Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fish Story (2009) Movie Review

It is hours before a wayward comet barreling toward earth is to eradicate all life, as a sole figure rolls into a puzzlingly open record shop. Within the walls of the naturally quiet establishment, a pair of young men; one being the proprietor, the other a loyal customer, listen to some tunes, musing about the possibilities of salvation. This only vexes the defeated elder gentleman, set in his feeling that humanity is doomed. It is only within an old recording from a lost punk outfit that predated the Sex Pistols, that the fates of all just might hang in the balance. And such a strange setting is merely the beginning of an unexpected journey through the lives of several  seemingly random, yet inextricably bound souls in Yoshihiro Nakamura's  thoughtful fantasy based on Tamio Hayashi's novel. Very much in the vein of "hyperlink" films ala BABEL, or Crash, and even the most recent, Cloud Atlas, the film explores the threads that link a piece of creative work has toward possibly changing the course of history through a series of semi-vignettes, seemingly unrelated toward one another, yet somehow finding some manner of connective tissue.

Jumping back and forth through time with characters that on the surface, seem so distinctly different from one another(and often displaying varying tones), while is in no way is the piece as serious as the previously mentioned examples, but it is an unexpectedly rewarding paean to inspiration, complete with just a smidge of sly satire.

Without going into far too much detail as to avoid spoiling, the film covers several decades leading up to the central dilemma, as hope becomes a bit of a ping-pong ball, with the young, ready to embrace the possibilities, and the elders, ready to accept their fate with clenched fists. So as the stories begin with one in 1982, and a trio of young men listen to "paranormal recordings" before heading out for a night on the town, we are re-introduced to the track, "Fish Story", which was what we heard in the music store. A song by long-forgotten rockers, Gekirin. And in is within the rebellious sounds (and bizarre middle-section) of the song, that fate plays a heavy hand in the events of this initial tale. It is from here that we leap forward to 1999, where a doomsday cult sees themselves having better days. With the end of the world "postponed" for a later date, pieces begin moving that may (or may not) affect future events.

So when the film takes a sudden left, toward what almost looks and feels like any other quirky J-drama setup (ordinary schoolgirl oversleeps on a cruise ship, only to meet a most unusual do-gooder moments before the boat is hijacked), it is with perhaps a little disappointment as the segment itself veers between levels of sweetness as if primed to almost completely derail what had come before. And yet somehow, Nakamura and company figure out a way to make even this teeth-rotting cul-de-sac vital despite its pacing and tonal weirdness.

And just when it all becomes borderline frustrating, what the film is barreling toward is something of a welcome sucker punch once the final major sequence enters the stage; a dramatically laid back 1975 sequence involving Gekirin, the band whose song permeates the piece. During a tumultuous time in their days as a band, torn between success and artistic, freedom, the sequence is a leisurely, thoughtful, and sometimes even touching compliment toward everything prior. Made all the more potent via performances by Nao Omori, Atsushi Ito, and others, this is a lovely centerpiece that is all so familiar, and yet sensitively executed. It's a segment that echoes more of a western independence streak that is rare for a mainstream Japanese film. And with this affectionately non-consumerist theme in its arsenal, the remainder of the comet tale makes for a last heartfelt push toward destiny. Which is where I'll stop talking about the story in general as this is a work that is far more potent in the feel rather than the reality.

With limited resources, and the diverse color of the cast, Nakamura more than makes up for certain deficiencies with pure heart. Fish Story is not only a charming & fanciful musing on the power of rock n' roll, but is also a clever tribute to those who try, despite the lack of traditional means. One person's bungled inspiration, might be another's battle cry. One person's act of kindness may just inspire greater things in the future. It's a celebration of the wistfully naive, and meant for those who love dreaming despite the odds. Whether we know it or not, we all have a part in the same song, and boy does the future seem in good hands.

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