Re:View – ‘Cold Fish’
One of the darkest Japanese thrillers for a long time, this is another of director Sion Sono’s high-volume melodramas that offers an incredibly cynical and misanthropic view of humanity. Shamoto, the timid owner of a small tropical fish shop, has a bored second wife and a daughter who hates her. This is revealed in a flashback scene wherein the stepmother is kicked unconscious by the girl – nobody does anything by halves in Sono’s films.
Shamoto is befriended by barking-mad wealthy rival Mr Murata, who spends his time laughing uproariously at nothing while exhorting Shamoto to seize life and throttle some pleasure from it. He’s a dangerous man to be around, and yet, you think, he might kick-start Shamoto from kowtowing senescence into something with more spine than most of his fish. But as the aquatic analogy takes hold, we see that Mr Murata is a big fish happily gobbling up smaller ones – his empire is founded on murder, and he quickly initiates Shamoto into the art of body disposal (corpses are fed to finny friends, natch).
Shamoto just wants to be left alone in his beloved planetarium – he’s in the deep water but looking up at the stars – but even as gangsters and the police move in, Mr Murata digs his claws into the rest of the family. The slutty daughter is put to work in his shop while the wife is violently seduced, and both love their new roles. As the browbeaten Shamoto is required to perform ever more grotesque tasks, we wait for the worm, baited and wriggling on Mr Murata’s hook, to turn. But when it does, the director’s towering misanthropy ensures that nobody comes out happy, or even alive.
Certainly, ‘Cold Fish’ is too operatically lurid and brutally misogynistic to ever be remade by Hollywood, and yet it curiously resembles an American B-noir from the 1950s (albeit at far greater length) because only Shamoto agonises about morality – everyone else is happily and defiantly compromised. By the time Shamoto and Mr Murata’s wife are rutting in the entrails of his victims, it’s apparent that no-one will survive the visceral onslaught of Sono’s vision. As the audience fights to identify some good in the characters, each makes a hairpin turn and finds new darkness in themselves.
Shocking, perverse and highly entertaining ‘Cold Fish’ may be, but its bleak worldview may send you to the bathroom cabinet looking for razorblades.