Monday, September 3, 2012

Cold Fish (2010) Movie Review

Small town aquarium fish store owner & family are suddenly rescued from domestic strife by an elder, wildly charismatic business man(Denden) & younger wife(Asuka Kurosawa) with an even larger aquatic life establishment nearby. With a unhappy daughter(Hikari Kajiwara), and lovely but troubled new wife(Megumi Kagurazaka) of his own, the wallflower-like & ineffective Shamoto(Mitsuru Fukikoshi)'s own family seems instantly primed and happy to take in this sudden stroke of small fortune despite his natural reservation. It is only soon after that his worries about his own wayward family life are dwarfed by the revelation that the aggressively showy Murata and wife, Aiko, are in fact not merely con artists of the highest order, but serial killers with plans to make their new friend and family a part of their own freakish carnival of commerce.Yes, it may seem that I often stop up this moreover "genre" geared blog for reviews often concerning the darkest recesses of the human animal, but sometimes a point-blank approach says it better than any giant monster could. The often more subdued and sublime Sion Sono rips off the gloves, and offers us one of the bleakest, nastiest pieces of Japanese cinema in over a decade.

Working with an often incredible script by Sono and Yoshiki Takahashi, Cold Fish begins with some of the most aggressive approaches to what often could be construed as the mundane I have seen in a great while. From rapid cuts of an intense night of instant dinner prep, to a chance meeting, ending in tours of both central locations, it is a solid, tour-de-force of a prologue that sets up Shamoto's inner and outer worlds versus the almost absurdly giddy mirror image that Murata and Aiko present with their larger facilities, Ferrari, and brashy presentation & adoration of almost tourist-trap gaudiness. Almost elated that Murata is aiming to make the young Mitsuko one of his tackily-dressed live-in store staff, Shamoto and wife, Taeko, seem relieved that someone so generous seems so willing to help the couple with a child seemingly on a troubled path. But it is merely stage one of a larger scheme that involves Shamoto's own non-confrontational nature, something that could easily be used to win the confidence of others. It is this nature that also becomes central the the film's central concerns about the contemporary Japanese family, and its occasional flirtation with the morose. And as the film begins gathering steam, it is clear that the truth behind Murata serves as an aggressive, often shocking 180 degree response to such an existence. And the effects on Shamoto bear potential for dire consequences that stretch far beyond his own complicity in crimes that quickly begin to escalate from graphic insanity to almost infectious internal apocalyptic notions, threatening all within arm's reach.

Inspired by terribly true events, the film never shies away from immense heapings of gore,  yet always remains grounded in some relatable universe. With a film that deals with such often-horrific subject matter, it is often a safety button for many filmmakers to throw in an aside, a gag, or something to allow the events some manner of audience decompression. And dare I say, Cold Fish "gleefully" avoids this habit in favor of playing matters totally straight, keeping the dark comedy truly subjective. Sono's choice to keep matters subdued makes for some sobering thoughts concerning the roots of domestic evil, and the occasional monsters who fuel it.

So when I look at the film's "monsters" and see that Denden & Kurosawa are in no manner "classic" movie psychos, but lost souls with little remorse to keep them from making their paths in the world, it's a waking nightmare. Instantly evoking both the borderline huckster-esque, and the genuinely self-righeous, Denden's Murata is easily the film's most spectacular feature. A character so ridiculous in his sensibilities, and yet strangely true to life, that it's easy to see just how long his real-life counterpart was capable of eluding capture. And Kurosawa's Aiko, with her mix between streetwise beauty, and giddy liberation, is both compelling and utterly terrifying. Such laughter and enthusiasm from both him and Kurosawa make for some truly indelible characters, and it will likely be a long time before I can even consider a rival for such a position.

But the movie's most challenging balancing act comes from Fukikoshi, former gravure idol, Kagurazaka, and Kajiwara, who's Shamoto family comes rife with turmoil already primed to burst before this pair of TNT kegs came along. Kagurazaka impresses as the new mother of the family, someone with already enough baggage and guilt plaguing the household as she married into matters not too long after the passing of the original which has incensed the already acting out Kajiwara. A younger step-mother who has also inherited the family business that seems destined to go nowhere. The romance sequestered to merely a corner of a lonely stretch of highway, dosing on a lifetime of instant rice dinners, and tending to a family that is not very welcoming of one's habits let alone presence, or of even discussing matters of the future outside of the stars seems like a recipe for problems that are brought to full boil here. All events of course not going here or there due to Fukikoshi, who's entire life seems to be a giant, immutable compromise. His Shamoto, while on the surface, seems completely inert in his will to make change, is the face of "ganbare" pushed toward the breaking point. While a little piece of heaven is revealed to be Hades incarnate, it is his unwillingness to make any major choices that sets up the story's penultimate thematic detonator that goes off far beyond the monstrous acts happening before and around him. It is this belief that all will be better if he just soldiers on that creates many an undoing, and takes us into some truly unexpected territory.

Even as the film's third act rockets off into sheer fantasyland, the notion is clear; generations of stepping in line, and ignoring the base urge to survive fuels resent, violence, and an abyss capable of ensnaring even the most innocent. Cold Fish, while yet another challenge to ideas of decency, and "civilized" sensibilities, is the kind of response to South Korean revenge films many have been hoping to see from Japan, and a gnarled warning about how close we truly are to the nature we claim to be in control of, and how far we've wandered from stating our truest, deepest intentions.

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