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Cold Fish

Posted by martinteller on October 6, 2012

Loosely based on a true story.  Nobuyuki Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) runs a small tropical fish shop with his young second wife Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka) and teenage daughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajikawa).  Mitsuko is resentful of her stepmother and lashes out in the typical adolescent ways.  She gets caught shoplifting, but the store owner is persuaded by his friend Yukio Murata (Denden) to let her go.  Murata, a lively and gregarious middle-aged man, takes the family to see his own, much larger, tropical fish emporium that he runs with his wife Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa) and a gaggle of teen girls.  He takes Mitsuko under his wing, not just employing her but housing her in his dormitory.  Murata ropes Shamoto into a lucrative — and possibly extremely misguided — business venture.  As the deal goes down, however, it becomes clear that there’s a dark side to the charming Murata.  He and Aiko are somewhere between mobsters and serial killers, and now the meek Shamoto is in over his head.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should confess that I didn’t watch this under the best conditions.  I started it late last night, knowing I wouldn’t make it through the whole thing, and ended up watching in two parts.  I generally try to avoid doing this, as I think a film should be experienced as a whole, especially when not divided into discrete parts.  There are worse ways to experience movies (why anyone would spend good money to go to a theater and spend half the time texting on their cell phones is beyond me).  And it’s not a film that relies much on building a consistent mood nor does it have a complex enough plot to make it difficult to pick up again.   Still, it’s not the ideal.

With that caveat, I found this fairly disappointing.  I do think it makes some interesting points.  Power comes from not giving a damn who you hurt, and the less you care, the more power over others you can wield.  Murata is a frightening figure because he has no boundaries, and he’s crafty enough to exploit the boundaries of those around him.  But the messages of the film are jumbled and confused, and eventually it starts to feel like little more than a shock fest.  The film is reminiscent of Miike (who Sono is apparently often compared to) in its use of black humor, perversity and violence/gore, but without enough style or variation to keep it interesting for its lengthy running time.  Shamoto isn’t a deep enough character to understand his feelings, with only a passion for astronomy to define him.  So it just ends up feeling rather pointlessly grim and nihilistic.  It’s vaguely similar in storyline to Miike’s Visitor Q, but that film has some tender regard for humanity under all the madness.  This left me feeling nothing.

It is occasionally amusing, though, and Denden’s giddy performance is both delightfully goofy and terrifying.  It starts out well, building an intriguing premise.  I was really psyched to be watching it for a while.  But somewhere the film lost me, and I don’t think it’s because I watched it in two parts.  Although many other reviewers/critics seem to love it, I just can’t embrace it, despite some entertaining content.  It’s not original enough to overcome the empty feeling it gave me.  Rating: Fair (61)


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