Sion Sono is a port turned filmmaker and has made a mark with his horror films, and it is not surprise that his films are almost poetic in nature. His “Suicide Club” had shocked audiences and garnered a huge cult following while “Strange Circus” remains as one of the boldest works of Japanese horror I’ve ever seen. I may even go as far as he may well match Takashi Miike when it comes to being a horror master, and granted any movie of his always finds a spot in my collection.
“Coldfish” is the latest from this director and while it may not be as visually alluring as “Strange Circus” nor as mind-boggling and frustrating as “Suicide Club”, this film gets the job done. It is pretty straight-forward when it comes to storytelling but Sono may have been trying to outdo his previous movies after “Noriko’s Dinner Table” received mixed reactions from his fans. The film is based on a true story and the manner that Sono executes the screenplay is pretty unsettling and allows the characters to define the story. He has made a character-driven movie while containing all the themes that made him different from other filmmakers.
The film begins when a simple fish shop owner named Nobuyuki Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) his attractive new wife, Taeko (stunning Megumi Kagurazaka) and his daughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara) is living a quiet, boring and uneventful life. One look at them and you can tell that there is an aura of tension and this becomes much more complicated when Mitsuko is caught stealing from a local store. A generous, wealthy and elderly man named Yukio Murata (Denden) settles the situation and with his wife Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa) offers the troublesome daughter a job at his own much larger, richer fish shop. Things seem to be doing alright until Shamoto soon discovers much to his regret that there is something horribly wrong with the Murata couple as they force him to participate in their horrific and murderous activities. But Shamoto may be in too deep to get away…
It has been awhile since I finally got to see a truly worthwhile horror Japanese horror film, and I am glad to have finally gotten to see a horror film of this caliber. Sion Sono’s intentions in the film are not to display the raw brutality the Muratas are capable of, but rather through this brutality we get to witness the psyche of an ordinary man. It is almost as if it is a sort of a rebirth, as the viewer is taken to depths of an experience and a viewer has to understand the fears, the concerns of such a man.
Many would argue that Shamoto was a weak-willed man, that he did not have to be privy to such an experience, and while I agree with the first statement, I do understand what kept Shamoto stuck in this horrifying situation. Sono brings the viewer to the depths of Shamoto’s psyche, and I had very little issues buying into what I am watching. It also helps that Sono keeps the film grounded, he develops the main protagonist in a way that one can easily relate to. From the beginning, I could see why he would put himself in a situation; he loves his wife and child, and yet he isn’t respected by neither. The direction gave the viewer a look of his family, and clearly, he is a man in denial with his unhappiness.
What truly engaged me was the manner that Sono also developed the Murata couple. I saw several parallels to Shamoto and Yukio Murata, it is almost like a father-son relationship and their similarities can be eerie. It was easy to spot that Murata may have been much like Shamoto when he was younger, and in essence, they are both the men the other could’ve been. It was quite unsettling how Aiko and Yukio Murata seemed to see their crimes as something that comes natural; they show no remorse and almost as if they believe what they are doing is a twisted brand of life justice and they are merely reacting to what is served them. They are the very definitions of insanity since they appear ‘relaxed’ with no display of disgust whatsoever to their deeds. The acting by Denden and Kurosawa were very convincing; and this is part of the element that sold the movie to me.
The film is very graphic in nature and becomes much more violent the more you get into the film. Sono never backs down from showing the viewer the gory and very bloody details of each procedure and aided by the performances, the scenes become much more disturbing. The Muratas prance around, they kid and talk, all the while treating the bloody exercises as nothing more than a chore. Shamoto becomes privy to all of this, and I saw realistic disgust emanating from his features. Sono also displays the feral and bestial potentials of the human psyche, as the film not only goes into a murderous side of the humanity’s face, but also of the greed, anger, abuse and lust that drives evil. Not only does Sono go all the way with the graphic nature of the film, “Coldfish” has three rather erotically-charged sex scenes with nudity and scenes of abuse. Sono uses the sex scenes as a way to power, or something that can comfort; almost as if he is saying that it all depends as to how one sees it. The violence can no doubt turn off some viewers but Sono does have a point to all of this and the direction does keep track of the timeline, as to give the film a small feeling of authenticity. It also helped that Sono made an effort to show the time that goes by with the Muratas and the Shamotos having this acquaintance.
“Coldfish” may be a horror film that is bold and seems to be a return to the gritty, scary and realistic horror that made me love the genre, but I cannot say that it is perfect. I feel that Sono seemed to have rushed the film’s final 18 minutes, and while it was clearly an exclamation point and served a finality to express a narrative impact, I thought there were some directional missteps. They aren’t that much to nit-pick but I did notice that Sono lost some of its footing and may have become a little overzealous and ambitious with the writing. Regardless, the film still made an impact despite its small heavy-handedness and is excellently paced that its 145 minute runtime went smoothly. “Coldfish” is a return to form for Sono, after his less-than-impressive “Noriko”. Miike may be a little green with envy after this.
Timidly Recommended Because of the film’s disturbing nature. [4 Out of 5 Stars]