by Ruben R. Rosario
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Shion Sono’s Cold Fish is a masterpiece of a film that defies a concrete definition. Part horror film, part black comedy, and based on a true story, Cold Fish follows the life of Nobuyuki Shamoto, a fish store owner who leads a simple life. After his daughter is caught stealing at a local grocery store, Shamoto runs into Yukio Murata, a charming old man that helps his daughter get out of her bind and gets her a job at his robust and exotic fish store. After this fateful encounter, Shamoto’s life is completely changed forever and he must endure physical and mental abuse at the hands of Mr. Murata.
One of the biggest reasons why Cold Fish works so well is the acting from the two fish store owners. Denden’s performance as Yukio Murata is commanding of the audience’s attention. Whether he’s hacking people up or just making goofy jokes, Denden’s portrayal of Murata is completely captivating and creepy. On the opposite side of the spectrum, Mitsuru Fukikoshi’s portrayal of the quiet and reserved Shamoto works well and compliments Murata’s insanity. While these two characters take up most of the screen time, all of the other minor characters, like Shamoto’s wife, played by Hikari Kajiwara, and Murata’s wife, played by Asuka Kurosawa, do a great job at supporting the narrative and their castmates.
While the film is being labeled as a horror film, the beauty about it is that it doesn’t fit into any category neatly. There’s some pretty gruesome horror scenes, full of bodies being dismembered and people being carved up. While most films would have a hard time balancing through multiple genres or cater more towards a specific one, Sono’s Cold Fish handles all of the material very well while maintaining its intricate layers for a whole cohesive story. When we get to the final climax of the film, another layer is peeled off and Sono explores the breaking point of what humanity is able to endure through Shamoto. While some people might be turned off by the last 30 minutes of the film, its raw power and emotion helps Cold Fish finish with a bang.
Misogyny, penis jokes, and a huge amount of excess for a Japanese cult film, yet it’s handled with such poetry and grace is what Cold Fish amounts to. In Sono’s early days, he was known as an avant-garde poet and it’s this background that probably helps articulate the beauty of Cold Fish. In another director’s hands, Cold Fish would probably be a mess, but in the hands of Sono, the film shows grace and elegance, even in the face of complete despair and darkness. On the outside of Cold Fish, it’s another extreme Japanese cult film, but on the inside, there’s some real depth and exploration within its blood, guts, and gore.
Ruben R. Rosario is a graduate from Columbia College Chicago with a degree in Audio for Visual Media. He works as a freelance location sound mixer, boom operator, sound designer, and writer in his native Chicago. He’s an avid collector of films, comics, and anime.
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