If anyone you know suggests you see this movie, break off all contact with them immediately.
It’s been days since I watched Cold Fish and I still don’t know what the hell it was that I experienced. A twisted, disjointed and sick import from Japan, once it ended all I wanted to do was claw my eyes out and cleanse my film palate of this macabre movie mess. Supposedly based on true events, this would’ve been hard to swallow even if it were billed as a fictionalized account of a serial killer and the family he wooed into his sinister web of evil. With hammy acting bordering on comical, and an overly long film that was often quite dull, Cold Fish really should’ve been called “Rotting, Stinking Fish.”
Nobuyuki Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) is a mild mannered tropical fish store owner, who one night gets a phone call that his ne’re-do well daughter, Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara), was caught shoplifting at a local supermarket. Nobuyuki and his second wife Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka) go to claim the girl and are befriended by a customer in the store, Yukio Murata (Denden), who convinces the store manager not to press charges against the young woman. Grateful for his help and blinded by his kindness, Nobuyuki and Taeko find out that Yukio also owns a tropical fish store across town and they strike up a friendship with him and his wife, Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa). Seeing that Mitsuko is in need of guidance The Murata’s convince the Shamotos’ to let their troubled daughter live with them and work in their store along with a group of other troubled girls they are trying to ‘help.’ However the couple finds out too late that Mr. Murata isn’t the kindly gentlemen he pretends to be and soon they realize that this new alliance is a huge mistake.
Woe to me who actually believed the synopsis of this movie and chose to review it. It sounded compelling, a story loosely based on a Tokyo couple’s killing spree in 1993, yet all Cold Fish could muster was a bloodied, carnage filled motion picture with a bit of misogyny thrown in to spice things up. The tag line reads, “How far will you be pushed?” Far enough to proclaim loudly that I would be hard pressed to ever watch this again, even if I were paid to suffer through it. This waste of celluloid was described as a thriller but did little to thrill, it went from moments of sheer boredom to manic moments of mutilated bodies and disturbing sexual encounters that I would hardly call thrilling.
We follow the life of Nobuyuki, a spineless fish store owner who seems to be a representation of the buttoned downed Japanese society he lives in. He has resigned himself to live in a loveless marriage, repressing any and all emotions. More than willing to be a doormat for anyone willing to walk on him, Nobuyuki becomes easy prey for the creepy Yukio Murata. Nobuyuki is a humorless, unlikeable character who we should have empathy for but the writer/director of Cold Fish, Shion Sono, does little to make us feel for him, even though he is lured into a killer’s lair. Throughout, Nobuyuki is unassuming and frankly uninteresting, so when he transforms at the end of the movie into something that
was never even hinted at earlier in the film, this thing just rides off the already unstable rails.
In some comments I read about Cold Fish, there was much praise for the work of Denden who played the sinister Yukio Murata, crediting his
performance as the only one that made this movie work. Well, I beg to differ, his performance in fact did not work, I think the overacting would’ve made even William Shatner roll his eyes and think the performance was just too over the top. Murata’s long winded speeches and his role as friendly guy meets menacing killer was unintentionally laughable. Murata was more like a Japanese game show host than crafty serial killer, loud and obnoxious, I was just waiting for him to offer his victims door number one or door number two. The scene in which
Murata first commits a heinous act in front of Nobuyuki should’ve been a defining moment in the film, the place where we first get a glimpse of the ‘real’ Murata. Instead the scene is clumsy and scattered, not a frightening or compelling moment.
Also, there were far too many scenes of perverse sexual encounters that were disturbing because of the way the female characters were treated. Now I’m no Gloria Steinem but this film caused even me to be a bit taken aback by the overt objectification of the female characters. In several scenes, Murata’s wife Aiko is nothing more than a receptacle for any male character that wants to have at her. In another scene Taeko is alone with Murata in his office; one minute he’s consoling her about her sad and lonely life, than as if the film jumped a few frames, he is suddenly ripping off her dress and slapping her as he violently manhandles her body. To top this ‘lovely’ scene off, Taeko begins to beg Murata over and over to hit her because she deserves to be hit. Huh, where did that come from? There was no explanation why these women chose to be treated in such a way, because their roles were written with far less depth than their male counterparts; they were merely window dressing.
There wasn’t a likeable person in the bunch and in a movie where one of the main characters is a serial killer, one should be able to feel some compassion for his victims. I’m not sure how much Cold Fish resembles the real life accounts, my guess is most of this film is the director’s twisted vision of the story and bares little resemblance to the truth. Hey, I don’t mind a little creative license being taken once in a while, as long as it results in an entertaining film. Cold Fish was neither entertaining nor creative; it takes more than bloodied and mutilated body parts with explicit scenes of sexuality to make a movie worthwhile.
The audio and video quality are just fine; it would’ve been easier to digest this nonsense had the film been grainy and the images hard to make out. Cold Fish is presented in 1.33:1 widescreen with the audio in 5.1 Dolby Digital, making it so very easy to see the mutilated body parts up close and personal, as well as hear the dulcet tones of the dying victims. At least the subtitles were easy to read and you didn’t have to strain to see the dialogue. No bonus features on this particular copy, thank God, because the last thing I wanted to see after this torture was some pompous windbag telling me his grand purpose for this rotgut.
Although most of Cold Fish was lost on me, there was one redeeming scene that took place near the end. In it we were given an insight into the Yukio Murata character that made him more sympathetic. (I can’t tell you what
that insight is because it would give far too much away, just in case my warnings aren’t heeded and you decide to watch it anyway.) However, had that kind of subtle touch been implemented throughout this picture, it would’ve made it a much better movie; maybe even an extraordinary one.
Look, bad is bad and this was a stinker. Not because it contained violence and sex, but because it used those elements in a poor and revolting manner. Maybe that was the movie maker’s intention, but what it did was waste an interesting real life account of a true crime story and relegate it to the likes of a soft porn snuff film.
I suggest we do some old school justice and take this thing out back and
shoot it. GUILTY!
Cold Fish (DVD)
2011, Viendi Visual Entertainment 145 minutes, R (2010)
VIDEO: 1.85:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese) SUBTITLES: English (SDH)
EXTRAS: Featurettes ACCOMPLICES: IMDB