Cold Fish (2010)
By: Stuart Giesel on July 17, 2013 | Comments
Third Window Films | Region B | 1.85:1, 1080p | Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1 | 144 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Shion Sono
Starring: Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Megumi Kagurazaka, Denden, Asuka Kurosawa
Screenplay: Shion Sono
Country: Japan
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In its simplest and broadest definition, Cold Fish is a Japanese crime story. But that's like saying There Will Be Blood is about a massive capitalist dickwad. In truth, Cold Fish tells the story of two competing exotic fish merchants: one the most passive shlub you'd ever be likely to meet, the other a hugely extroverted psychopath with delusions of grandeur. And things get really icky. Did I mention this was based on a true story? Sold!

Cold Fish director Sion Sono might be compared by some with Japan's Miike Takashi considering their warped output, but I think that the more fitting comparison is with South Korea's Kim Ki-duk. Both writer/directors have a tendency to infuse violence with a sexual edge, like to obsess over the mentally disturbed and socially awkward, and create methodical, slow-paced (but never boring) treatises on the human condition, whilst never shy in liberally spattering the screen with hardcore violence when the script calls for it. Cold Fish is, horrifyingly, based on the real-life escapades of serial killers Gen Sekine and his ex-wife Hiroko Kazama, but I figure the majority of the story is pure fiction, but it wouldn't surprise me if this oddball story of exotic fish store owners gone mad has more truth to it than it initially seems.

Nobuyki Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) owns and operates an exotic fish store, barely able to keep his business afloat. He's married to Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka) and they have a daughter, Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara), who's a spoilt little shit, hates her parents, and gets caught shoplifting. A businessman, Yukio Murata (Denden), resolves the situation by having Mitsuko work in his fish shop, a far more expansive and successful business compared with Shamoto's. As Shamoto becomes concerned with his daughter's welfare, he gets caught up in Murata's business, which is a whole lot grimier than outward appearances suggest. Further complicating matters is Murata's wife Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa) who might be as unhinged as her husband. Shamoto soon learns what happens to business partners of Murata who displease the man, and finds out he's now as much a hostage to Murata's demented schemes as Murata's former colleagues were.

Cold Fish plays out this ridiculous, occasionally amusing, but mostly horrifying tale over an excessively long two-and-a-half hours, but its running length is the biggest detraction from an otherwise compelling story, bolstered by a completely deranged performance from Denden as the monstrous Murata. Think Anthony Wong's performance in Untold Story and you have an idea with what Denden accomplishes here. Charming if eccentric one moment, a true ranting and raving monster the next, Denden oscillates between these extremes with ease, never once coming off as unconvincing, which surely deserves all the accolades there are available. Less impressive is Fukikoshi's turn as the passive Shamoto - but then again, that's the point of the character. He's frustratingly unemotive and unengaging as the downtrodden fish store owner, never actively pursuing what he wants, and to be honest the film's biggest leap of imagination isn't the disgusting dissection of bodies nor the mental and physical abuse endured by some of the principle players, but the fact that this inert lump of shit is married to someone as hot as Megumi Kagurazaka. Kagurazaka hasn't much to do with her sexually frustrated character, especially compared with Kurosawa who has a grand old time as Murata's wife - she's certainly one of the most fucked-up characters to appear in a Japanese film in a long time, right up there with Eihi Shiina's Asami from Audition.

Speaking of disgusting dissection of bodies, Cold Fish is at its most clinical and brutal when it involves "making bodies invisible". It's practically a how-to guide on body disposal. Yet despite the brutality and coldness of the material, Sono finds a way to strangle a few nervous laughs out of the viewer. This is bleak but blackly funny stuff. However, I dare anyone to laugh at the final half-hour of this horror - Sono knows precisely when to flip the switches and turn this farcical black comedy about two competing fish merchants into a grim game of death (and other nasty stuff).

To say any more would do Cold Fish a disservice. It's best appreciated... cold. Don't expect a serial killer movie in the vein of Se7en - in no way does it glamorise or sensationalise its subjects. Like Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or Memories of Murder, Cold Fish is your serial killer movie with more of a documentary feel than feature film, possibly because it is based on real-life events, although unlike Henry or Memories it possesses a deeply cynical, black-comedy edge. If Werner Herzog happened to make a serial killer film, Cold Fish is probably what he'd come up with; you can practically hear Sono chuckle from behind the camera as you watch the film.
The Disc
Third Window Films have come up with a nice double Blu-Ray release of Cold Fish, presenting superior picture and sound quality. No complaints on either front - colours are vibrant, detail is is fine even in the darkest of scenes, effects are punchy and grisly. The disc only has a 5.1 DTS Japanese track, but the dialogue is clear and English subtitles do a fine job (though this is only a guess - I really have no idea how well it's been translated).

Features on the second disc are primarily two sizeable interviews. One is with journalist Jake Adelstein on the true story that inspired Cold Fish, the "Saitama Dog Lovers Serial Murders case". The other interview is with writer Yoshiki Takahashi. Both interviews (in English) are pretty interesting and informative, particularly the one with Adelstein if you have an interest in true crime stories, though it would have been nice to get some input from Sono himself on some specifics of Cold Fish.

There's a brief featurette on the making of Cold Fish's poster, and a theatrical trailer. There are also a bucketload of trailers for other Japanese films distributed by Third Window Films, all with English subtitles.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
At times astonishing, oddball, gruesome, mundane, spectacular, and altogether weird, Cold Fish feels like director Sion Sono is parodying the serial killer genre whilst at the same time adhering to its conventions. It's frustrating in parts, mostly thanks to a passive main character, but the unhinged performances of Denden and Kurosawa combined with some dark, dark humour win the day.
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