NR, 144 min.
Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Sion Sono, Yoshiki Takahashi
Starring: Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Denden, Asuka Kurosawa, Megumi Kagurazaka, Hikari Kajiwara
“Cold Fish” is more proof that the Japanese have a knack for taking the mundane and turning it into something dark and twisted. This film is in the tradition of other Asian flicks about killers in the way it places the killer in settings that seem to be from the everyday. This movie is about a power struggle between two tropical fish storeowners. Yes, tropical fish.
It’s about more than that, but the focus is on two very different men. Syamoto is a quiet and submissive man. He’s married to a beautiful woman, who has grown cold toward him now that they’ve settled into their lives together. Syamoto’s first wife died three years prior and their daughter is not accepting of the new mother. She acts out by stealing at a supermarket. This is how Murata enters their lives.
Murata owns a much bigger tropical fish store. He offers to take the daughter on with his live-in staff. He also wants Syamoto to partner with him. Although, Syamoto is wary of the man, he gets roped in as an accomplice to the murder of an investor Murata is doing business with. Murata and his wife are both psychotic and pull Syamoto into their world by forcing him to help them “make the body invisible.”
This is a taut thriller that explores many psychological levels as this evil couple strips Syamoto’s life away from him. The ending is a surprise that I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about. It is in many ways inevitable, although a Hollywood version probably would’ve had Syamoto becoming something powerful and out of character for what he’s already shown us of his personality. Certainly Murata taps into some dark depths that nobody ever would’ve known was inside Syamoto otherwise, but turning into some sort of kingpin would’ve been wrong.
Japanese filmmaking seems to strive to find the unusual and strange in the normal. Syamoto is normal to a fault until he falls into this hidden world of darkness embraced by Murata and his wife. Because he’s so normal, you can’t help but root for him. But this isn’t an American movie where we can fool ourselves into believing that Bruce Willis’s John McClane is an “everyman” and not some sort of superhero. The everyman here is more vulnerable and more fallible than some Hollywood fantasy. That makes his story much more horrific.