Review by Adam Stephen Kelly
Stars Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Denden, Asuka Kurosawa, Megumi Kagurazaka, Hikari Kajiwara, Tetsu Watanabe, Lorena Koto, Makoto Ashikawa, Masaki Miura, Jyonmyon Pe
Written by Sion Sono
Runtime 144 minutes
Directed by Sion Sono
Since his 2008 masterpiece Love Exposure, a four-hour exploration of life, passion and religion, writer-director Sion Sono has become one of Japan's most interesting film-makers. His most recent picture however – Cold Fish – is quite a departure, remaining as gripping as the aforementioned film, but dropping the religious themes like a bad habit and relentlessly piling on the blood and guts to form a darkly humorous, gory and incredibly bizarre horror-cum-drama.
Loosely based on the real life “Saitama serial murders of dog lovers” that took place in Saitama Prefecture in 1993, Cold Fish revolves around a troubled family where meek tropical fish shop owner Mr. Shamoto has to try and and deal with his daughter Mitsuko and the hatred she feels for her father's second wife, Taeko, whom he married soon after the death of her mother. The difficult situation looks to get even worse when the Shamotos receive a phone call from a disgruntled convenience store manager, informing them that Mitsuko has been caught shoplifting. He is irate to say the least, but is quickly calmed down by a Mr. Murata – owner of the the sizeable and prestigious Amazon Gold – another tropical fish shop. The eccentric Murata convinces the manager to let it go and proceeds to introduce himself to the Shamoto family, inviting them to his shop and showing off his desirable lifestyle that the business has given him.
Soon enough, in a bid for peace and privacy in the family home, Mr. Shamoto allows Murata to hire Mitsuko and put her to work as an assistant in his shop, where she'll also live. But the Amazon Gold proprietor instead throws himself head-first into each of their lives, taking advantage of their compliance and pulling them into his hideously secret world of deceit, adultery and serial murder.
Cold Fish plays out like a pie-less Japanese version of Sweeney Todd with its graphic nature and comedic spine. The seemingly humble Mr. Murata's idiosyncrasy draws you in to his character almost immediately. The road to his reveal as a calculating killer is slow-burning and all the better for it. As a member of the audience, you know something isn't quite right with the man, but along with the Shamotos, who immediately take a shine to him, you find yourself succumbing to his allure at the same time as the characters on screen.
At almost two-and-a-half-hours, Sono's latest is indeed another long one, but yet again it's a joy to watch from beginning to end. The plot in this highly psychological, character-based ensemble piece never sags and remains as compelling throughout as it does bloody and unnerving.