Kernel Rating (out of 5):
Length: 144 minutes
MPAA Rating: NR, but should be rated R.
Age Appropriate for: 17+. It’s a gory, bloody film, with numerous scenes involving people being chopped up into tiny bits and others playing with their insides or making jokes about their body parts now that they’re dead; there’s also a fair amount of nudity (women’s breasts and butts), a few different sex scenes, sexual violence and rape, both of women and men. There’s cursing, too, and gross scenes with vomit, but it’s the violence and sexual material that are most inappropriate for younger viewers.
“Cold Fish” is the fifth film in a summer collaboration between AMC, entertainment management company The Collective and horror website BloodyDisgusting.com; the series brought a different horror movie from international and festival film circuits to Baltimore’s White Marsh theater each month, but “Cold Fish” is being released on DVD on Tuesday, Aug. 23. Chesapeake Family reviewed the entire series; its most recent theater release, “Atrocious,” will play until the end of August.
Dear Japan, please quit it with the increasingly inexplicable weird horror movies. Despite some good acting, ‘Cold Fish’ is another in the country’s bizarre exports to the U.S.
By Roxana Hadadi
I don’t really understand the purpose of “Cold Fish,” which comes out on DVD today in the U.S. Maybe it’s a cultural barrier thing, but the film’s premise of a crazy guy commandeering a mild-mannered man’s life and attempting to mold him into a replica of himself just doesn’t resonate. The loss of the individual is kind of a been-there, done-that subject, no? Plus, tropical fish? How do those even fit into all this?
So yeah, “Cold Fish” — which was released in Japan last year and is being released for home viewers through the website Bloody Disgusting’s Selects program — is totally bizarre, sometimes hauntingly slow-paced but mostly unbelievably absurd. Directed by poet and filmmaker Shion Sono, the movie is inspired by the real story of serial killers Gen Sekine and Hiroko Kazama, who in 1993 murdered and dismembered four people, one of whom was a client of their dog-breeding company. In “Cold Fish,” we have murder, dismemberment and annoyed customers, yes, but the film is more about the absence of self — and specifically masculinity — in our modern world. With peer pressure, business competition and unloving relatives, how does a man earn the respect of those around him? Sono somewhat argues it’s through intimidation, fear and violence, and that’s where “Cold Fish” ultimately veers into somewhat despicable territory.
Things start off slow, though: We’re first introduced to the mini skirt-wearing and thoroughly bored Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka), who flounces through a grocery store in Fujimi City, Japan, carelessly throwing packets of semi-prepared food into her basket, so she can similarly listlessly prepare it at home for her older husband Nobuyuki Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) and her teenage stepdaughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara). No one speaks during dinner, except Mitsuko, who runs out of the building (which also houses Shamoto’s tropical fish store) to meet her boyfriend; an attempt by Shamoto to make love to Taeko while the teen isn’t around is smacked down both by Taeko’s disinterest and a phone call from a local store, where Mitsuko was caught shoplifting.
The store manager is ready to report Mitsuko to the police, until the mysterious Mr. Murata (Denden) shows up, charming him into releasing the girl and then aggressively suggesting that the family meet him at his tropical fish store, Amazon Gold. A competitor to Shamoto Tropical Fish Shop, Amazon Gold has dozens of tanks, countless beautiful fish and a young, female workforce that Mr. Murata suggests would be good for Mitsuko to join. She can stay out of trouble, Mr. Murata insists, and live and work in a dormitory with the other girls — an idea that seems great to Taeko, who has been beaten up by the girl in the past because of her father’s remarriage after Mitsuko’s mother’s death, and Mitsuko herself, who wants to escape her father’s home.
But Shamoto’s shared interest in the plan seems to fade away once he realizes that Mr. Murata isn’t taking Mitsuko off their hands for free. The man with the Ferrari and the beautiful wife, Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa), doesn’t plan on keeping his hands to himself, either with Taeko or Shamoto — he has rough sex with the former in his office and then blackmails the latter into accepting his insanity. Mr. Murata, you see, isn’t just a really loud guy with grabby hands and lots of money; he’s also a serial killer who has whacked 58 people, many with his wife, if they dared to disagree with him or get in his way. It’s just business, Mr. Murata says, so he’s going to need Shamoto to help — unless he wants something bad to happen to his wife or daughter.
And so the film goes, with Shamoto forced to live with the knowledge of what Mr. Murata is doing, and the responsibility of getting pulled into his murderous actions. As he sees Mr. Murata and Aiko hacking apart bodies in a mysterious shack near Mount Harakiri, Shamoto begins to understand that his onetime business rival not only wants him to know about the murders, but wants him to agree with them, too — in hopes that someday, one will become the other.
In some ways, “Cold Fish” is really interesting: The idea that a killer would try not to necessarily threaten someone into aiding in his murders, but urge the person to reevaluate their lives and consider how being able to make someone “invisible” would help them, seems like something straight out of “Dexter” or a particularly thoughtful “Saw” sequel. But the film’s lack of character development makes it impossible to become fully invested in anything these people do to one another.
As Shamoto, Fukikoshi is wonderfully adept, transitioning from meek and clueless to rage-filled and authoritative, but his growth from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde doesn’t totally make sense. For years, he’s been trampled on, with both his daughter and new wife resenting their marriage, but why would wanting to protect them warp into going along with anything Mr. Murata says? A subplot about his interest in astronomy goes nowhere. Similarly sketchy is Mr. Murata himself, who gloats and brags about his murders but only briefly speaks about his tortured childhood; are beatings from his father really enough to turn him into a braggadocio-heavy killer? (Still, Denden has moments of complete creepiness in this role, especially when he wishes “Take care!” to body parts he dumps into a fire.)
Worst of all, though, are the female characters, who are all sexually promiscuous, nagging and disrespectful, either being servants or obstacles to men. There are none who are better developed than that; it’s very clear here that the male characters in charge, and the women are only there to think — or do — whatever they say.
With a runtime of nearly two-and-a-half hours, “Cold Fish” unnecessarily drags, ruining its few suspenseful scenes (like when Shamoto is forced to make coffee for Aiko and Mr. Murata while they dismember their victims) with others that involve drawn-out abuse, both sexual and otherwise, between characters. Chop a half-hour off “Cold Fish” and add in some more character development and the film would be a suspenseful thriller; otherwise, it’s lifeless.