Cold Fish is Sion Sono’s award winning film loosely based on the real-life exploits of serial killer couple Gen Sekine and his ex-wife Hiroko Kazama who perpetrated Tokyo’s notorious 1993 “Saitama serial murders of dog lovers”. It received its premiere at the 2010 Venice Film Festival and is a genuinely brilliant film.
Shamoto (Fukikoshi) runs a small tropical fish shop with his second wife Taeko (Kagurazaka) and rebellious daughter Mitsuko (Kajiwara). One day Mitsuko is caught shoplifting but an intervention by a friendly man named Murata (Denden) prevents the store manager from pressing charges. As it turns out Murata also runs a tropical fish store with his wife Aiko (Kurosawa). Won over by Murata’s charm Shamoto and his unhappy family form a bond of friendship with him and Mitsuko even goes to work for him. What Shamoto does not realise is that Murata is not as friendly as he seems to be and soon finds there are many dark and twisted secrets behind the smile and he is powerless to resist.
Cold Fish like many of Sion Sono’s films flits between horror, satire, thriller, and comedy. It is heavy on gore and black humour with writing and acting that perverts believable drama into a crazy, enjoyable, and moving ride.
The story can happen anywhere people exist. Shamoto’s family are believably unhappy, with each individual wrapped up in their own lives with Taeko sour from a life she feels is wasted, Shamoto unable to express his true feelings and Mitsuko contemptuous of her parents.
Shamoto is one part hapless and mostly meek. He is a simple man unable to deal with adversity and the absurdity of life. His inability to deal with life sees him retreat into his dreams just to escape conflicts that might be solved if he was more proactive and was able to communicate his real feelings to his family.
Fukikoshi develops sympathy by capturing the good-natured but timid nature of Shamoto who wants to avoid the ugly reality of life. Despite his best intentions he cannot overcome his meekness. As the film progresses he goes from looking affable but ineffective to genuinely horrified, squeezing himself into corners out of sight of the horror. Through Murata’s insistent bullying Shamoto reveals his pent up anger and when he snaps the rage is recognisable.
Equally recognisable is the bitterness and resentment that Taeko feels. It is portrayed by Kagurazaka in the curl of distaste her mouth takes when her husband speaks or the poisonous looks she shoots Mitsuko. At one point her relationship with Shamoto had romance and they understood one another as individuals and shared dreams.