COLD FISH (2010)
Movie Review by Colleen Wanglund, The Geisha of Gore
Director Sion Sono’s serial killer film COLD FISH (2010) is the third film to be released by Nikkatsu’s Sushi Typhoon off-shoot. Co-written by Sono and Yoshiki Takahashi, the film is based on a true story from the 1980s. Takahashi is a graphic artist responsible for most of the very cool poster artwork for some of Japan’s most wildly notorious horror films, including TOKYO GORE POLICE (2008) and ROBOGEISHA (2009), as well as being the principal artist for Sushi Typhoon’s releases. Sono is a writer, actor, composer and cinematographer, as well as the director of such deliberately-paced films as SUICIDE CLUB (2001) and NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE (2005).
COLD FISH opens with the introduction of the Shamoto family—Nobuyuki (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), owner of a tropical fish shop; his second wife Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka); and his teenage daughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara). We can see immediately that Mitsuko has no respect for her father and hates her step-mother. We also see that Shamoto is a timid man and his marriage is in trouble, as Taeko will not have sex with him while Mitsuko is around.
Nobuyuki and Taeko receive a phone call and run out to a local department store in the pouring rain. Mitsuko has been caught shoplifting and the manager demands to know what Shamoto intends to do about it, when Yukio Murata (played by the very prolific Denden) comes into the room and seemingly to the rescue. Murata also owns a tropical fish store and distracts the manager with talk of fish breeding. He then talks the store manager into letting Mitsuko go home with her parents without calling the police. After leaving the store, Murata talks the Shamoto’s into coming to his store. While there, they meet Murata’s wife Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa) and it is decided (by Murata) that Mitsuko will work at the fish store and live on the property in a dorm where all of the employees live. All of the employees are attractive young women dressed in camo-colored shorts and white tank tops (Hooters, anyone?).
Murata and his wife seem like a dream come true. They take troubled girls and give them jobs and some stability to help straighten them out. Shamoto tries to talk to Mitsuko, which proves to be a waste of time, and Taeko has a private meeting with Murata. Later that same day, Shamoto is brought into Murata’s office where there is a meeting going on about breeding fish worth millions of yen. Murata exploits Shamoto’s weakness, steering him into a deal he really knows nothing about. It is here that we see Murata’s true nature, as he kills one of the men because he hesitates to give over money and close the deal. Murata, his wife Aiko and Shamoto take the body to Murata’s dead father’s house where they promptly destroy it and any other evidence, making the dead man invisible (as Murata puts it). To keep him quiet, Murata tells Shamoto that he can make Mitsuko and Taeko invisible as well. Shamoto is sufficiently cowed.
Over the next few days, Shamoto’s life spirals completely out of control. Murata informs him that the brothers of the man they killed and disposed of are looking for him. Shamoto must get his story straight so the brothers (who run an illegal chop shop) will go away. There are questions by the police and Shamoto is drawn in even deeper to Murata and Aiko’s twisted world. Shamoto now starts to take his frustrations out on his family. He practically drags Mitsuko home, making both her and Taeko sit down to dinner as a family. When Mitsuko disrespects him, Shamoto hits her so hard he knocks her unconscious. He then attacks Taeko, realizing that their marriage is over and she wants out. Shamoto’s downward spiral continues at the hands of Murata and he seems helpless to stop it.
Yoshiki Takahashi is a fan of, and writes extensively about, true crime, so his screenplay is based on a real serial murder case in which husband and wife dog breeders are estimated to have murdered forty people in the 1980s and 90s. Because of budget constraints, the script called for fish instead of dogs and producer Yoshinori Chiba approached Sion Sono to direct. Sono initially said no, but when asked by Takahashi to read over the script as a favor (they have been friends for years), Sono changed his mind. The script went back and forth between Takahashi and Sono until they had the story they wanted.
COLD FISH is crazy long—clocking in at around two and a half hours—but it is one hell of a ride and doesn’t feel that long. Critics of Sono accuse him of over-directing scenes but I don’t see it that way. Sono takes a story and pulls the viewer into the lives of his characters. They are real people struggling to cope with their current circumstances. He wants you to experience the roller coaster of emotions right along with the characters. And the characters themselves are very well-developed and portrayed with a staggering realism. Murata is a loudmouthed asshole who manipulates the people around him and rips off his customers after initially coming across as an energetic and caring person. Shamoto is a meek man who doesn’t know how to deal with his daughter’s hatred of her step-mother and just wants to have sex with his wife. Taeko, Aiko, and Mitsuko all have their issues and would benefit greatly from some psychological help….hell, Aiko should probably be committed.
There is plenty of gore in COLD FISH, with some very detailed shots of dismemberment. Murata and Aiko are very thorough in making someone “invisible.” It is quite unsettling to see how methodical they are. One aspect that struck me as odd at first was watching Shamoto douse the bones in soy sauce before burning them. I found out that this is done to cover the smell of burning organic material—to put it nicely. The film builds slowly, but once it reaches its groove, COLD FISH moves at break-neck speed to its dizzying and unpredictable final scenes. Denden is especially good at moving things along with his frenetic portrayal of an exploitative madman. It is his performance that will be remembered most by those who see the film. What I most love about COLD FISH is the sheer helplessness of Shamoto….at times I empathize with the man, but at others I want to strangle him for allowing himself to be manipulated so easily.
Some accuse Sono of being a misogynist, but the men in COLD FISH are just as flawed and screwed up as the women. There is disgust for every character, as they are either selfish and manipulative or desperate, but like a horrifying car accident on the side of the road, you can’t look away. You want to see how low these people will go to find some satisfaction in their incomplete and messed up lives. Mitsuko is one step away from juvenile detention; Taeko seems to feel nothing until she is literally smacked around; and Aiko’s allegiance changes with the wind to whatever suits her own selfish needs. Murata is cruel and an obvious sociopath; while Shamoto’s attempt to finally deal with his disintegrating family is futile and purely out of frustration with his own shortcomings. Shamoto knows he’s being exploited but can’t muster up enough courage to stand up to Murata. He is the most pathetic character of all. And the film’s ending shocked me….I loved it!
I love Sion Sono’s films, but I must say that COLD FISH is easily his best to date. It is wholly entertaining, with a bleak and stunning outcome and a darkly funny edge. It is available on Netflix and was released on Blu-ray/DVD in North America by Bloody Disgusting. My biggest disappointment is that the Region 1 disc contains none of the extras included in the European and Asian releases, and I really wanted the extras, as they include an interview with Yoshiki Takahashi. Other than that, COLD FISH is highly recommended. I for one will definitely be watching it again.
© Copyright 2012 by Colleen Wanglund