Fantastic Fest 2010: COLD FISH Review

Founder and Editor; Toronto, Canada (@AnarchistTodd)
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Fantastic Fest 2010: COLD FISH Review
Based on the real story of one of Japan's most prolific serial killers, Cold Fish is yet another step in Sion Sono's rise as one of Japan's most consistently bold and intriguing film makers. Though it has a slight sag in the midst of its two and a half hour running time and is a slightly more subdued affair than last year's gonzo four hour opus Love Exposure - his master work to date - Cold Fish stands as one of the most powerful, punishing works to come out of Japan this year.

Shamato is a meek, downtrodden man. The owner of a tropical fish shop with a deep love for astronomy, he is scorned and disrespected by his teenaged daughter Mitsuko for marrying a younger woman soon after the death of his first wife while also being keenly aware that he is unable to provide his beautiful second wife with the kind of life she was expecting.

And so Shamato jumps at the the lifeline tossed his way by fellow fish shop owner Murata. When Mitsuko is caught shoplifting Murata intercedes on her behalf, persuading the store to let her go and offering to give her a job at his shop. She'll be kept busy and earn her own money. Murata will even give her a place to live, which should relieve the tension within Shamato's house. And so who could blame the man for leaping at the offer despite scarcely knowing Murata at all? And who could blame him when he blindly accepts Murata's very aggressive offer to form a business partnership between the two shops?

But what Shamato doesn't realize is that Murata is a cold blooded serial killer, a hugely prolific one more than willing to kill at the slightest provocation. And so Shamato is soon caught up in a desperately escalating wave of violence, desperately searching for a way out of this relationship that will not put his wife, his daughter or himself in danger.

A picture that begins as a domestic family drama and slowly builds into a desperate fugue of violence and brutality, Cold Fish not only contains some of the most graphic imagery you will see on screen this year - including a sequence that I like to refer to as the year's longest chase scene covering the least amount of distance - but also the philosophical and character underpinnings to make the violence matter. This is a picture about the human capacity for evil, one that not only asks the questions but is unafraid to gaze unflinchingly at the answer.

Though the budgetary limits are clear in places, what is also clear is that Sono is not only a firm handed stylist with the camera who loves to play with his audience - an early dinner prep sequence feature the most aggressively edited use of a microwave oven ever put on film - but also someone who knows how to balance style with substance and who is also excellent with actors, drawing strong performances out of his entire cast.

While there is a case to be made that Cold Fish is over long and that a significant piece of its lengthy run time to be cut without damaging it in the slightest the counterpoint to this is that it builds to such a satisfying conclusion that the run time really doesn't matter.
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sitenoiseSeptember 30, 2010 3:20 PM

What's great about Sono is that bits like these show up satisfyingly, unsurprisingly, uniquely in reviews of his films: "most aggressively edited use of a microwave oven ever put on film" and "the year's longest chase scene covering the least amount of distance".

Jones1314September 30, 2010 3:33 PM

When did Sono become such a misanthrope? "Life is pain". Seriously?!?! Sono's wit is stronger than such a low-rung philosophical cynicism. Sure, you could argue that the man has argued such things before, but they always came with a more absurd eye.

Also, the Christian imagery outside of Murata's "chop shop" is just moronic. I would expect that from a moron like Tom Six, but not someone like Sono who once gave us a wicked cosmetic surgery satire with *Exte*. Return to your strengths, Sion.

kungfueurotrashOctober 1, 2010 11:57 AM

I loved it in fact I think it was his best fucking movie he has done yet.. The movie fucking didn't backed down at all and just went ape shit, very daring to say the least...

salvador.moraguesOctober 1, 2010 12:39 PM

I really hate you guys! I am trying to set up my Sitges list using Todd reviews (In past editions the reviews were of great help to discover true gems that i didn't know they existed, Thanks Todd!), but you are stressing me!!! There are too many good movies to watch!!

Anymore recomendations to make my life worst? :)