Mar 20, 2011

Cold Fish


Following hot on the trail of Love Exposure is Sion Sono's newest film, Cold Fish. This odd horror film is quite a departure from his previous works because unlike most directors, Sion Sono embodies his own work  with diligence and depravity. Cold Fish isn't very aesthetically similar to Love Exposure as it is more focused and budgeted on a single strand of narrative as opposed to the labyrinthine construct of Sono's absurd romance epic. Undoubtedly situated with tension, one glance at the poster should inflict mental side-effects akin to a bad omen. I could probably sit here and gush at the mere mention of Sion Sono and how spoiled and content I feel after viewing his films one after another but I will fight the affliction at its source while attempting to keep my composure. It would also become apparent that Sion Sono has gotten a handle on his cinematic deviance, even going as far as to be comic in nature. Now I pray you'll excuse the pun but Cold Fish, at its very core, profits with a morbid take on a "fish out of water" tale and like several of his films, is based on a true story. This story, in particular, being the case of Gen Sekine, a 59 year old dog breeder who conspired and poisoned four people.

Cold Fish opens up on with a very go-getting display of bright pastel colors and a delicate piano tune spliced with an ominous pounding. You can compare the introduction of Cold Fish to Gaspar Noe's Enter the Void as they both feature a very similar iconographic vortex, alike to being siphoned for every ounce of attention. We are then guests in the home of Shamoto and we watch their daily duties which include vomiting from nervousness. It is then when a chord is rung that highlights an estrangement so bizarre for being that close in proximity. Shamoto is the timid husband and proprietor of the squalid tropical fish shop they live out of, Taeko is the caretaker of the fish, and Mitsuko is the obligatory rebellious teenage girl. The events of Cold Fish pick up rather swiftly as Shamoto receives a phone call from a supermarket; the manager asking for his presence as his daughter was caught shoplifting. After some humility is passed evenly to the fragmented family, the situation is diffused when a Mr. Murata makes his presence known and talks the manager down from police intervention. After revealing that he, too, is a fish trader, Shamoto and Murata quickly bond over a stretch of peculiar and intrusive methods that leave Murata's true intentions masked. Here in lies the magic of Cold Fish, as per Sion Sono's evolution of character, this film is no exception to dizzying violence and absurd and utterly uncomfortable moments from the start to the twisted end. Shamato; shrewd and laden with cowardice. Murata; kind man whose costume is shed to reveal a sinister side - not one with the remove of, say, a greater evil. No, Murata's sickness lends much more to the promise of financial gain.

To properly describe Cold Fish, you'd have to step back and analyze each character and their behaviors. Sion Sono has learned much throughout his career. Breaking into the mainstream with J-Splatter success Suicide Club then tip-toeing through with films like Hazard, Strange Circus, and the Soiled Sinema favorite Love Exposure, Cold Fish demonstrates perfectly well the talent and mutability of his direction. The confidence that permeates on screen appeals so broadly to me. I feel as if I am invincible heading into a film of his, knowing full well that I will not be disappointed. Some might argue the fact of Noriko's Dinner Table being stale and mundane but I will refrain from commenting until I can devote my absolute full attention to it. To break down what I mentioned earlier, take the character of Taeko for example. Shown in the beginning rampaging through a grocery store, frolicking amidst the isles, gathering the necessary ingredients for a traditional Japanese supper, Sono then time-lapses through the process of preparation only to rival the exertion on her behalf with a scene of silence. Later on that evening, once Mistuko is rid from their domicile, Shamoto sits nervously with Taeko while watching a romantic late-night programme on the television. Obviously inspired by the affection, Shamato decides to make a move on Taeko only to be sternly rejected wielding the "she might come back soon" line. This catapults the common case of an unfulfilled marriage into sadistic grounds, spanning murder and infidelity. One could argue the cause but then again, Shamato never seemed to have luck on his side and this one chance meeting was enough to derail all fates featured within. 

Throughout the entirety of Cold Fish, I was teased and satisfied with Sono's wonderful handling of the oft-unappreciated eccentricity of the Japanese. This ranges from extreme bouts of enthusiasm and the more commonly recognized over-emphasis of their words. This soon trickles dry, though, when Cold Fish switches the safety off half-way and turns into a dark and brooding horror film. I was unsure of how Cold Fish could end. No, how it would end. Immediately upon starting the film, you can never be sure of how it will close and upon seeing it and coming forward for another round, you simply cannot believe the curve-ball it is so prepared to hurl at you. I will refrain from mentioning a thing concerning the finale of Cold Fish other than this; it will terrify you, move you, shock you, and appall you. The violence featured in Cold Fish is something I had taken for granted. I did not realize I could still be shocked by something as novelty as "blood and guts" but alas, I found myself mortified, staring blankly at the screen. In retrospect, what I experienced was very similar to my first initiation to, say, the Guinea Pig series - namely, Flowers of Flesh and Blood. It was simply a spark that no words could recreate for a third-party member. To summarize all these conflicting emotions I can only muster a gasp, exhausted and drained in part of Sono's rape of character - Cold Fish is a flawless depiction of a soul dying. Sion Sono also happens to be a musical genius. He may not be so hands-on as to create his own melodies but as far as juxtaposing images to a classical score, there is no competition. Now as I ruminate on this ghastly thriller, I humbly request that you wait patiently and look forward to the R2 release from the prodigious Third Window Films and if you haven't, acquire a copy of Love Exposure through them.



jervaise brooke hamster said...

I love these reviews of Asian and Japanese movies primarily because they`re not British.

Phantom of Pulp said...

Ah, another avid fan of 'Love Exposure'. Truly a diamond. Despite my impatience, I will wait for the Third Window disk of 'Cold Fish'. Everything I hear about it speaks to me.

Soiled Sinema said...

Cold Fish is truly the hardest review I've ever had to pen. I yearned to tear apart the scenes, especially the ending, but withheld on account it isn't available for public viewing. In the future I hope for there to be an article dissecting various scenes of Sono's work.



Sounds like Sono has delivered another twisted spectacle! Like you say, his body of work is consistently excellent for anyone that enjoys his unique sensibilities - and he's one of my favorite directors. Personally I'm hoping this one is as harrowing and surreal as my favorite of his, Strange Circus.

Soiled Sinema said...

Surreal? Hardly.
Harrowing? You've no idea.