Saturday 23 November 2019

Movies: Cold fish ***


Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

By the time you get to the end of Sion Sono's Cold Fish it's hard to believe you're still watching the same film, because what started out as an eccentric family drama has descended into a gristle-strewn bloodbath.

Cold Fish is certainly not for the squeamish, but neither is it a mere gore fest, because Sono has some points to make about the nature of Japanese society, and he mixes extreme violence and bleak humour in a most unsettling fashion.

Makoto Ashikawa is Mr Shamoto, the meek and put-upon owner of a tropical fish store that sits in the shadow of Mount Fuji. Three years ago his first wife died, after which Shamoto married a beautiful younger woman, much to the disgust of his spoilt and selfish daughter. When the daughter is caught shoplifting at a nearby supermarket, Shamoto's misery is complete, but a businessman called Murata intervenes and persuades the supermarket manager to drop the charges.

Murata, who owns a rival rare fish shop, befriends Shamoto, gives his daughter a job and asks Shamoto to become his business partner. But Murata is a monster, a deranged sociopath and mass murderer, and when he poisons a business associate Shamoto is implicated in the disposal of the body. Murata and his equally mad wife talk about making people "invisible", and this involves spiriting bodies to a remote cabin where they are disassembled piece by piece. Blackmailed into going along with it, Shamoto is horrified, but it's amazing what you can get used to.

Sono has based his film on a true story, and seems to be exploring the suppressed rage and erotic anxiety that sometimes lurks behind the veneer of Japanese deference. Perhaps his characters are a little too cartoonish, but Murata is a compelling creation, a man who sings as he pulls bodies asunder but remains a profoundly Japanese psycho: when he enters a house where a killing will shortly occur he remembers to take off his shoes.

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