Revenge is a fish best served raw

 

COLD FISH Directed by Shion Sono. Starring Makoto Ashikawa, Denden, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Megumi Kagurazaka Club, IFI, Dublin, 144 min

MILD-MANNERED fish-store owner Shamoto can’t catch a break at home. His bratty teenage daughter won’t accept her young, prepossessing stepmom; his shy, stressed-out bride is as distant as the proverbial piscine of the title.

Our put-upon hero doesn’t look entirely convinced when Murata, an overbearing rival fish-store owner, intervenes in his troubled domesticity, but Shamoto lacks the backbone to say no. There’s something troubling and cloven about Murata, a sleazy, ingratiating bully with a Ferrari, from the get-go. Perhaps it’s the team of “difficult” adolescent girls he hires to patrol about in tank tops and hot pants. Perhaps it’s the way he laughs at really inappropriate moments. Or maybe it’s the fact that his enemies keep disappearing. Worst suspicions are quickly confirmed and completely surpassed. But by then Shamoto is in way too deep.

Returning to the out-there fetishist themes of Suicide Cluband Love Exposure, director Shion Sono soon gets operatic with this frenzied chop-’em-up. Cold Fishis J-gore, but not as we know it. The body parts are meaty and grimy; the bloodwork bares little resemblance to the geysers and scarlet corn syrup that once defined Japanese genre pictures, nor to the stylish shadows of late-1990s J-horror.

Cold Fishis different. It plays with extremes without ever looking like an Asia Extreme title. Its source material is a grisly series of real-life murders and its primary purpose looks to be allegorical.

The reliably cultish Sono wracks a story that was previously popularised as the Japanese Sweeney Todd into something far more discombobulating. No character emerges with dignity. The viewer is repeatedly goaded into cheering on the monster. Few taboos are left unmolested. The actors, conversely, retain a chilling grip on a wide spectrum of dysfunctional and downright messed-up behaviours.

In the director’s unforgiving swipes at societal sicknesses and national flaws, there are comparisons to be made with Tetsuya Nakashima’s recent Confessions. There is something, too, of Steven Sheils’ 2008 Brit- horror Mum and Dad, a decadently black comedy that found grotesque inspiration in Fred and Rosemary West.

It hardly needs to be said that a highly developed sense of humour and a distempered psyche are mandatory. Leave the Fanta.