Tuesday, November 15, 2011

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Cold Fish

A family drama, Shion Sono style.
That means you’re going to have a lot of severed limbs.
Quick Plot: Meet the Shamotos, a drearily unhappy family composed of a wimpy tropical fish store owner, his much younger second wife, and resentful teenage daughter. Mrs. Shamoto tosses store bought groceries in the microwave with the enthusiasm of an anorexic. Daughter Mitsuko shoplifts without care, and patriarch Nobuyuki longs for escape in the local planetarium.

After getting busted for stealing, Mitsuko befriends a garrulous businessman named Mr. Murata, who owns a cheerier tropical fish store across town and recruits the girl to join his staff of other attractive teens from troubled backgrounds. The Shamotos can’t seem to get a word in with the lively Murata and his bombshell bride, so by the end of the week, Mrs. Shamoto is having rough sex with her new friend, Mitsuko is cleaning fish tanks with a new kind of Japanese Stepfordism, and Mr. Shamoto is helping his new benefactor cover up his 58th murder by burning bones in a bonfire and covering up to the yazuka.

Indeed, making friends is an odd aspect of adult life.
Shion Sono is easily one of the most fascinating filmmakers working today. Everything from his premises--killer hair extensions! suicide cults inspired by bubblegum pop music!--to execution feels incredibly unique but generally, not forcefully so. Sure, Sono is adamantly avante garde, but rarely does his weird feel weird for the sake of weird.

Cold Fish seems most related to 2005’s Noriko’s Diner Table, the prequel to his better known Suicide Club. Both films are not easily categorized as horror, even if they feature extreme bouts of physical violence. Thematically, Cold Fish and Noriko’s Dinner Table are even more familiar. Both explore family dynamics with an emphasis on alienated teenage girls and their inefficient, inconsequential and clueless fathers. In both cases, a far more charismatic third party steps in to lead the daughters away like a modern Pied Piper.

Truth be told, I’ve only watched Noriko’s Dinner Table once (at the now defunct Two Boots Theater, sad face) and while I remember it being densely layered, I also remember it being a tad boring. Granted, its predecessor involved quite a few treats to keep you watching, from child cults to Goblin King impersonators breaking out into musical numbers. It’s a tough act to follow.

Cold Fish, on the flip side, finds an excellent pace. Though there’s a chilly distance between the audience and characters--primarily because Mr. Shamoto is intentionally barely a man--we care enough to jump on board almost immediately. And considering where the story takes us, that matters.
High Points
From Mitsuru Fukikoshi’s restraint as the near-dead Shamoto to Denden’s all-out crazy train Mr. Murata, the performances of Cold Fish are pretty pitch perfect

Low Point
Until a good hour into the film, everything we see is filtered through the Shamotos. Hence, once Mr. Murata’s driver comes to watch Murata’s wife and business colleague get it on, it’s a tad strange from a perspective point of view
Lessons Learned
Business is just entertainment (or a ploy)
The style of Japanese passion involves a lot of cupping of the boob

Getting stabbed in the neck with a pen kind of hurts
Stray Observatoin
This film may very well feature the most incompetent police officers since The Human Centipede. I say ‘since’ because even a bottle of seltzer makes a better cop than the Germans in Tom Six’s film

Part gangster film, part serial killer tale, and quite American Beauty, Cold Fish is typical Sono in being unlike anything else. It doesn’t ever go down the route you’re expecting it, making it something truly special for modern cinema. Eventually, it also gets incredibly brutal and quite disgusting, but for all the severed torso canoodles and bone sawings, Cold Fish doesn’t lose sight of the story it tells. Sure, it splatters a lot of blood over it, but at its heart, this is a film about a detached modern family letting itself be disbanded...and getting really bloody while doing so.


  1. This sounds good. I'll have to keep it in mind. Is it streaming on Netflix?

  2. Not at the moment, just a rental. Keep on the lookout though!

  3. I still haven't seen Noriko's Dinner Table, mostly because it is so long and I simply haven't taken the plunge, but both that film and Cold Fish are very much on my radar.

  4. Noriko's Dinner Table is not an easy watch. It's probably about 2.5 hours and is a whole lot of philosophizing and almost no catchy J-pop music or David Bowie-esque sadists. Still, it's worth the time when you're awake and in the mood for something heady. The more Sono I see, the more I appreciate his determination to not tell a story I've seen before.