Pegged as a true story serial killer thriller (a man who killed over 100 individuals), Shion Sono’s Japanese Cold Fish is actually a insanely gory black comedy that takes on shades of classic Takashi Miike, and delivers quite a few punches in its retarded 144 minute running time.
The pic tells the story of Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), a display fish storeowner who is having troubles with his daughter, Mitsuko, and second wife. The daughter hates the stepmother and is acting out, while his wife won’t have sex with him so long as the daughter is around. It’s a messy situation. When his daughter is caught stealing from the local mart, a crazy rich businessman named Murata (Denden) convinces the owner to let her off with a slap on the hand. He schmooze’s with the family learning that they share something in common: he also owns a fish store, the biggest in the country. He’s a fun, generous man that would like to hire the daughter and go into business with his new friend (and sell a special tropical fish called the “Amazon Gold”). It appears to be a match made in heaven, until his abusive dark side is revealed.
The second act is a complete descent into madness that oddly reminds me of Miike’s Visitor Q, among many J-horror titles. It’s way to fantastical to be a true story, but Sono takes the film in such an entertaining direction that the running time feels like a mere hour and a half.
To give away anymore plot points would be criminal as Sono takes the audience on a weaving road filled with bumps, sharp turns and plenty of gasps. Denden’s portrayal as Murata is masterful as he even gains the audience’s trust before he eventually abuses them as well. He’s charming, funny and gracious, but that’s all to rope the lot in for a thriller that borderlines something out of the world of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
As f*cked up as Cold Fish is, it’s even bloodier. Sono understands that in order to pack a punch, he needed to take it all the way (there’s some brutal and shocking imagery). And even as he has the audience covering their eyes and grimacing, he somehow finds a way to sprinkle in laughs (a bizarre, yet familiar experience with horror films). It’s an unordinary movie that taps into nearly every human emotion (yelling at a dismembered penis is one way to raise eyebrows) and dares the viewer to have a good time, before realizing they might feel like taking a shower immediately after.
Films like Cold Fish never receive the love they deserve here in the States, but hopefully some daring distributor will find the balls to release Sono’s genre masterpiece in its full form and keep it from becoming “invisible” like all of Murata’s victims.