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Cold Fish
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by Jay Seaver

"A cold fish of a father, a serial killer, and a pitch-black comedy."
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 BOSTON UNDERGROUND FILM FESTIVAL: Clearly, Sion Sono is a guy I'm going to have to pay more attention to going forward. So far, I've seen three of his movies and really liked all three, even though they're frequently the very definition of an acquired taste. "Cold Fish", for instance, only seems conventional when compared to "Love Exposure", Sono's four-hour epic of teen romance, religion, and kung fu panty photography - it's a mere two and a half hours of tropical fish salesmen, unhappy daughters, and bloody murder.

It starts with the Shamoto family. The father (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) runs a small tropical fish store in a small town off the highway. He has a beautiful young second wife, Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka), which has not gone over well with his teenage daughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara). One night, Mitsuko gets caught shoplifting at a department store, but Mr. Murata (Denden), who caught her, talks the manager into letting her go, if she'll work at his tropical fish store. He and his wife Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa) do this for a lot of troubled girls - their "Amazon Gold" fish store even has a dormitory attached - but this doesn't seem to be an attack on Shamoto's store. Murata even proposes a business partnership with Shamoto, acknowledging his greater expertise. However, it's not just breeding rare fish that Murata is involving Shamoto with, but cold-blooded murder.

That's just the start, of course - once things get rolling, Sono and co-writer Yoshiki Takahashi do a great job of keeping the story chugging along, not so much with plot twists but by tightening the screws, bringing the walls in a little tighter on Shamoto. Though Sono is often best known for his twisted characters, bizarre turns of events, and shocking visuals - and there's plenty of both on-hand here, especially once the Muratas drag Shamoto into the bloody process of making murdered people disappear utterly - what's really impressive is just how well he's able to pace a movie. Cold Fish runs 144 minutes, but never feels like an unusually long movie. And though it's a screwy story, it's not until the very end that a character's actions seem strange in context.

Of course, we're supposed to be a little unsure about Shamoto by this point; he's been through a great deal. Mitsuru Fukikoshi is excellent at both putting us in the shoes of this confused man and keeping him a little distant. He spends a great deal of time out of his depth, reacting to the escalating violence and insanity around him. It's a funny performance, especially when paired with Denden's and Kurosawa's Muratas. Denden gets to play Mr. Murata as brash and forceful, plowing his way through everything in his way and bullying Shamoto because he can. He's a jovial monster, allowing Denden and Fukikoshi to work both as a comic team while still making the audience wonder just how far this dynamic can be pushed.

The women are an interesting group as well. Asuka Kurosawa, for instance, starts out mostly playing Aiko as the grounded housewife who curbs her husband's excesses, but when the movie ultimately reveals her ferocious side, she's a crazy kick to watch as well. Megumi Kagurazaka seldom goes to the same sort of extremes, although when she does, it's memorable, a scene that makes audiences wonder just how much of her domesticity throughout the rest of the movie is an act. Hikari Kajiwara's Mitsuko isn't quite so complicated - she's mad at her father for replacing her late mother with this sex object - but she plays the angry teenager well, always hitting just the right note of disdain or practiced disaffection.

There's plenty more in the mix as well, making "Cold Fish" a grand, funny, tragic stew of a movie. It falters a little at points, but it's strange and exhilarating throughout.

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originally posted: 04/07/11 00:24:43
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2010 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 67th Venice International Film Festival For more in the 67th Venice International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Boston Underground Film Festival For more in the 2011 Boston Underground Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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  DVD: 23-Aug-2011



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