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Horror Reviews - Cold Fish (2010)

Cold Fish (2010)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2012-03-06 00:44

Written by: Shion Sono, Yoshiki Takahashi
Directed by: Shion Sono
Starring: Makoto Ashikawa, Denden and Mitsuru Fukikoshi

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

How far will you be pushed?

Cold Fish features a story thatís so outrageous that you almost donít believe it when the blistering opening titles boldly proclaim this to be based on true events. But indeed they are, and, while the film is surely dramatized, a psychotic Japanese pet shop owner and his wife did actually double as serial killers, and the material serves as the basis for yet another stylish, Oriental exercise in epic hyper-violence that's so masterfully deranged that it reveals the savage underbelly to something as innocuous as the Japanese exotic fish industry.

I doubt anyone considers that to be the most cut-throat of industries, but Cold Fish tries to convince you otherwise. At the center is Nobuyuki Syamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), the owner of a modest fish shop who recently remarried after the death of his wife. His daughter disapproves of his new, young bride, so she rebels by shoplifting; upon being caught during her latest attempt, the family is approached by Yukio Murata (Denden), the gregarious proprietor of the biggest fish shop in town. For no apparent reason, he offers to take Syamoto under his wing and even gives his daughter a position at his store. Itís an offer he canít refuse, so Syamoto accepts and unwittingly becomes entangled in Dendenís psychotic affairs.

Cold Fish will test your patience; while the opening sequence moves with a rat-tat-tat rhythm, it quickly settles in and burns slowly over 140 minutes. For the first forty-five, itís a film that looks like it could go just about anywhere. Subtle foreshadowing (such as a fish munching on its prey in a tank) point to something sinister on the horizon, but Cold Fish is mostly unsettling because weíve been trained to distrust someone as weirdly affable as Dendenís Murata. Why else would he casually wander into Syamotoís life if he didnít have some sort of ulterior motive? Such an assumption probably says just as much about our expectations, but Cold Fish takes your worst assumptions about humanity and somehow reveals something even worse. It might be another film about a man pushed to embrace a cruel, unrelentingly brutal world, but itís so bleakly fierce that you dare not turn away.

Denden is especially (and appropriately enough) a force of nature; thatís an overused term to sometimes indicate the forcefulness of a performance, and I think it applies here too since itís impossible not to be captivated by him. His toothy, unreserved demeanor often borders on hysterical, and itís as if heís always attempting to sell something; heís a guy who not only knows what he wants, but he knows exactly how heís going to get it. ďI always win,Ē he assures his new right-hand man, something that sounds more threatening than comforting. Heís oddly complex in that heís so transparent, yet he can put on a show on a whim; when a man comes (with Yakuza entourage in tow) to find his missing brother (who Murata killed), he breaks down into a tearful, pathetic display thatís absolutely convincing. His cold mercilessness is what makes him such a predatory force that sweeps into Syamotoís life and irrevocably alters it, acting as a catalyst to uncover Syamotoís own inadequacies and regrets. He takes Syamotoís wife by force (though she eventually submits), and he kills off anyone who stands in his way, a process of making them ďinvisible,Ē to use his own terminology. And the scary thing is that heís matched by a wife thatís just as crazy and all too willing to help him casually dispose their victims bodies; theyíve even got the process down to a science (which they should since theyíve done it 57 times, a number that rises by the end of Cold Fish).

Syamotoís reaction to all of this is fascinating. When heís forced to accompany this madman on one of those body-dumping excursions, heís reduced to the role of serving coffee as he watches his new boss hack up a body and eventually scatter the remains. Heís obviously terrified but also seems strangely detached, almost as if heís a mere observer to his crumbling life; we know him to be a bit of a romantic, the type of guy who wants to take his dates to the planetarium. He perhaps looks to the stars simply because his mundane life as a fish salesman is so bleak, and the filmís production design brilliantly captures the dichotomy on display here. Murataís bright, garish storefront is absurdly overstaffed with buxom, scantily-clad beauties while Syamotoís abode is dim and grungy, inhabited only by his own wife who is left to sweep up the floors at night. Cold Fish might be one of the wildest stories to ever arrive at the pretty simple point that nice guys finish last, as Syamoto finds himself caught up in a world full of deceit and betrayal, with each person revealing themselves to be just as corrupt as the last. Thereís always a bigger fish, indeed.

Itís arguable that Murataís most unbelievable quality is his belief that heís actually doing Syamoto a favor. In his own sociopathic way, Murata completely unleashes Syamotoís repressed Id; about halfway through the film, heís reduced to shriveling in his car and coldly reciting a planetarium fact about how the world will end in another 4.6 billion years, and you get the sense that the end canít come soon enough for him. By the end of the film, heís caked in blood, having been subjected to another round of madcap mayhem that pushes Cold Fish into a purely insane and despairing place thatís littered with eviscerated corpses, whose presence is only outweighed by the staggering regret and disappointment that Syamoto feels for his life. Thereís a moment when heís forced to dump another victimís guts into a local river, and Murata remarks that heís made the fish happy, a notion that crystallizes the vicious cycle of Cold Fish. On many levels the fish are at fault; itís the exotic fish industry that brought these two together for this carnage, and itís the fish that everything started on a macrocosmic level. They eventually evolved into life forms that eventually gave rise the humanity that continually wreaks havoc upon the planet.

I suppose thatís why the closing shot of Cold Fish pulls back to reveal the planet earth, as it leaves us pondering just what else will be unleashed in the next 4.6 billion years before it finally withers and dies--if it lasts that long in the first place, of course. Calling Cold Fish an allegory or parable is maybe a bit of a reach, but itís certainly saying a lot about the generally bleak condition of humanity. The film is hugely misanthropic, almost comically so--by the end of it, its streak of black humor almost feels like a defense mechanism. Shion Sono crafts an unexpectedly elegant and visceral tour-de-force out of one of the bleakest molds imaginable; in short, Cold Fish is just a big, bloody ball of craziness that rolls up on you and crushes you under its weight. This genre (read: Asian guys killing each other) feels like itís been overcooked lately, but this one continues to validate it; you can find Cold Fish on DVD from Bloody Disgustingís Selects series, which has turned into a solid little line of titles. However, itís also available in HD via Netflixís streaming services, where it should be bumped right up to the top of your queue. Buy it!

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