Today: February 28, 2024

Cold Fish Cinema

Tropical fish, family feuds and mass murder are all in a days work in this dark thriller.

Tropical fish, family feuds and mass murder are all
in a days work in this dark thriller.

Asian cinema is
never one to shirk away from the brutality of life. A look at the likes of Old Boy (2003) and Audition (1999) show how the perverse can be made to seem everyday.
Cold Fish is very much in this vein but, perhaps even more disturbing, it is
based on a true-life story. On the surface it is a bleak look at a harrowing
event but the film manages to underlay it all with a wry sense of irony and
black humor that makes for entertaining viewing.

Shamoto (Fukikoshi) runs a small tropical fish
store with his young wife and daughter, from a previous marriage. Ignored by
his wife and resented by his daughter Shamoto leads a very sad existence. When
rival businessman Murata (Denden)
recruits both Shamoto and his daughter to work for him things seem to pick up.
However, Murata is a bullying psychopath who decides to make Shamoto his new
protégé and teaches him how to murder and be rid of the evidence.

From the man who
delivered films like Suicide Club
(2001) and Love Exposure (2008) Sion Sono never pulls any punches. For
the first hour of the film there are few things to find likable about the
characters on offer. Shamoto, played with dead-eyed brilliance by Fukikoshi, is
weak and spineless while Denden is like Ronald McDonald on too many E-numbers.
However, once murder and corruption ensue the film leaves behind its slightly
soap-opera origins and moves into the realms of morbidly entertaining.

Shamoto has a
passion for astrology and loves to go to the planetarium to see the Earth as a
smooth round ball. Denden on the other hand feels the world is a treacherous
place with jagged rocks that must be carefully navigated so chooses to educate
Shamoto in his unique business ethics. Dispatching those who would oppose him
with gory results is something of a pleasure to watch. His is so brilliantly
psychotic in his actions that he makes Alan Sugar look like a friendly puppy.

Sono shoots
everything with a washed out pallet, seemingly supporting the notion that
Shamoto eventually realises “Life is pain”. Even sexual encounters are
portrayed as violent to the point of rape. But when the blood starts to flow
there is vibrancy to the film. In Denden’s mountain top retreat the gore gushes
by the bucket load before the tiny “nugget” sized pieces of human flesh are
small enough to be burned or fed to fishes. For some the violence will be
erring on the extreme but much of it is done with a sense of twisted comedy.
Denden in particular revels so much in his actions it is hard not to see him in
a Hannibal Lecter light.

At times Sono’s
direction feels slightly flat, but for the most part this is intentional. A
shot as we watch one of the first encounters between Shamoto and Denden is seen
through a fish tank with the inhabitants watching the humans outside. It makes
it clear that we are intentionally seeing these characters in a contained
environment. They are there for us to marvel at.

While it takes
its time to get going Cold Fish provides a succulent meal of a man bullied to
the point of breaking by all those around him. The end culminates in a wonderfully brutal revenge that makes this Cold
Fish one to catch before it slips away.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email:

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