Cold Fish

aka Tsumetai Nettaigyo
Japan, 2011
Director: Sion Sono
Starring: Denden, Makoto Ashikawa, Megumi Kagurazaka, Asuka Kurosawa

I've been a fan of director Sion Sono's films ever since Suicide Club introduced the world to his signature style. And his later effort, Strange Circus is one of my all-time favourite horror movies. If you're in the market for films inhabiting the twisted fringes of Japanese Horror cinema, or Ero Guro1, Sono is your guy.

So it was with much anticipation that I caught his latest flick at a Film Festival this weekend. I was expecting something surreal and gory, and I knew it was based on a real-life serial killer. But what I didn't expect was the funniest movie I've seen this year.

That is, if you prefer your humour black. While it may seem unlikely, harvesting comedy from the serial killer sub-genre actually makes dark sense. Films such as Happiness of the Katakuris and American Psycho have mined this field before ... and Cold Fish is about as gut-wrenchingly hilarious as they get.

There's also a lot of blood. But where films such as Hostel could be categorised as gore for gore's sake, here it's employed in the service of humour, which is certainly the way I prefer it. Sono even manages to turn a rape scene into a comedic opportunity. And while that might sound quite twisted .... well yeah I guess it is. But its also deliriously, eye-wateringly funny.

If that isn't enough to satisfy your twisted sensibilities, this Japanese production also goes the extra mile that Hollywood rarely travels - by throwing in an abundance of sex and nudity as well. Considering most of the characters in the movie have little or no moral compunction, not only is life cheap, but sex is too.

Wanton licentiousness abounds - infidelity, partner-swapping, exhibitionism - even a charmingly cute lesbian interlude. All of which makes for the exact kind of envelope-pushing cinema pundits of Japanese genre movies will appreciate.

The humour is helped along substantially by ex-comedian Denden (Uzumaki, Juon) whose larger-than-life character dominates the film, as well as the characters within it. Charming and vicious by turns, his ebullient good-nature is infectious and infuses the film with dark humour.

Inspired by true events known as the "Saitama serial murders of dog lovers", the movie transposes proceedings to a pair of rival Tropical Fish shops, one run by the meek Shamato (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), the other by the gregarious Murata (Denden). Their paths cross when Shamato's daughter Mitsuko is caught shoplifting, and Murata suggests she come and work in his shop.

Murata is a wildly successful entrepreneur in stark contrast to Shamato. Irresistably charming, the Shamato family are quickly drawn into his web, with little realisation of the darker side to his personality. At least at first. But extricating themselves won't be so easy.

The film won't dazzle with its visuals or production values ... but has a tight script that builds momentum ensuring you'll barely notice its 2.5 hr running time. This is a definite highlight of the year for genre fans, and is highly recommended.

Rating: 9/10

More screenshots

For an interesting interview with the director, check out Channeling Chaos - An Interview with Sion Sono

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