Shamoto is a widower and owner of a modest tropical fish store. His teenage daughter hates him for remarrying and his new bride won’t fuck him because he lets his daughter walk all over her. One night the couple are called to a supermarket where their daughter has been caught shoplifting. The manager wants to involve the police but a mysterious, charming stranger talks him out of it, leaving the Shamoto household in his debt.
The stranger’s name is Murata, coincidentally (or perhaps not) the owner of the tropical fish mega-store in town. (Let’s both try and move past why you’d need two tropical fish stores within fifty miles of one another, dear reader.) He’s a little obnoxious but aggressively friendly, even offers to give Shamoto’s daughter a job at his store to keep her on the straight and narrow. His wife is nice too, and the Shamotos are soon very tight with the Muratas.
Then Murata fucks Shamoto’s wife and makes Shamoto an accomplice in a murder, not to mention forces him to help with the body’s disposal.
Thus begins Sion Sono’s Cold Fish, a disturbing, gory, and gleefully odd psychological thriller from Japan. Recently released via Bloody Disgusting Selects (who also recently put out the fantastic American horror film YellowBrickRoad), Cold Fish is one of the most exciting films the Nerd has scoped in quite a while. The film alternates between quick-cut editing sequences and agonizing long-takes, it’s got gallons of blood, agonizing murder and body disposal sequences, graphic sex of both the erotic and abhorrent varieties, and a surprising and balls-out fucked-up climax that still has me marvelling and puzzling over it.
But what draws you into the film is the strange relationship between the Shamoto and Murata and the challenging ideas the film poses about masculinity and existence in general. Shamoto is the sad sack everyman, unable to make decisions or change his life and situation in any meaningful way. He’s willing to put up with a lot of bullshit in his life as long as he doesn’t have to suffer through any uncomfortable confrontations. Murata, on the other hand, is all about the toe-to-toe, doesn’t let anything stand in his way, knows that if worse starts leaning towards worst, he can just “make invisible” his enemies and problems. As played by Denden, Murata is one of the most persuasive sociopaths in cinema history. When he lays down the rules of his life and world, “this rock,” as he would put it, to Shamoto, you can’t help but be a little swayed by his horrifying take on humanity.
Clearly, this is some weighty and challenging shit, dear reader, but Sono never lets that get in the way of the classic noir “fun.” Like the best noir, Cold Fish drags you down to hell and lets you feel every clawed fingernail pop off as you scramble to free yourself…but still finds time for some sick laughs along the way. But, this being a Sono film, you better believe that once you arrive there, hell is gonna be even more nasty and viscera-soaked than you ever imagined.