Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Sion Sono, Yoshiki Takahashi
Producer: Yoshinori Chiba, Toshiki Kiimura
Cast: Makoto Ashikawa, Denden, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Asuka Kurosawa, Megumi Kagurazaka, Hikari Kajiwara, Lorena Koto
Running Time: 145 min.
Japanese director Sion Sono first caught the attention of the international film community with 2001’s “Suicide Club,” a movie that remains a J-horror cult classic, notorious for its opening scene in which a cadre of schoolgirls leap in front of an oncoming train. Since then Sion Sono has been putting out films on a startlingly frequent basis, though they haven’t always found their way to North America. Bloody Disgusting Selects is releasing his 2010 effort “Cold Fish,” a remarkably bleak film that combines elements of horror, drama, and dark comedy. Perhaps even more disturbing than what occurs onscreen in “Cold Fish” is the fact that Sono based the film on a true story: a series of murders committed in 1980’s Japan by the married owners of a dog kennel.
The first twenty or thirty minutes of “Cold Fish” lull you into a false sense of security. The story is centered around a dysfunctional family unit headed by Shinamoto, the owner of a small tropical fish store. When Shinamoto’s daughter is caught shoplifting at a local market, the police are nearly called until a charismatic middle-aged man named Murato intervenes. It turns out Murato is also the owner of a larger, more successful tropical fish shop. Murato feels that Shamato’s daughter should come and work for him at his store and learn how to become a responsible adult. Shamato agrees since he’s been looking for more private time with his new, younger wife. So far so normal, but “Cold Fish” soon takes a turn for the macabre that I won’t spoil here.
Subtitled and 145 minutes long, “Cold Fish” takes a certain level of commitment to watch but it’s full of unpredictable plot twists and strong performances. Actor Denden is a revelation as Murato: this is the kind of guy who can shake your hand and smile to your face one minute, and then the next he’s serving you a poisoned drink. The heart of the film, though, is Shamato’s gradual psychological transformation. This is the familiar sight of a bespectacled, middle class Japanese man slowing giving in to his more primal urges (see also: Shinya Tsuakmoto’s “Tetsuo: The Iron Man“). Fukikoshi Mitsuru is fantastic in the role. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone do the “repressed husband and father” part quite so convincingly. And when his character goes off the rails towards the end, Mitsuru absolutely sells it. All it takes is his glasses being tossed into a river and he seems to turn into another person entirely.
“Cold Fish” was produced by Sushi Typhoon, the Japanese imprint known for gory splatterfests like “Machine Gun Girl” and “Tokyo Gore Police.” The company feels like an odd match for the more controlled and intellectual style of Sion Sono; although there is plenty of violence in “Cold Fish,” most of it is implied offscreen while the audience only witnesses the grisly results. Sono is more interested in exploring man’s seemingly limitless capacity for evil. In an interview for “Cold Fish,” Sono claimed he wanted to “depict a sense of total hopelessness” which he feels is “lacking in Japanese films.” As a friend of mine put it, people generally don’t watch movies to experience a feeling of total hopelessness. For all its horror movie trappings, “Cold Fish” is an artfilm; it engages a different part of the brain than your average genre flick.
While the structure of the screenplay is repetitive at times – particularly whenever the characters returned to the cabin where most of the violence takes place – ultimately I feel that Sion Sono has delivered a one of a kind cinematic experience. Even when I find it difficult to outright “love” one of Sono’s films, I have to admit that they’re always strange and unique. Not many directors could craft a movie like this. Nor could most directors make a 145 minute film about incest, rape, murder, and domestic abuse be this engaging and, well, downright funny at times. With “Cold Fish,” Sono makes an effort to convey the often contradictory and absurd nature of life, and largely succeeds. Whether this film shocks or downright offends you, you aren’t likely to forget it.
HKFanatic’s Rating: 8/10