Film: Cold Fish
UK Release date: 27th June 2011
Running time: 144 mins
Director: Sion Sono
Starring: Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Denden, Asuka Kurosawa, Mugumi Kagurazaka, Hikari Kajiwara
Studio: Third Window
Inspired by the Saitama Dog Lover Serial Murders that came to light in 1993, involving the exploits of Gen Sekine and his ex-wife Hiroko Kazama who would breed then sell rare hounds, killing any buyer that felt robbed by their extortionate valuations, the latest offering from cult Japanese writer-director Sion Sono (Love Exposure) swaps the lovable mutts for tropical fish. So is Cold Fish the compelling thriller it claims to be, or will we be tossing it back from whence it came?
Shamoto is struggling to run a small tropical fish shop with his second wife, Taeko, and his troublesome daughter, Mitsuko. When Mitsuko is caught shoplifting at a grocery store they meet a friendly man named Murata, who helps to settle things between Mitsuko and the store manager.
Since Murata also runs a tropical fish shop, Shamoto establishes a bond with him and they become friends. Mitsuko is offered work by Murata, who suggests she stay with him and his wife at their beautiful home, allowing Shamoto to rebuild his relationship with Taeko.
All seems well, but Murata hides many dark secrets behind his friendly exterior. Selling cheap fish to his customers for high prices with his artful lies, if anyone suspects fraud or refuses to go along with his moneymaking schemes they’re murdered and their bodies disposed.
With Mitsuko a seemingly willing hostage at Murata’s home and Shamoto fooled into becoming a business partner, it isn’t long before the mild-mannered shopkeeper has to take a stand in order to save his family, and himself...
He said: The quirky opening act pulls the viewer into a simple world, and thanks to strong performances by all the leads, we quickly empathise with Shamoto, a man as wet as the weather, and his family as they struggle to face up to their problems. At the same time we fall for the smooth-talking, charismatic Murata, and his beautiful wife, and we’re hoodwinked by his successful business, but we’re also suspicious of their motives and keenness to befriend such a disillusioned protagonist when surely they don’t need the inconvenience.
She said: Cold Fish clocks in at just under two and a half hours, but the leisurely pace does nothing to distort this thoroughly disturbing drama.
He said: Padding out most of the running time with lessons in how to dismember a body, intercut with dodgy double-crossings, passionless poisoning and repetitive threats to make people ‘invisible’, Sion Sono fails to find a spark for the majority of a lengthy second act.
She said: Blessed with a slow, deliberate and absorbing pace, Cold Fish reels you in with its offbeat characters, dire situations and curious relationships. Despite the subject matter, Sono’s picture remains suitably restrained, and it’s only in the final act that all hell breaks loose, erupting in an orgy of violence, vengeance and bloody retribution.
He said: Uneventful in the extreme, it’s only worth watching if you plan on becoming a butcher.
She said: Mitsuru Fukikoshi makes for a captivating lead, a success in itself considering the tragic picture he paints, his is a mild mannered performance underplayed at every turn. Shamato is a mournful figure, the kind of character you really want to slap, and his weakness threatens to consume all that he encounters. You can’t help thinking he got lucky with second wife Taeko, because Megumi Kagurazaka makes for an arresting presence throughout.
He said: His wife Taeko has her knockers, her worth to the story questionable, but her fans will argue they’re all that matters.
She said: Sono takes great pleasure in the twisted, sexually depraved relationships that form, ensuring a morally ambiguous tone that disturbs and delights in equal measures.
He said: The film also suffers from an extremely negative portrayal of its female characters, whether it be Taeko’s untold hankering for a high-handed partner (the perfect excuse to give her impressive globes an airing - no doubt what attracted her star-gazing husband in the first place), Murata’s indecisive wife who gets her kicks from entrusting herself to no one as long as she gets what she wants (a good excuse to get it all out), the ungrateful daughter whom apparently hates her family yet hardly utters a word in disgust, and six other teenage disciples that work for Murata at his enormous fish emporium with no hint of backstories (a good excuse to have a bit of girl on girl action though).
She said: Cold Fish swims in dark waters but that’s not to say it isn’t funny, as with most of Sono’s work, an undercurrent of black humour makes waves at every turn. The final act is both shocking and extreme, but its beautifully played by the remaining cast members. Events spiral out of control as Shamato edges towards inevitable insanity, and the drip-feed of disillusionment ignites with style and flare.
He said: With all of its horrific activity confined to the final third, Cold Fish is therefore hard work for the most part, and when it does finally indulge in the red stuff, including a fantastic struggle through slippery entrails, you’ll still be slightly surprised by Shamoto’s sudden transformation from lifeless loser to complete fruitcake.
She said: With dysfunctional characters, distressing subject matter and a running time that could test your patience, Cold Fish is hardly a feel-good romp. Sono rewards the viewer with a meaningful, harrowing and deeply disturbing tale that can’t fail to impress.
He said: Cold Fish starts promisingly but loses its way during the bloodless flimsiness of its second act which refuses to end, or in fact add anything remotely interesting until the ruthless finale that lacks originality and isn’t as clever as it thinks it is. To quote our leading man, life is pain, and it doesn’t get much more painful than watching this.
She said: Sion Sono cements his name at the top of the Japanese film industry, delivering a deliriously deranged denouement that unsettles and satisfies with alarming intensity, and the rest of the film isn’t too bad either. Extreme cinema without a doubt, extremely good that is, and indisputably one of the films of the year.