If you’re like me, then occasionally you like to take a short break from the day’s nunchucking to enjoy pursuits perhaps not quite so badass. Like light to dark, good to evil, or Vanilla Ice to The Geto Boys, there are those of us who enjoy all things to the extreme; who operate under the idea that variety truly is the spice of life. With this film, director Sion Sono (Suicide Club, Why Don’t You Play in Hell) stated that he hoped to convey one word: hopelessness. Violent, disturbing, and utterly depressing, Cold Fish is not your typical tits-and-gore-apalooza (though those things are in attendance); and while it’s more “feel” than “fun,” somehow between the dismemberment and unconventional sex, Sono has managed to weave a thing of simple, soul-destroying beauty.
Breasts are on menu, and we’re not talkin’ tapas here.
It’s not a gutfest throughout, but there are several choice scenes with wall-to-wall innards. Very satisfying in this department.
Low. The behaviors of a few characters are admittedly strange, but it fits well within the narrative.
Mild-mannered fish shop owner Noboyuki Shamoto and his wife Taeko are enjoying a sexless evening in when they get a call that daughter Mitsuko is in trouble. They rush out to find her being held at grocery, in trouble for shoplifting. There, they meet the gregarious Mr. Murata, another fish shop owner, who has stumbled upon their plight. Murata convinces the grocery owner to let the girl go without charges and offers her a job instead, under the guise that he’s interested in helping troubled teens. Soon after Murata invites the family to his shop, a much larger and showy affair than the meager Shamoto family business. He offers friendship and business partnerships, and it seems like things are looking up for the Shamotos, who have a pretty sad life by comparison.
This is Mr. Shamoto at the Planetarium, where he is happiest. This is Shamoto’s happy face.
We learn that Mitsuko hates her father for remarrying stepmother Taeko, to the point where she won’t even allow them to lay each other in their own house. Fortunately, Murata gets the daughter out of the house by making good on his word to employ her, but then starts to “do business,” such as hate-fucking Taeko the second he gets her alone. Next he invites Mr. Shamoto to a meeting with a prospective fish buyer, a Mr. Yoshida. Shamoto, unaware of his involvement, sits and nods in the right places like the milquetoast he is, until Yoshida suddenly keels over. Murata admits to poisoning him and then drops another bomb: he’s murdered dozens of people the same way, without getting caught.
Murata and equally insane wife Yukio then drag Shamoto to a shack in the woods to dispose of the body, threatening to harm his wife and daughter if he doesn’t comply. Forced to watch them sadistically cut and rend the body to pieces, Shamoto dry heaves and despairs.
In his defense, it is hard to get the smell of offal out of leather.
Things spiral quickly after. Yoshida’s “family,” a group of yakuza-like thugs, soon descend on Murata’s fish shop, demanding to know his involvement in their patriarch’s disappearance. The Muratas coach Shamoto, forcing him to lie for them. While the men threaten and shout, Yukio listens in with one of the shop girls.
And fondles her breasts with puppets. Like ya do.
Shamoto, feeling his life more out of control by the moment, is also powerless to do anything about it. He seeks penance in the nude breasts of his very hot wife, but won’t answer her questions. Hated by his daughter, unloved by his wife and at the beck and call of the tyrannical Mr. Murata, Shamoto is starting to unravel.
With rape, of course. In Japan it always unravels with a little bit of rape.
Stating that Yukio is fucking his right-hand-man Mr. TsuTsui, Murata enlists Shamoto to drive him over to their love shack for a confrontation. Once inside, they find TsuTsui poisoned by Yukio, all according to plan. Murata kills TsuTsui’s driver as well, and then it’s off to the Dismemberment Shack of Grisly Fun. But Shamoto is reaching his limit. It comes to a fantastic, blood-soaked ending, though I’ll be honest, it’s not one you would expect.
Except for the gore. There’s lots of that.
Cold Fish is another in the Sushi Typhoon family, the Criterion Collection of fucked up, gore-soaked J-horror. Where it differs from some of its campier cousins is the simple fact that it feels more like a legitimate film. If it weren’t for a few extreme moments, this would feel less like a splatter flick and more like a mainstream release. Alongside the rape and vivisections is a conscientious look into Japanese class structure and family values. Even the sexual deviation shown throughout decries the repression of a society tired of being forced into such placid obedience to authority. I get whispers of other disturbing films as I watch; maybe something a little Blue Velvet or Cronenberg inspired. The difference being of course, that this film presents such images as a rebellion to that mainstream, need-to-please culture we often see in certain Japanese media.
I imagine these are the types of films David Lynch beats off to, while being choked by amputees in rabbit masks.
Beautifully shot, well-paced and suspenseful, this movie satisfies every element. The soundtrack swells accordingly; the acting is powerful and will leave you feeling that desperation, that hopelessness that Sono so tried to convey. It is a work of art; a bloody, violent, tit-filled work of art. And of course here at HH, that’s just the way we like it.
Score: 9/10, gorgeously presented but stock up on the Zoloft
IMDB for this fishy tale
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Categories: asian horror