Cold Fish is a horror film sort of. At least, that is the territory it has certainly arrived at by the gore-drenched last fifteen minutes, although the build-up plays out more like a black comedy. For around the first twenty minutes or so, Sono involves us in the problems of downtrodden Mitsuru Fukikoshi, his wife (Megumi Kagurazaka) who seems disinterested in him and the wilfully troublesome teenage daughter (Hikari Kajiwara). Then comes the introduction of the loud and perpetually laughing Denden and his much more successful tropical fish shop. At this point, things still have a banal ordinariness where the film could act as a slightly odd, blackly comedic family drama. Things start to get bizarre when Denden takes Megumi Kagurazaka into his office for talks about the daughter where, after a penetrating insight to her mind, he starts slapping her and tearing her clothes off to have his way with her while she lies there crying Hit me more, please. Things plunge into decidedly demented territory when Mitsuru Fukikoshi is invited to take part in a business discussion where Denden seems to be asking an exorbitant sum from an investor (Taro Suwa) to import a single tropical fish, which Mitsuru Fukikoshi expresses discomfort with and is told not to worry, only to then see the investor keel over dead from a poisoned drink. Things become progressively more outlandish as Denden makes Mitsuru Fukikoshi his accomplice while he and Asuka Kurosawa cheerfully chop the body up at their cabin all the while asking him to run and make coffee and then methodically dispose of the parts.
There are times where Shion Sono taps into some of the manic black conte cruel humour that runs through the work of the Coen Brothers. You could easily see Cold Fish as a Coen Brothers film albeit with a great deal more in the way of blood and gore. The film swings between some black extremes like the hilarious scene where the missing Yoshidas brothers threateningly demand to know where he is in the boardroom, while on the other side of the door Asuka Kurosawa seduces one of the shopgirls in a romance of glove puppets before suddenly entering into the boardroom where she and Denden put on a great dramatic display of tears. The film scales through a series of amusingly black twistings as the perpetually walked over Mitsuru Fukikoshi wonders how to get out of the situation he is in, Denden becomes even more extreme and further bodies pile up, climaxing in a darkly funny scene where Denden bullies Mitsuru Fukikoshi into punching him and then having sex with his wife, before the tables are bloodily turned. The film is given its life by the Japanese comic Denden whose manically happy cheer and outgoing gregariousness carries everything along, especially in contrast to Mitsuru Fukikoshis downtrodden wimpiness and seeming inability to stand up for himself at any point.
Eventually, Cold Fish appears intended as a bizarre cry of angst on the part of the downtrodden salaryman. Like Fight Club (1999), it would seem to be a film about the reclamation of male pride and dominance. In similar ways to Fight Club, you are also not entirely sure if the film is planting its tongue in cheek in seeming to advocate that what it takes to finally find ones identity as a man is to step outside of social taboos and become a serial killer. It is also a remarkably misogynistic film. None of the women are treated in a very high regard or for that matter are shown as likeable or sympathetic it seems their lot throughout to be regularly slapped (to even appear to enjoy it), forcibly taken sexually and dragged about. Mitsuru Fukikoshi finally recovers his own identity as the head of the household at the end by shouting loudly, threatening to throw furniture, slapping his wife, repeatedly punching his daughter unconscious and tearing his wifes clothes off and announcing that he is going to rape her. The film is pitched in such a way that you cannot tell if Shion Sono is celebrating Mitsuru Fukikoshi finding his masculine dominance again or is offering a black critique of it both seem equally valid interpretations. The film arrives at an amazing climax with Mitsuru Fukikoshi and Asuka Kurosawa alternately beating and stabbing at one another, in between protestations of love, while sliding around on a floor drenched in blood and gutted body parts.
(Nominee for Best Supporting Actor (Denden) at this sites Best of 2010 Awards).