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Fish Story
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by Jay Seaver

"A great song - or movie - can save the world."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2010 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Fish Story", if nothing else, lives up to its name. Not in that fish appear anywhere in it, but in the other definition. It's an unlikely story, which grows larger and stranger in the telling, but one that delights as well.

In 2012, Tokyo is more or less empty as most of the population has fled in a futile effort to avoid the tidal waves that will be caused by the comet about to hit Earth. Well, except for a few - a miserable, ailing fatalist (Kenjiro Ishimaru) finds a record store open, the people inside apparently unaware of the upcoming cataclysm. The customer proposes several unlikely ways the disaster could be averted, but the owner (Nao Omori) pulls out a record, Fish Story, on vinyl, never re-pressed or available on CD, and says that the title track will save the world. How? Well it involves three college students (Gaku Hamada, Takashi Yamanaka, and Kazuki Namioka) in 1982 who ponder the paranormal implications of a sixty-second silence in the track, a doomsday cult in 1999, the pastry chef (Mirai Moriyama) who befriends a girl (Mikako Tabe) who oversleeps on the ferry in 2009, and, of course, the two leaders (Atsushi Ito, Kengo Kora) of a band who recorded this punk song in 1975, a year before the Sex Pistols hit the scene.

It all connects, naturally, and it's not much of a spoiler to say that Fish Story eventually reveals itself to be a Rube Goldberg machine of a movie, although director Yoshihiro Nakamura hides some of the steps until absolutely necessary. Of course, by the time comes to reveal them, most of them are probably what you've deduced them to be, although not all. It's an extremely satisfying combination of the film zigging when one might expect it to zag and pulling together in a way that is cohesive despite how relatively peculiar and individual the various segments are.

And several, make no mistake, are highly enjoyable mini-movies on their own. The 2012 framing sequence is one bit of deadpan or pop-culture humor after another. The section on the boat is all but guaranteed to leap out at the audience with its jolt of action that is both thrilling and graceful, as well as a nice contrast between the girl's overwrought state and the chef's cool. The best, though, may be the one with Ito and Kora as half of the proto-punk band Gerikin. It fills in bits that the other segments had left blank, particularly things from the 1982 section, but on its own it's a great little rock & roll story, one that balances the rewards and pitfalls of doing what the label wants and playing from the heart and presents what I gather is Nao Omori in a delightful second role as the A&R man who discovers them.

Each segment has essentially its own cast, more or less, and most of them are very good. Watching Atsushi Ito and Kengo Kora as rockers who are unable to have both talent and pragmatism at once is a bit of joy, especially considering how their story would typically devolve into acrimony. Another great pair of opposites is, as mentioned, Mikako Tabe and Mirai Moriyama; while Tabe's character is initially more than a little obnoxious, it's clearly to give her a place to grow from, whereas Moriyama is highly charismatic in very few words, putting his dance training to good use. And as miserable a guy as his character is, there's something hugely enjoyable about watching Ishimaru be a jerk, especially since we know that his cynicism will be shown to be the wrong attitude in the end.

Is that saying too much? Nah. Honestly, that's the part of the movie that I feel most comfortable giving away; after all, you don't flat-out say "this song will save the world", give us an actual good song (thanks, Saito Kazuyoshi!), and then say that great art and music made with heart and sincerity doesn't matter. It's the getting there that makes the ending worth it, though, and "Fish Story"'s long and winding road is a great trip.

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originally posted: 07/19/10 14:24:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: New York Asian Film Festival 2009 For more in the New York Asian Film Festival 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: Fantastic Fest 2009 For more in the Fantastic Fest 2009 series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Yoshihiro Nakamura

Written by
  Tamio Hayashi

  Gaku Hamada
  Atsushi Ito
  Kengo Kora
  Mirai Moriyama
  Nao Omori
  Mikako Tabe

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