A highly anticipated film for this year’s Japan Cuts, Kako: My Sullen Past isn’t an easy film to describe, in this story about a whimsy teen, Kako (Fumi Nikaidou), during her summer break in Kita Shinagawa, Tokyo.
Kako: My Sullen Past mixes elements of quirky observational humour with all out off-beat comedy. It’s a film that perhaps would need a second viewing for all the complexities it brings. Kako’s parents, while showing similar apathetic personalities, don’t seem to be interested in one another at all. Kako’s mother (Kumi Hyodo) carries around her new born baby on her back, which rarely makes a noise or even moves and is yet to be named while her father (Itsuji Itao) sits and reads the newspaper mostly, not paying much attention to the events around him. With a family dynamic like she has, it’s not hard to see why Kako has such a cynical outlook on life at such a young age.
She has a fixation on the past, notably an old kidnapping case as well as seeking out an elusive child-eating crocodile, coupled with a dark, bleak outlook on the future. She belittles her friend’s ambitions of wanting to be a rock star and she doesn’t see much of a future for herself either. She reluctantly watches over her niece who seems more of a hindrance to Kako than anything else. Kako generally splits her summer between reluctantly helping out at her family restaurant, babysitting her niece, stalking a mysterious man at a café and woefully standing on the same spot for hours on end awaiting the sighting of the crocodile that apparently stalks the canal waters. It’s a pitiful summer for most, but Kako feels detached from the world, unwilling to strike up any real relationships, seemingly resentful of the ones she currently has and not particularly interested in anything. Kako’s summer gets turned on its head when her aunt, Mikiko (Kyoko Koizumi), presumed dead for over a decade, suddenly turns up at the restaurant and has to bunk in with Kako to keep a low profile from the people who are after her. It seems Mikiko is, amongst other things, a terrorist. A troublemaker who seems to create disharmony wherever she goes, the mystery to where she’s been for the last 18 years intrigues Kako so she decides to dig deeper to uncover the mystery of her aunt. But uncovering the mystery isn’t as simple as that, and while Kako searches for the truth, the two collide at every opportunity.
Writer/Director Shiro Maedo delivers a hard-to-watch, complicated story. There’s some hardcore philosophical moments alongside impressively punchy dialogue which can be difficult to digest, but it makes Kako a strong, fascinating character. The story does begin to slow down partway through the film and it’s diffiult to fully keep up with what’s actually going on and where the story might be going. This is where a potential second viewing could come in handy. Overall though, it’s a non-traditional, fun and ultimately daring story that tackles issues and ideas in a way that just wouldn’t be seen in Hollywood today.