Cold Fish Review

As one of the horror films that got its brief theatrical run this summer as part of Bloody Disgusting’s AMC Horrorfest, Cold Fish doesn’t feel like a typical horror at first and instead feels like a nod to Eugene Ionesco’s “The Lesson” with its overbearing host played by Denden and the unsuspecting fish salesmen, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, drawn into his world of unexpected violence and deceit. For the first 30 minutes, there’s something mesmerizing about Denden’s performance and Cold Fish seems like it could go just about anywhere, but eventually the thriller elements take the helm and the film explodes into a rather bloody mess representative of the main characters forever altered mental state. Cold Fish could have had a more satisfying payoff according to the promise of the earlier elements, though what we get still represents a solid outing in the thriller genre.

The death of Nobuyuki’s (Fukikoshi) first wife and his subsequent marriage to a younger woman has left his household in shambles. The romance that first attracted him to his second wife Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka) is replaced with her sense of malaise, and all sexual energy has been extinguished by the growing tension between Taeko and Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara), his teenage daughter from the first marriage. Further complicating matters, Nobuyuki’s modest living as the owner of a struggling tropical fish store adds his sense of insecurity to the whole mess, resulting in the lack of a strong hand to discipline his daughter and be the self-confident romantic Taeko fell in love with. When Mitsuko acts out but gets caught shoplifting from the grocery store, Yuko Murata (Denden) steps in on his behalf to smooth over the affair with the owner of the store and takes Nobuyuki’s entire family under his wing, in different ways for each. Murata insists that Mitsuko work at his high-end, successful tropical fish store, while making advances on Taeko, which she accepts with hardly any resistance.

The real fun starts when Murata calls Nobuyuki to sit in on a business meeting where he’s attempting to convince an investor to drop millions of yen on a scam to breed a fish that would supposedly yield 10 million yen per offspring. At this point, the cracks in Murata’s perfect façade of friendliness appear and Nobuyuki becomes an accomplice in murder that sends him into a spiral that forever changes him. As Nobuyuki realizes the trouble he’s in, he begins to search for his way out in a circle of criminals where the only exit may mean trudging through a bloodbath.

The electrifying feel that Writer and Director Shion Sono captured in his film stems almost entirely from Denden’s performance as the seemingly harmless Mr. Murata who just wants to be everyone’s friend. His rapid clip of talking and very assertive style makes the character’s friendship less a mutual contract between two people and more the obligation of the recipient who feels indebted to him for his upfront selflessness, even if that later gives way to more sinister motives. Without Denden playing the character as happy as he does, Murata would have been just a manipulator and come across as such right from the start. Instead, he’s perhaps too open to complete strangers and in such a way that unnerves viewers who live in a world where individuals have become increasingly distant from one another as they use long-range electronic methods of communication to talk instead of the very immediate, and in this case in your face, route of forced camaraderie.

As the counterbalance to Denden’s oddly open psychopath, Fukikoshi plays his role much more reserved and with a certain level of insecurity that borders on neuroticism; he nails the part of the romantic whose inability to follow through on the traditional example of providing for all his family’s needs and being the firm patriarch the deteriorating situation requires only seems more glaring when he comes up against Murata who at first appears to be everything he wishes he was. His desperation to finally have those qualities misinforms him in his navigation of how to handle the murderous secret Murata reveals to him, and leads him to believe that a certain degree of sociopathy towards the lives of others is ultimately required to achieve his dream.

The film only falters in the final third when it just devolves into a frenzied bloodbath with nothing to keep it on track in a meaningful way. Though Nobuyuki’s descent into a more vicious version of himself makes sense, the events that follow never ring true and instead it just feels like chaos that Sono didn’t know how to rein in with a strong enough message to make it resonate as more than gore for gore’s sake. Still, It’s quite entertaining and will keep horror and thriller fans’ attention, but it could have been so much more based on the brilliant characterization of Murata that he throws away.

DVD Bonus Features

Save for a respectable interview with the director, the only other "extra" is the option to choose between English subtitles or an English dub track.

"Cold Fish" is on sale August 23, 2011 and is not rated. Horror, Thriller. Written and directed by Shion Sono. Starring Asuka Kurosawa, Denden, Megumi Kagurazaka, Mitsuru Fukikoshi.

Lex Walker • Editor

He's a TV junkie with a penchant for watching the same movie six times in one sitting. If you really want to understand him you need to have grown up on Sgt. Bilko, Alien, Jurassic Park and Five Easy Pieces playing in an infinite loop. Recommend something to him - he'll watch it.


New Reviews