Nov 7

JQ Magazine: Film Review – Sion Sono’s ‘Cold Fish’ an Antisocially Acquired Taste

“In the end, Sono really does ask us about our humanity, and what life is about. Sure, he takes the bloody, abusive, rape-filled path, but he does touch on some solid stuff. It’s a lot of big questions wrapped in a gory, misogynistic, boob-exposing gift box.” (Courtesy Salient Media)


By Rick Ambrosio (Ibaraki-ken, 2006-08) for JQ magazine. Rick manages the JET Alumni Association of New York (JETAANY)’s Twitter page and is the creator of the JETwit column Tadaima!

I was hungry, real hungry after work and was about 20 minutes early to the New York Museum of Art and Design near Columbus Circle to see the movie Cold Fish 「冷たい熱帯魚」, so I walked a block to Good Burger and grabbed an overpriced hamburger.  As I arrived back to the museum, I sat next to Shree (name changed to protect the innocent) who was midway through a burrito. With minutes left before the movie started, we headed into the museum and down some wooden steps to the theater. Walking in I was pretty surprised; we were only accompanied by seven or eight other patrons. Little did I know that it was a blessing in disguise…fewer people to feel awkward around after the movie.

Oh yes, the movie.  How do I write about Cold Fish? It’s a little difficult. I suppose I can do it like this:

Cold Fish is a film directed by the controversial Sion Sono (whose month-long, eight-film retrospective wraps this week at MAD) and stars Denden and Mitsuru Fukikoshi. The film is based on real murders that took place in Fukushima. The story begins well enough: A timid man named Nobuyuki (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) with a rebellious daughter (Hiraki Kajiwara) and a hot trophy wife (gravure idol Megumi Kagurazaka) is feeling disconnected and regretful. They own a tropical fish shop. Through an awkward circumstance they meet Mr. Murata (Denden) and his attractive wife (Asuka Kurosawa), both of whom also own a tropical fish shop.

From there, shit just gets weird.  That’s the only way I can explain it, folks. And it wasn’t just because the film cut out four times while we watched it. (Apparently, there were Blu-ray issues…through most of the movie. The museum might want to buy a new player before they hold another festival.) Anyway, Mr. Murata decides to bring Nobuyuki on as a partner, but not before hiring his daughter at his shop and sleeping with his wife (who apparently enjoys rough treatment, to put it mildly).

As Nobuyuki is introduced as the new partner, the old partner finds himself exiting the business via a poisonous death. This is where things kick into the next gear, and Murata forces Nobuyuki to assist with the disposal of the body. The whole body disposal process is presented with great detail. I’m serious about this part—after watching this movie, I am fairly confident that anyone could make a dead body disappear.

The plot then dives deeper and deeper into the dark comedy that is Murata’s utter disregard for human life and the director’s utter disregard for your stomach. By the way, did I mention that this film is very graphically violent?  If you aren’t into that kind of thing, find another show; this movie revels in its ability to test what you can deal with gore-wise. If you enjoy severed heads and genitalia being tossed around a bathroom, you’ve found your dream movie.

Towards the end, Nobuyuki is faced with the truth which Murata is happy to provide—Nobuyuki is terrible at managing his family, he is just a weak, sad man floating around without purpose and without solving anything.  How Nobuyuki decides to remedy this is where the movie gets controversial (If it wasn’t already).

At this point I should note that Shree told me that had I not been writing a review for this movie, she would have just walked out with her half finished burrito. I couldn’t blame her. For the film’s final 20 minutes, you need to really suspend a lot of things; your belief in what was happening as well as any moral or ethical convictions you may hold. Luckily, I can easily cast these things aside and found the ending to be quite cathartic in a very angry Japanese way if I am to describe it. If you are, however, hampered by such things as morality and common decency, then the last reel is very hard to watch, and may make you question humanity. (You will not question the father’s ability to multitask, though.)

In the end, Sono really does ask us about our humanity, and what life is about. Sure, he takes the bloody, abusive, rape-filled path, but he does touch on some solid stuff.  What does a man amount to?  How much is too much?  What kind of control do you have over yourself, your world?  It’s a lot of big questions wrapped in a gory, misogynistic, boob-exposing gift box.  (BTW, thank you, Megumi Kagurazaka, for allowing me to stay invested in this movie, of only for your ability to stand straight up with your shoulders back.)

As I walked out of the theater, an attendant handed me a coupon for a free movie due to the technical difficulties the movie suffered during its presentation. I felt I deserved the coupon for having all shreds of decency I had left flushed out by the end of the movie. Shree demanded that I note this movie ranked in her “Bottom 3” movies of all time. Obviously she hasn’t seen Battle Royale II, Tokyo Gore Police and a student film I made back in 2005…or at least she hasn’t seen all three of them.

I came away feeling sort of guilty that I liked it. I suppose that can’t be helped, since I also got a real kick out of American Psycho, but still… some of the scenes and dialogue in the movie, which were supposed to be seen as comedy, really can’t be defined as comedy to most people.

In summary: Don’t eat before the movie. Leave your moral baggage at the door. Come for Denden and Kagurazaka, stay to see Mitsuru Fukikoshi go off the deep end.  Don’t make eye contact with anyone for about 20 minutes after the movie. Enjoy.

For more on Sion Sono, including the upcoming screening of his film Love Exposure at MAD on Nov. 11, click here.

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