Based on a popular novel by Kotaro Isaka, the idea behind Fish Story is straightforward enough. A little left of centre perhaps, seeing as it tells the tale of a little known punk song inadvertently saving the world. The film begins in 2012 as an elderly man makes his way through abandoned city streets, in the sky above him an enormous meteorite makes its way to Earth. The first sign of life is found in a record shop, where two young men are discussing a song by the unknown Japanese punk band Gekirin. The Sex Pistols had yet to make it big, and Gekirin were considered a little too quirky for mainstream music fans. Little did they know that their song would go on to play such an important part in the future of mankind.
Next up we find ourselves in 1982, where three companions are driving down an empty highway at night. They’re talking about paranormal events as a familiar song plays in the background. It’s rumoured that a haunting scream can be heard halfway through the song when it reaches a bizarre mid-section silence. The driver of the car (Gaku Hamada) is convinced that he’ll play a part in saving the world one day, and curiosity gets the better of him as he drives home alone, opting to play the song one last time.
Then, quite bizarrely, we move into Steven Seagal territory for the 2009 segment. A young girl misses her stop and is left stranded on a ferry heading to Hokkaido. Asami (Mikako Tabe) finds a friend in the resident chef (Mirai Moriyama), but as is so often the case in Fish Story, things aren’t what they seem. He casually informs her that he was raised to be a ‘Champion of Justice’, and his unique fighting skills are put to good use when the boat gets hijacked. Back in 1975 we are meeting the band. Gekirin are struggling to make themselves heard and an interfering record producer refuses to listen to them. When all appears lost, leader Shigeki finds inspiration in a book given to him by his manager. That would be Fish Story then.
You’ll have to forgive the pun but director Yoshihiro Nakamura certainly knows how to reel in the viewer. His four stories appear to have little in common at first but each of the shorts comes with a delicate blend of charm and humour. The first segment invites you in with a friendly smile, acting as a bridge between the four stories. Nakamura returns to this point every now and then to remind us why we’re following such a random bunch of characters. Something to do with the end of the world of course, but you probably wouldn’t realise it after watching the next three chapters. The connection is the song, we just don’t know how and why.
The most entertaining segment for me was the 2009 ferry trip to Hokkaido. At no point was I expecting a frenzied action movie to break out of this wondrous Japanese drama, but that’s exactly what happened. The fight scenes are well staged, aiding in the films ability to add yet more curiosity to the mix. The next part of the movie – in which we discover how the band came to write the song in the first place – was for me the least enticing. Nothing particularly bad about it, the performances are strong throughout, but Nakamura starts to drag his heels and our scaly sea dweller runs the risk of outstaying its welcome. That said, nothing prepared me for the closing moments, a fitting finale to one of the freshest films of the year.
Fish Story does have a habit of wallowing in the shallow end at times, but fans of breezy Japanese fare like Fine, Totally Fine and Turtles Are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers will know what to expect, because Fish Story is one of the most original takes on Armageddon I have ever seen. Fresh, fun, offbeat and unusual, Yoshihiro Nakamura’s latest is a quirky catch with a well-placed hook. Don’t let it be the one that got away. AW