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‘Cold Fish’ a queer balancing act of outrageous humor and fathomless gore

‘Cold Fish’ a queer balancing act of outrageous humor and fathomless gore

Cold Fish
Directed by Sion Sono
Starring Mitsuru Fukkoshi, Hikari Kajiwara, Denden, Megumi Kagurazaka, Asuka Kurosawa
Written by Sion Sono
2010, Japan

Fans of transgressive cinema were overjoyed to see Sion Sono’s latest atrocity appear on the London Film Festival schedule. The Japanese malcontent is almost as prolific as his countryman Miike Takashi, both of them delivering bold and challenging freshly wrought movies year in, year out. After satirizing emerging fads and consumerism in Suicide Club and taking a skewed look at teen romance, religion and the Japanese nuclear family in Love Exposure, he injects a further dysfunctional analysis throughout Cold Fish, a serial killer-themed tale on the surface that obscures a lurking lampoon on present notions of masculinity, progeny and the contemporary status of morality in Japanese society. Based on a true story which one sincerely prays has been amplified through Sono’s warped vision, Cold Fish is telegraphed as a fusion of Hitchcock’s The Trouble With Harry splattered with Hershell Gordon Lewis’s Blood Feast, its final half hour emerging as some of the most depraved imagery to infect this year’s festival.

A meek and modest tropical fish seller, Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukkoshi), is father to a precocious daughter Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara) and husband to his second wife, between whom tensions
simmer as she quietly loathes her motherly surrogate. After she is caught shoplifting Shamoto rushes to her aid with his wife in tow, only to find that a exuberant businessman named Mr. Muratu (Japanese character actor Denden) who also runs a tropical fish store has already secured her pardon. At first glance, this new friend is everything that Shamoto is not  – confident, charismatic and wealthy – his business operating on a more grandiose level where he employs rehabilitated teen waifs and strays, and soon Mitsuko has a stabilizing responsibility in the organization.  This veneer, however, is all a cover for Denden’s real intentions and motivations, as he is a psychopath who, with his similarly deranged wife (Asuka Kurosawa),, enjoys murdering and robbing local businessmen, making  Samoto a reluctant accomplice in their grisly crimes and most disturbingly, the liquidation of the inconvenient corpses that are the natural byproduct of Mr. Muratu’s activities.


Unflinching and unconscionable, Cold Fish is a black comedy with an obsidian pitch, a queer balancing act of outrageous humor and fathomless gore. Sly religious icons clutter the screen and the fetishistic fascination of Sono’s previous work is apparent, all wrapped up in an atypical analysis of madness and neurosis that he excels at. Although it doesn’t equal the numbing run time of Sono’s previous film – Love Exposure ran for a grueling four hours, while Cold Fish clocks in at two and a half – the film does not feel labored or lurched as it brusquely moves toward its shocking termination. Denden is ostentatiously the film’s hero, driving the meek Shamoto to fulfill his masculine obligations that are enforced by society, to conform to the status quo and control his distant wife and rebellious daughter. In its last half hour, the film descends into a Charnel house carnival with a typhoon of sloppy, gelatine intestines bursting across the screen, a crimson detritus that will provoke gasps and laughs in equal measure. Controversial yet controlled, Cold Fish is a fine example of challenging world cinema, and with a planned adaption of the book Lords Of Chaos in the works, Sono is proving to be an exceptional talent to watch.

John McEntee

Originally published November 2, 2010 for the BFI London Film Festival