Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cold Fish (2010)

Sion Sono, the maker of 2005's ultra-twisted psychological horror, "Strange Circus", unveils another macabre offering from his vault of sickness, that is sure to benumb your senses with its relentless onslaught of unabashed brutality that is more emotional than visual.

Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) a timid, meek owner of a small tropical fish store dwells in a modest accommodation behind the store with his gorgeous young wife Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka) and his teenage daughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara) from a previous marriage. Not surprisingly, Mitsuko and step-mother Taeko don't get along well and Mitsuko hates her father for marrying Taeko. Taeko is trapped in a marriage that seems to have stemmed from a hasty decision which she now presumably regrets, more so because of her caustic relationship with Mitsuko. It's one perfectly unhappy family!

Enter Mr. Murata (Denden) the shark of the story, a rich businessman with his kind words and constantly effervescent mannerisms. A chance occurrence leads to Murata saving Mitsuko from possible incarceration for shoplifting; a huge favor done to Shamoto's family, saving legal hassles and humiliation. Murata even goes so far as to offer Mitsuko a job in his own fish superstore in which he hires young salesgirls from troubled backgrounds to help them readjust to society or possibly to perk up his sales! He is assisted by his beautiful wife Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa).

But this is a Sion Sono film in the end. Altruism is just a facade and soon enough Murata's vested interests are revealed in all their ugliness. An indebted Shamoto and his family, who are now at Murata's mercy, soon find themselves caught in a circle of murder and bizarre promiscuity, escaping which seems to be a hopeless task...

From the word go, with its opening frame of Taeko against a pulsating score, Sono grabs the helm, holds it tight and doesn't let go until the very end, like some sadist holding a noose around your neck only barely making you breathless but not quite killing you as you kick and struggle to get a breather! Sono is a whiz at his art and with his taut screenplay and compelling storytelling, tells a tale that is downright ugly, and yet manages to captivate us, eventually turning us into monstrous voyeurs who actually take immense pleasure in watching his film. We feel wicked, like most of the totally corrupt characters in the film, the cold fish that he has unleashed upon us, but we don't want to let go or take our eyes off the screen and hence follow Sono all the way through this vile tunnel.

Trying to rationalize human behavior is futile in Sono's film. There don't seem to be any sane humans around in his world. "Strange Circus" was trippy and surreal, with the story told from the perspective of the mind of an individual and hence the outlandishness is somewhat, for lack of a better word, assumed, and not too tough to lap up. But the world in "Cold Fish" is entirely real and therefore watching it is a more disturbing experience than "Strange Circus" despite the theme being tamer in comparison. What makes it more real is that some of the happenings are inspired by true events as Sono declares in the beginning! With nary a sound character in the film, any little hope that one may have from any single character is thwarted when the character behaves in a manner that would shame the most morally depraved of individuals!

We find ourselves pitying poor Shamoto as he is constantly bullied, badgered and humiliated. We feel his helplessness and inability to act. We feel the frustration, thinking why things have to turn out so bad for him and we seethe in anger to see Murata mercilessly exploit Shamoto's predicament. But Sono likes to play with the mood and eventually we find ourselves breaking into nervous sweat in a climactic outburst when Shamoto is poked and pushed to the edge and becomes a tiger from a mouse in a fantastically hysterical display of acting in a masterfully directed scene.

Some pertinent questions are raised here, about standing up for one's own family, protecting the family's best interests and dealing with a problem, no matter how wrong the means! Shamoto comes face to face with a difficult question: does his cowardliness stem from his moral uprightness? In a subtle premonition to this event or perhaps in a display of irony or visual antithesis, one blink-and-you-miss frame shows a wimpy, shaken up Shamoto standing right next to a painting of a vicious tiger! The genius doesn't end here. In an impish move, the director juxtaposes the grisliest, most horrifying of scenes with dark humour to "lighten up the mood", as Murata says in one scene after accomplishing an especially cruel deed! Talk about cold conduct!

Sono has very skillfully directed this effective chiller that is "Cold Fish". It paints a pretty morbid picture of the insensitivity and coldness that could be a product of relentless provocation and trauma of the past. The film is brilliantly performed all the way, with especially sterling performances from Mitsuri Fukikoshi, Asuka Kurosawa and Denden who is always bursting with energy! A couple of minor flaws do cross the mind, specifically pertaining to character actions, but what else can one expect from psychologically damaged characters who can hardly think straight!

In all its hysterical, promiscuous, fetishist and violent splendour, Sion Sono's "Cold Fish" is a visceral masterpiece that, despite belonging to the same breed of modern Asian cinema that is mostly about extreme violence, deviant sexuality and bloody revenge, still stands out as one of the best in the crowd, simply as an exemplary work of real fine filmmaking. It is a gripping saga of the corruption of humanity and social disintegration. If you have the stomach for it, it is well worth your time and money to take this wildly thrilling, giddying trip to hell and back, the side effects of which, will take a considerable while to wear out.

Score: 10/10







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