“Kawaki concerns that aspect that drives us (…) as well as how (…) something real, trauma, affects the speaking being. It (…) shows vividly the most irrational aspect present in this world and in speaking beings.”
Former police detective Akikazu Fujishima (Koji Yakusho), who lost his career and family after brutally beating his wife’s lover, is caught up in the investigation of a triple murder at a convenience store, where he worked as a security guard. Detective Asai (Satoshi Tsumabuki) decides to surveil him as a possible suspect.
Around the same time, his ex-wife Kiriko Fujishima (Asuka Kurosawa) calls her mentally unstable ex-husband in a panic to tell him that their 17-year-old daughter Kanako (Nana Komatsu), a model student, has disappeared without a trace.
Akikazu decides to investigate her disappearance and quickly stumbles on a little box with illegal substances in Kanako Fujishima’s bag. In his search for his daughter as well as his search to understand her he starts to question people who knew her like Emi Morishita (Ai Hashimoto), Tomoko Nagano (Aoi Morikawa) and Doctor Tsujimura (Jun Kunimura) for instance. The question arises: what more has she’s been hiding?
The narrative of Kawaki consists of two distinct subjective perspectives, the perspective of Akikazu Fujishima, who decides to search for his daughter, and the perspective of “I”, who has fallen in love with Kanako. Both perspectives, but in a different way, effectively illustrate the interrelated themes that govern the narrative: the aspect of miscommunication, the aspect of jouissance of real that animates our bodies and the aspect of the traumatic real.
Concerning the aspect of jouissance, Akikazu Fujishima presence is most illustrative. As a character he represents something ungraspable (for the viewer but probably even for himself) as it’s evident that there is something else that ‘drives’ him, expressed by his “aggression”. By way of Akikazu, the narrative makes that ungraspable aspect, jouissance – here in his destructive guise – that drives every speaking being very sensible for the viewer.
The second aspect of the traumatic real and its effect is most clearly illustrated by the perspective of “I”, even though this theme underpins the entire narrative, a narrative full of sexual as non-sexual aggression. In various instances the narrative frames how this real affects the characters – a confronting framing that affects quite often the viewer too.
Lastly, the aspect of miscommunication, which is evident by the interaction between characters, is enforced by the cinematography. Regardless of the subjective perspective, the speech interaction, which quite often guides the construction of the scene, is almost always framed in a fragmented way: even though the structure of shots positions characters in a given space, the speech interaction – understood as two distinctively visible persons exchanging signifiers – is seldom framed as such. The narrative concerns alienated characters with respect to speech (theirs and speech of others), thus underlining the fundamental miscommunication that drives speech and communication. This is most apparent through the perspective of “I”, which is structured through his own narration, giving us a look in his thoughts and the way he experienced his relation with Kanako and the way it develops.
To conclude: because of the structure of Kawaki the viewer is, by way of two main perspectives, given mostly indirect views or speech on Kanako. This has as effect that the “evil” that Kanako embodies is only really sensible at specific moments in the narrative. Furthermore her evilness isn’t fully sensible as, firstly, her ‘being’ is largely ‘contaminated’ by the subjective perspective of “I” – the only main character the viewer can somewhat understand and relate to, and secondly because the ‘emptiness and absence’ that underpins her speech. The evil that Kanako embodies is to situated in the fact she fully embodies “the lure”: Kanako ascends as a beautiful, ethereal dreamlike being of evil, almost completely cut off from any depiction of aggression or violence.
In general, World of Kanako is told using fragmented shifting temporal perspectives, quite often by way of quick successions of shots. This fragmentation creates confusion/mystery, as a lot of imagery – and this is especially true in the beginning of the narrative, due to their partiality and their framing, resist narrification, i.e. the signification images receive when oriented by signifiers. Kawaki is structured as a puzzle, but as a more radical puzzle than the one Akikazu Fujishima is faced with.
Nevertheless, as the narrative progresses, the same temporal juxtaposition resolves mystery too, as newly uttered speech (signifiers) in the main narrative perspective (Akikazu Fujishima) orients fragmentary images of the past. Furthermore this temporal blending of various scenes also introduces Akikazu Fujishima; a fragmentation of various narrative layers that delineates a great introductory sketch of the position of the father.
The difference between both subjective perspectives is reflected in how the cinematography stages their subjective experience of the reality. The first difference concerns the use of colour and lighting. Whereas the perspective of “I” is almost entirely composed with dreamy blues (for outside scenes) and warm yellows (for inside scenes), the perspective of Akikazu is solely draped in dark and drab colours. In the case of “I”, the intermingling of the blueish colours, the use of lens flare, the proneness of the scene to become unfocused and blurry, the facial close-ups gives Kanako’s presence an ethereal quality. The second difference concerns cinematographical distance. In the case of Fujishima, the camera, by way of facial and non-facial close-ups, stays very close to him, while maintaining more distance to others characters like Kiriko Fusjishima for instance. The effacing of the distance between the characters and the viewer successfully implicates the viewer in the scene, even though it might, in the case of Akikazu Fujishima’s subjective experience, feel claustrophobic at times.
And even though close-ups are also abundantly used for Kanako and “I”, the framing of the perspective of “I” maintains more distance. This is evident in the staging of aggressive interactions. In the case of “I” the bullying is more often framed with more distance, whereas aggressive/action concerning Akikazu (or sexual action, which is ever insinuated) is filmed closer overall. Furthermore the close-by framed action characterizes itself by shakiness and by becoming unfocused, communicating the impact of this “aggression” and underlining the chaotic nature of it all. This framing, assisted by the sound of the lack thereof, successfully affects the viewer.
It’s evident that the cinematography focuses more on parts/details in the whole then on the whole, the narrative space, the spatial context itself. Kawaki is thus nothing other than a character ‘focused’ narrative, with a cinematography that underlines speech and facial expressions as well as the experiences of those aspects by “I” and Akikazu.
To conclude: there is one choice in style that has no added value to the narrative: the ‘retro styled’ framing, underlined by funky music, of Akikazu Fujishima’s transformation once his decision and the reoccurrence of those ‘retro-styled’ effects. These effects are at odds with the rest of the explicit cinematography and even undermines some of the subversive content of the narrative.
Kawaki is a narrative that in essence, beyond being a story about the disappearance of Kanako, concerns something of the real. It concerns that aspect that drives us, but eludes us as well, and how an infringement by something real, trauma, affects the speaking being. It confronts the viewer explicitly with these aspects and shows vividly the most irrational aspect present in this world and in speaking beings.
The structure of the narrative is complex but engaging. It successfully engenders mystery and keeps the viewer’s attention. Beyond the puzzle-like structure the cinematography really brings both narrative positions in all their subjectivity to the fore.
The only negative point concerns the retro style that’s used and suppresses some of the subversive nature of Kawaki. This odd choice notwithstanding, Kawaki proves to be very engaging, subversive experience into the various effects the real, underpinning speaking beings and the world, can have.