Retro Review: COLD FISH (2010){0}

If you’re familiar with the work of Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono, you already know what to expect from Cold Fish: something entirely unpredictable. The film will not disappoint. A strange, savage, and altogether fascinating slow-burn thriller about a domesticated schlub who gets pushed around by his nasty daughter, his licentious wife, and his latest business partner, Cold Fish feels sort of like Eli Roth directed Fargo in Japan. But perhaps that’s selling Sono’s film short; it’s also sort of an epic character study that begins quietly and uneventfully that offers strangely engaging twists every third scene.

Sono, director of wonderfully odd films like Suicide Club, Love Exposure, and Exte: Hair Extensions, is back with his most ambitious project to date, a 140-minute downward spiral that’s equal parts funny, scary, intense, captivating, and plain old weird. Not for all tastes, to be sure, but an absolute treat for those who love dark genre imports that take a familiar tale and turn it into something startlingly unique.

The beginning of the end for poor fish-seller Shamoto is the night he meets a bombastically colourful colleague called Murata. That one chance meeting kick-starts a chain of events the involves Shamoto’s grumpy teenage daughter, his nubile young bride, his fish-selling business, and (of course) his last lingering traces of sanity. At its core, Cold Fish is about how a thoroughly domesticated man can (and will) eventually reach his breaking point – and the results sure aren’t pretty — but it’s also just a rock-solid and pitch-black “comedy of errors” in which shocking violence occurs casually – and the audience is frequently left reeling.

Unapologetic in its extreme violence and creepy sexuality, Cold Fish mines some of the darkest and most fascinating nuggets of the human psyche, but it never once becomes obvious or predictable in its delivery. Rare is the 140-minute film that flits by so expeditiously, but it’s Sono’s confident balance between mortality and morality that keep even the quietest moments from becoming dull or tiresome. The two leads (Hikari Kajiwara as Shamoto; Denden as Murata) are like two opposed magnets when they’re onscreen together. Every time Murata sinks to a new level of depravity, Shamoto responds by exhibiting some small trace of obvious humanity — for a while anyway. And while Cold Fish is most frequently focused on the exploits of these two desperate men, Cold Fish gains a lot of extra traction by allowing the women to shine in their own right. Murata’s gal, for example, is one of the flick’s most ferocious and fascinating characters… but I can’t really explain why if you haven’t seen the movie yet.

Call it a horror film, a two-headed character study, a morality tale, or a rumination on the fragility of the human ego … Cold Fish is smart, devious, and confrontational filmmaking from a man who’s quickly becoming a master at this sort of stuff.


Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)

COLD FISH is now available to stream at