Popular beyond intrinsic merits, spawning numbered or Next Generation sequels, domestic splatter flicks rely on screams, “gore, [nubile] flesh, mayhem and violence.” Advocates discern a tongue-in-cheekiness, detractors see mere exploitation, but they do not much stack up against rival J-gore from across the Pacific. A fine example from Japan is Cold Fish/Tsumetai nettaigyo, distributorless on this side and possibly to remain so following its début here at Lincoln Center, one of three co-presented by Subway Cinema of sixteen total “you will not see in U.S. theaters” in Film Comments Selects.
Takeshi Miike is the most widely recognized in the sub-genre and has worked with Tarantino, but the director-writer is too prolific to be consistent and shows signs of decline. Unusual in its (not excessive) female breasts, CF, on the other hand, is as good as the type gets and, in whatever form it reaches whatever public, should place director-cowriter Sion Sono among underground favorites, even as the last hour (of nearly two-and-a-half) will keep him from the aboveground mainstream.
With panache and playfulness lacking in, say, humorless shocker Antichrist, Sono’s is given out to derive from the “Saitama serial murders of [fifty-plus] dog-lovers,” but goes its own way owing as little to that real case as The Texas Chain Saw Massacre did to that of Ed. Gein. Nor is it the remarked parable on middle-class fascism or on Yakuza, greed, dependency, parents or pet owners. It simply is.
Contrary to expectation, the title does not refer to the easy path of guppies gone carnivorous, piranhas got loose or mutant mollies. In a nation of fish-eaters and -collectors, Noboyuki Shamoto’s (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) modest Tropical Fish Shop and Yukio Murata’s (Denden) Amazon Gold Tropical Fish Center are spotless, and dangerous species among the latter’s claimed ten thousand are not the source of horror in what is not a monster movie.
Timid bespectacled Shamoto, sad second wife Taeko and sullen daughter Mitsuko get throw-up sick from packaged A-Coop Offsale shoved into the micro, loosely related black humor. Mitsuko rushes out into a downpour and into trouble, caught shoplifting. Humble father and detested stepmother are swept up by overpowering, loud Murata, who gets the teenager off and the family of three to his shop and come-on wife Aiko.
The girl is whisked under the wing and into the employ of won’t-take-no “Uncle” Yukio and the skimpy uniform worn by the six others with whom she will bunk in his dormitory. The good-fellow boss smirkingly nudges the father that now he can enjoy Taeko without distraction, while seconds later he himself gropes her. Forcing his companionship on planetarium-lover Shamoto, he draws and cows him into his bigger organization that traffics in Amazon fish fetching ten million yen.
Large Murata’s red Ferrari and Shamoto’s pedestrian grey Honda brazenly stand for the relationship, which will darken. Business associate Yoshida hesitates about a deal and is immediately poisoned, whereupon Shamoto is bullied into helping wrap the body up and out to a Mount Harakiri house decked with Christmas lights, plaster saints and a cross.
Shamoto retches and refuses to join in as Murata and Aiko peel down to undies and dismember the corpse, but he is forced to burn the bones and throw the diced flesh to fish in a stream. Fifty-eight is the figure mentioned of such ritual disposals of those who cross the serial-killer couple, and Shamoto is further compromised when the murdered man’s thuggish brother arrives with his posse for explanations.
Printed indications of exact time and date are unnecessary but do add a sense of rush that belies the action that becomes more complicated when it is dropped that Murata’s father abused him in the mountain house, that Aiko’s father formerly owned the shop, and that she is also making love with beef-faced legal counsel Tsutsui while having his dim-witted chauffeur Okubo watch up close.
Above the twists, turns and throwaway jokes, there may be the implication of a stronger personality testing a weaker, seeing how far it can push before the stooge revolts and himself becomes the holy terror. Then there are final-second stabbings that leave a white sweatshirt unbloodied -- a last symbol, a joke, an error? Even without such readings-in of what may not be intended, the audacity of plot and growing blood-and-bones are engrossing for those not turned off. Grand Guignol is not for everyone, even if it is the lifeblood of daily newspapers that hawk it watered down.
(Released by Third Window Films; not rated by MPAA.)