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Cold Fish (2010)
DVD Released: 8/23/2011
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/14/2011
When you ask people who don't know much about international cinema what they think of Japanese movies, what is their response? Do they think of Godzilla movies? Do they understand that while Japanese culture may seem similar to American culture, it's really very different? The Japanese have very different views on family, gender roles, and humor, all of which are evident in Cold Fish, a dark, violent film which explores many aspects of obsession and death.
Nobuyuki Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) owns a small tropical fish store, which he runs with wife, Taeko (Mequmi Kaqurazaka). His daughter, Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara), also lives with them, but she's rebellious and doesn't get along with her stepmother. The atmosphere in the household is often strained. One night, Mitsuko is detained for shoplifting. When Shamoto and Taeko go to the store to get her and beg for forgiveness, a stranger named Yukio Murata (Denden) intervenes and convinces the manager to let Mitsuko go. Murata is a jovial and gregarious man who also happens to own a tropical fish store, albeit one which is larger and more lavish than Shamoto's. He insists that the family visit his store and vice-versa, and then he convinces them that Mitsuko should join the other young women who work in his shop. Murata continues to interject himself into Shamoto's life, asking him to be part of a business deal. It's at this point that we learn that Murata isn't the friendly person that he appears to be and Shamoto suddenly finds himself sucked into a world of violence, murder, adultery, and greed.
Cold Fish is one of those films which defies categorization. Ostensibly, it's a crime drama, as it's based on a true story, and focuses on how a businessman uses murder, intimidation, and sex to get his way. However, if we are going to stick with that "crime drama" label, then we must affix "extreme" to the front of it, as the movie features scenes of rape, dismemberment, and torture. And while those scenes are certainly jarring, and they let us know that we aren't watching any cookie-cutter movie, it's the scenes of humiliation which are even more difficult to watch. Shamoto is a meek man who has been beaten down by life, and, again, in the beginning, Murata is a boisterous nice guy. However, when Murata's true colors are revealed, we watch him constantly berate and belittle Shamoto and, for that matter, everyone else in the film. Murata is a bully with no conscience and therefore he's an extremely dangerous individual.
Based on those facts, it's no surprise to learn that Cold Fish is a movie which demands our attention. (The opening credits are done in a very creative manner which definitely made me sit up and take notice.) However, once it has our attention, it doesn't know what to do with it. No, for the record, I must say that the first 30 minutes of the film is nerve-wracking. If you really look at this part of the movie, nothing really happens, but we have a sense that something is going to happen, and the anticipation leads to a nice amount of tension. However, once things do begin to happen, Cold Fish becomes somewhat tedious.
Co-writer/Director Sion Sono, who has been a director for over 20 years, makes two big mistakes with the movie. First of all, he clearly wants to be shocking, but the movie fails on that front. As noted above, the movie is jarring, as I didn't expect it to be as graphic as it is, but it's nothing that I haven't seen before, and it pales in comparison to the work of Sono's Japanese contemporary Takashi Miike. These scenes aren't pleasant, but they play as bland. Sono's use of very long takes does help to add an edge to the events, but they are never overwhelming or engrossing. In the third act, the violence becomes ludicrous and I honestly didn't know if it was supposed to be funny or not. (In the lone extra on the DVD, Sono confirms that it is.) The movie's other issue is the pacing. At nearly 2 1/2 hours, the movie is about an hour too long. As noted above, there is tension in the first act. But, by the third act, most viewers will have given up on the movie. The problem is that Sono mis-reads the peaks and valleys of the story. We assume that Shamoto will snap and retaliate at some point, or otherwise, there wouldn't be much of a story, but we are forced to wait too long for this. So, instead of having ups and downs, the middle hour of the film is one long down. (My wife gave up at the 90-minute mark and couldn't believe that there was an hour more to go.)
When viewed as an exercise in observing another culture, Cold Fish is an interesting work, as we see how men and women co-exist in Japan, and how it is still clearly a male-dominated culture. As a movie, Cold Fish fails, as the viewer will be left numbed by the overkill and frustrated by Shamoto's behavior. In the end, Cold Fish feels like an experiment to see not only what the audience will endure, but how long they'll endure it.
Cold Fish never really explains why Murata is in the store on DVD courtesy of Vivendi Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain at times and a few very minor defects from the source material. The image is a tad dark, but the colors look very good, most notably the bright colors of the fish store. My major complaint with this transfer is that it looks flat. The movie doesn't look old or outdated, but it's awfully dull. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are notably good, as there are interesting noises present throughout the film. The surround sound effects come into play from the musical cues when Murata loses his cool. I didn't note any significant subwoofer effects. The numerous driving scenes provide stereo and surround effects which add to the moment.
The only extra on the Cold Fish DVD is an "Interview with Director Sion Sono" (8 minutes) where he discusses how he went from being a poet to a filmmaker. He then goes on to talk about the making of Cold Fish, and he confirms that the movie has humorous elements. He then addresses the challenge of making a movie based on a true story.
Review Copyright 2011 by Mike Long