Cold Fish (2011)
Directed by Sion Sono
Distributed by Bloody Disgusting Selects
Cold Fish (Japanese title Tsumetai nettaigyo) is by far one of the more challenging films I’ve seen this year. With a hefty running time of 144 minutes, the movie features disturbing sexually charged material as well as some brutal dismemberment scenes that genre fans will find hard to forget. And even though Cold Fish isn’t generally a film I’d necessarily enjoy (I’ll be the first to admit my genre tastes are a little on the less extreme side), I found co-writer/director Sion Sono’s gleefully violent tale of an unassuming man who gets mixed up in the affairs of a prolific serial killer a quite intoxicating and haunting character study.
At the start of Cold Fish we meet downtrodden dreamer Shamato (Fukikoshi), the owner of a meager tropical fish shop who can’t seem to get any respect from the women in his life. His troublesome teenage daughter (Kajiwara) shoplifts as a way to rebel against her father’s young new wife, Taeko (Kagurazaka), who also secretly yearns for another life away from her emasculated husband that can’t seem to provide her the cushy life she imagined she was marrying into.
One night Shamato and his family cross paths with wealthy businessman Murata (Denden), who shares Shamato’s passion for aquatic life forms. It turns out that Murata (the equivalent of a crazy old uncle you try to avoid at your family Christmas parties) runs a far more successful fish shop across town, and he graciously offers to let Shamato’s daughter work at his shop as a way to reform the teenager and get her to straighten up. Shamato, who is literally between a rock and a hard place, agrees to the arrangement in an effort to save his marriage with Taeko and earn some respect from his daughter.
But what starts off as a harmless arrangement turns out to be a far more twisted venture, and soon Shamato sees Murata for what he truly is- a ruthless and demented sociopath that kills off anyone who second-guesses the businessman or shows him any disrespect. By the time Shamato realizes how deeply involved he has become in the twisted and gruesome exploits of both Murata and his wife, Aiko (Kurosawa), Shamato faces a mental breakdown, which sets off a deadly chain of reactions that will leave you stunned as you watch it unfold during the film’s final moments.
Helmed with a masterful eye by Sono, Cold Fish contains some of the most graphic imagery you will see on screen this year and is definitely not for the faint of heart either- it features an incredible amount of violence, several insanely violent sex scenes that might actually leave the Marquis de Sade blushing and some of the most brutal (yet hilarious) dismemberment scenes that make anything in the original I Spit on Your Grave look like child’s play in comparison.
While Sono has clearly demonstrated himself a masterful storyteller once again with Cold Fish, the one thing that perhaps would have made the film just a little more effective is if they could have trimmed about 20 minutes off the first act of the film. That’s the only time the story lags a bit, but once Murata and his intentions are unmasked, you really don’t mind how long it takes to get to that point because everything that follows is incredibly startling and provocative.
Overall, Cold Fish is going to be a ‘love it or hate it’ experience for genre fans out there. Loosely based on the true story of one of the most prolific serial killers in Japan’s history, the latest from Sono explores one simple man’s search for balance alongside the gritty realism of the world of serial killers, making Cold Fish a movie that you won’t soon forget.
4 out of 5
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