he can barely remember, has vanished.
He often confuses his real daughter with an idealized daughter that he glimpses in a television commercial. Soon the ultra-violent Fujishima begins an investigation that will take him through the the worst of Tokyo’s underworld, and stain his immaculate white suit red.
The amount of blood and viscera that Fujishima gets on his suit is one of the film’s running jokes.
The World of Kanako, however, quickly switches gears, telling a partially animated J-Pop powered parallel story about Kanako herself that begins with a meet-cute with a handsome lonely poetic boy.
Soon we will witness not only Fujushima’s depravity, but the depravity that bloodlines beget. There is a reason that the Japanese title is Kawaki – literally meaning “Thirst”. This is a sick, depraved, sometime torturous film that includes some nauseating scenes that many of us, myself included, will watch through half-closed eyes.
I recommend this film, but with reservations for anyone who is not a hardened viewer of hardcore horror. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Nakashima also directed the more tasteful but even sicker Confessions in 2010 that won Best Picture at the Japanese Academy Awards, and was short-listed for Best Foreign Language Film at our Academy Awards.
Confessions follows a teacher’s revenge against two students who she believes responsible for her daughter’s death. The film uses actual tween actors as the students. No Hollywood film would dare to touch this subject matter with students who are no older than high school freshman. This is a masterful horror film.
It Follows (2015) – David Robert Mitchell
The new millennium has not been a friend to the American horror fan. Torture porn here, found footage there, it’s like we are surrounded by the worst traits in horror. It Follows is not the curative that Scream was, but it’s a definite step in the right direction.
The opening scene is the best horror sequence in years. We open on a broad autumn street scene. Leaves fall. It could be Haddonfield. The street is empty. Total quiet. The camera slowly pans to the right. Suddenly a girl in high heels explodes out the door of a suburban house. The camera tracks sideways after her. She runs into the middle of the road.
A woman grabbing groceries from a car offers to help. The girl refuses. We close in on her. The sound design builds. We hear her father’s voice off-screen. Is she scared of him? She takes off running again. The camera once again smoothly tracks her.
We are over a minute in and there has not been a single cut. She runs past her dad into her house. Her father follows her in. The frame holds on the house. A beat. Another beat. And suddenly she’s back through the door, running as fast as she can in high heels.
She gets in her car and backs out the driveway. Accelerates down the street. Almost two minutes in Mitchell finally cuts to the interior of the car. The opening scene on the street was an unbroken take.
Now, the entire film is not as strong as the opening. Thematically it’s a little obvious. You have to pass the monster on to someone else – Ben Stein Voice – STD Anyone? Anyone? Also later in the film the humanoid monsters tend to do that annoying CGI enhanced roar where their mouth opens too wide.
That being said, this is strong film from Mitchell, who does not view himself as a horror director. Above all, with its controlled (not just pointing the camera in every direction like most modern horror movies) camera set-ups and fantastic score, It Follows is a small step in the right direction for the horror genre.
The Witch (2015) – Robert Eggers
With his directorial debut, Robert Eggers has fashioned the best American horror film of the 2010s, and possibly one of the strongest witchcraft films ever made. Eggers is a production designer turned director, his talent with design is noticeable in every frame of his debut.
He worked extensively with British and American historical societies and even collaborated with experts in 17th century agriculture, to make sure that every aspect of the film was steeped in realism.
Even the dialogue was entirely captured from primary sources. The lighting is entirely natural, nighttime scenes are only lit with candles. Frames are regularly reminiscent of the Dutch masters.
To my ear, the film’s only technical mistake is the accents, the different members of the family sometimes seem to have accents from differing sections of England, an impossibility. However, with a film this immaculately designed, it is very possible that my hearing was at fault.
Cinema is a narrative art, and the greatest designs in the world will do nothing to save a weak story. Thankfully, The Witch‘s narrative is a doozy. A man, his wife, and their four children are banished from their small village over differing interpretations of the Gospel. They soon build a home and farm in a field on the edge of secluded forest.
The film mainly told from the point of view of the family’s oldest child, their willful and intelligent (yet uneducated because of the time) teenage daughter Thomasin (rising star Anya Taylor-Joy). Needless to say, horrible supernatural occurrences soon begin, and the family’s faith in one another shatters.
There may be witches in the forest, and Thomasin soon starts to believe that her youngest siblings, the twins Mercy and Jonas are communing with a demon in the form of the family’s ram – Black Philip. This of course, like The Crucible, and every other famous story of witchcraft in New England, leads the anarchy.
*Spoiler Unlike most witchcraft films that use witchcraft to explore the evils of religious extremism and America’s House of Un-American Activities Committee, it turns out that there are real witches in the forest and there really is a reason to be afraid.
As critic Sonny Bunch noticed in a magnificent essay, many critics hated the idea that there really was something in the woods, because so many Americans are trained to accept witch-hunts as a metaphor for injustice.
Many critics actually believed that featuring real witches was something of a heresy. Critic MaryAnn Johanson actually complains that “Eggers has appropriated a place and a time and a psychological ethos—Christian fundamentalist religious hysteria in the buildup to the Salem witch trials—and found the one ending that has absolutely nothing to say about it.” Unbelievable!
Bunch further posits the film is actually a “radicalization narrative”, this an original and I believe crucial reading of the film, and I highly suggest his piece.
Nonetheless, The Witch should be watched primarily as a terrifically tense scary movie.
And that is a short history of the horror film.
So, when our post-modern Samhain comes, remember Alfred Clark, and James Whale, or Val Lewton, and watch a horror movie. Check out something from this list, or an old favorite, or whatever is playing on a cable Halloween marathon. Return to an older more dangerous time in the safety and comfort of your own home.
This article was updated on 10/19/2018