COLD FISH is basically insane. It's an insanely conceived movie about insane people. It's hilarious, sexually explicit, ultra-violent, horrifying and ridiculous. It's the sort of movie that you sit through, alternately laughing and nauseous, and when the lights come up you think, 'what the hell just happened here?!'
J-horror director Shion Sono based the movie on a true case of a serial murderer in 1980s Japan, but this is very much just a nod to past history rather than a straight re-telling. In the movie, Sono transposes the action to modern Japan, and turns the serial killer into a Fred and Rosemary West-style couple who get high on sexual power-games and butchering people with an attention to detail that is pretty impressive in a fucked up way. They lure in unsuspecting idiots with their over-the-top courtesy and generosity, find their weakness and then exploit it for kicks. In this case, the killers, Aiko and Murata, alight upon the weedy, emasculated middle-aged man, Shamoto and his dissatisfied wife Taeko, offering to give their teenage daughter a job and a place to stay. Pretty soon, the mischievous old Murata (Japanese comedian Denden) is porking Taeko and forcing Shamoto to be help dispose of corpses.
There's something brilliantly, finely-balanced in how we are often grossed out and laughing our asses off at the same time in this movie. I loved the gore, the chavvy outfits, the lo-fi gonzo look of the film, the day-glo colours, and the screetching sound-track. This is angry, funny film that sticks it in the eye of bourgeois sensibility, with its social satire of repressed domesticity and inter-generational misunderstanding. I loved it. Even when it made me want to vomit. But at its heart, there is something much more profound going on - a sort of demonic argument for repressed people to act on their impulses and, crudely put, "man the fuck up". What else can we make of a scene where Murata literally forces Shamato to have sex with Aiko, or the fact that Shamato's journey in the film is ultimately one of forced self-empowerment. In order to get to the point where he can physically and psychologically save his wife and daughter he has to become, for a moment, as evil but also as powerful as Murata. Shamato is the cold fish, and he is freezing his wife in suburban hell as the movie opens. Is it better to live, frozen, or die, alive? Unpalatable truth, maybe.
COLD FISH was released in Japan earlier this year and played Venice and Toronto 2010.