When I think of Japanese horror, I conjure up images of pasty girls crawling out of the television or little creepy boys living in the attic. While Japanese horror is mostly known for its supernatural stories and often shocking images, there are other forms which are less popular or less mainstream. Take Cold Fish for instance; it is a long film that gives more of a character study rather than trying to create jump scares every 10 minutes. While it might be a bit drawn out, Cold Fish is the film to see for those looking for a little more substance in their horror experience.
To give a synopsis with too much detail will ruin the movie for you because every little part adds something to the overall narrative but I will fill you in on what is supposed to be given information. Nobuyuki Syamoto owns a tropical fish store with his new wife by the name of Taeko Syamoto. Nobuyuki has a daughter, Mitsuko, who hates her stepmother and hates her father for being an old man (more or less). Mitsuko gets caught stealing at a local supermarket and the parents come down to figure the situation out and how to deal with their child. A man and local tropical fish store owner (as well) named Yukio Murata witnessed Mitsuko stealing and told the manager that he will take care of it. Murata invites the Syamoto family over to his store to show off his selection of fish and the overall gaudiness of his wares. He tells Mr. Syamoto that he will take Mitsuko in and give her a job as well as keep her out of trouble. Before he knows it, Mr. Syamoto (being the pushover that he is) is letting Mr. Murata run his life and there is something much more sinister to the way in which he runs his business.
Yes, it is a bit of a confusing plot to describe and it only gets more difficult as the movie progresses to talk about. Like I said, it’s hard to discuss this movie without giving too much away. I will tell you this, the first 40 minutes or so plays out more like a family drama or a black-comedy/drama by showing how Mr. Syamoto is nothing but a bumbling character who can’t get his life together or stand up for himself. The movie eventually gets gory and I mean REALLY gory, it had me cringing at times because the scenes became so visceral. The ending of Cold Fish might leave you feeling a bit empty but it’s supposed to. Cold Fish turns out to be more nihilistic than you think (took me by surprise) but it doesn’t reach that same level that Fight Club attains.
There is something to be said about the score for the film; a nice piano piece plays throughout and strikes me as this sort of beautiful Japanese melody. The areas, in which Cold Fish was filmed, are nice contrasts between the urban and the wilderness. While the main character is nothing but an annoying wimp throughout most of the movie, you are rooting for Mr. Syamoto in the end. The problem here is that it takes too damn long for the film to make its point. Clocking in at 2 ½ hours, this seems to be a bit extreme when making an urban/horror film. I don’t mind long movies but there seems to be parts that could have been shortened or cut out completely.
I really loved this movie though (I am partial to foreign films) with its slow burn story and violently climactic end. I recommend this to those who can watch a horror film without it being only 90 minutes and appreciate a fantastic story. While it may leave you feeling a little empty in the end, remember, that’s the point.