Tsumetai Nettaigyo (Cold Fish) (Shion Sono, 2010)
Shion Sono's movies occupy an interesting place in Japanese cinema. One certainly couldn't call them true to life, even in the magical-realist sense one must use of "true to life" when discussing the films of, say, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, but they're not fully into the sort of ridiculous fantasy world one finds with directors like Hiroki Yamaguchi. Sono certainly uses elements of absurdism in his films, but keeps them grounded enough in the real world as to make much of what he splashes across the screen terrifyingly plausible. This may never be truer than in Cold Fish, a movie that is simultaneously so plausible that it could be happening next door to you and so absurd that it couldn't be happening anywhere. I still have no idea how to reconcile those two ideas in my head.
Nobuyuki Syamoto (Twilight Samurai's Mitsuru Fukikoshi) has a troublesome, rebellious daughter, Taeko (13 Assassins' Megumi Kagurazaka). Things escalate to the point where she is caught stealing. Syamoto despairs of what to do with here, but seemingly from the blue, local aquarium owner Yukio Murata (Cure's Denden) offers to take the girl in, give her a job, teach her some responsibility and discipline. Nobuyuki and his wife Mitsuko (The Land of Hope's Hikari Kajiwara) fall all over themselves saying yes, but as Taeko's apprenticeship in the shop continues, she begins to realize that Yukio and his creepy wife Aiko (A Snake of June's Asuka Kurosawa) are much, much more than they portray themselves on the outside...
I'm not sure how much of the game to give away here; normally that wouldn't be a problem, but the film is based on true events (reported much more widely in the UK than in the US, or so Google would have me believe), so you may already know where the movie's going anyway. Its biggest problem (and one Sono, like Stephen King, seems to suffer from more frequently as he gets older and more popular) is with scope; this is a ninety-minute comedy-thriller that is expanded to two and a half hours for... well, no good reason, really. There's a great deal of filler here that could have been left on the cutting room floor. But those ninety minutes? Those are very good cinema indeed. Worth watching for existing fans of Sono's; those unfortunates who are asyet unfamiliar with his work would do better to seek out some of his earlier works (Suicide Club is quite readily available in the western market) before trying to tackle this one. ** 1/2