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
Reviewer: Adam Wing
From Sion Sono, the critically acclaimed director of ‘Love Exposure’, comes the deeply disturbing tale Cold Fish. Sono’s latest oddity is based on a real life murder case that became known as the ‘Saitama serial murders of dog lovers’. A case involving dog-breeder Gen Sekine and ex-wife Hiroko Kazama, who murdered & dismembered four people including a disgruntled client. Cold Fish is available on DVD and Blu-ray courtesy of Third Window Films.
In Sono’s movie, Shamato (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) runs a small tropical fish shop with second wife Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka). Taeko doesn’t get on with Shamato’s daughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara), who's brief encounter with crime introduces them to a man called Murata (Denden). Murata helps to resolve the issue and establishes a bond with the family, offering Mitsuko a job at his own tropical fish shop across town as they all become friends.
This being a Sion Sono picture, its not long before events take a turn for the twisted, because Murata hides a deep and disturbing secret behind his friendly face. He sells cheap fish to his customers for extortionate prices, and those that don’t comply are ‘made invisible’. By the time Shamato realises it, he's already in too deep. The bodies are piling up, over fifty in fact, and the meek and mild Shamato becomes an unwilling accomplice in Murata’s heinous crimes. Sion Sono takes great pleasure in exploring the extremities of grizzly murder on a fragile mind, as Shamato’s life and those around him are torn apart in brutal fashion.
Sion Sono isn’t exactly shy when it comes to feature running times either, Cold Fish clocks in at just under two and a half hours, but the leisurely pace does nothing to distort this thoroughly disturbing drama. 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.
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, but Shamato’s marriage – much like his life – is an empty shell being swept away by the waves of discontent.
High on life and infectious personality, Denden’s Murata contrasts wonderfully with the listlessness of Fukikoshi’s beleaguered Shamato. He and his wife (Asuka Kurosawa) make for an intoxicating couple, devilish to a fault and not to be trusted, but enjoyably over the top and absurdly sinister. Sono takes great pleasure in the twisted, sexually depraved relationships that form, ensuring a morally ambiguous tone that disturbs and delights in equal measures.
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. Sono’s slow build up pays off in a gloriously gory finale that won’t be forgotten for some time.
The DVD and Blu-ray come with an exclusive interview with author Jake Adelstein, reporter on the original ‘Saitama Dog-Lovers Serial Murders’ case, and two exclusive interviews with scriptwriter Yoshiki Takahashi on the creation process and original artwork. 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.
With Cold Fish 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.