Sunday, 9 May 2010

Japanese film Fish Story reviewed

“The Beatles had broken up and The Velvet Underground had gone weird...”

Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Writer: Tamio Hayashi
Japan 2009 112 mins Cert TBC
Cast: Atsushi Ito, Kengo Kora, Mikako Tabe, Gaku Hamada, Mirai Moriyama

Fish Story is a witty concoction of disparate aleatoric stories and a bewildering set of characters, mostly briskly paced, carefully knitted together by the mainly solid acting and the alchemy shown by the director in the treatment of the story both in its direction and editing, the scenes ending in cliff hangers which are not resolved until the very end. In less capable hands, it is likely that the film would have ended as an almighty mess. It requires intense concentration as the details and elliptic twists of the plot and the actual resolution of the characters by the performance of the cast are essential for its comprehension. If no attention is taken when watching it, it will end up as an incongruent collection of scenes with no threads to glue them together, as the complexity of its structure has qualities which come straight out of quantum mechanics.

Fish Story shifts its tone from being a disaster movie – the initial scene of a deserted Tokyo street with rubbish strewn everywhere and traffic lights still working for no-one is a brilliantly economic depiction of the impending catastrophe to befall on the planet, to being a romance (a key ingredient in the mix, although not obvious at first), a comedy, a tragedy, and a punk musical, with ironic takes on the music industry, on Far East martial arts films and on the cult of the superhero, so popular in some recent blockbusters. There are also oblique references to the economic uncertainties of post war Japanese history woven somewhat hesitantly into the story. It kept me most of the time at the edge of my seat with a half drunk cup of tea in my hand hanging in mid air.

The film is set in Tokyo in 2012, a disabled man (we learn he is suffering from terminal stomach cancer) in a motorized buggy negotiates his way through the litter strewn in the deserted and silent streets, until he is attracted by the sound of music coming from a record shop, the only sign of life we see or hear. There we learn that a comet (a characters on its own right in the background, although with no name) is heading towards Earth, only five hours away. Its impact will generate a tidal wave taller than Mount Fuji, the mother of all tsunamis, that will drown not only Japan but the whole of the world as well. It does not matter if it crashes in Argentina, its devastating effect will still be the same. The population had already fled into higher grounds, where they will probably be killed by volcanic eruptions or the apocalyptic eternal winter that will ensue. There is no escape, the end is nigh.

There we also learn of a 1970s record which did not sell as the shop owner and a solitary customer have decided to spend their last hours of their lives listening to music. The song being played, Fish Story, was the swansong recorded by Gekirin (the Wrath), a Japanese punk band performing before punk existed, before the Sex Pistols formed, a band that failed to make a career in the music industry, a band whose music was too far ahead of its time. There is a hilariously riotous scene of the band playing in a night club, ending in a most undignified melee that would have made any hard punk proud of.

Will the world be saved? Who will save it? How will it be saved? Flashbacks are introduced as the characters in the record shop argue about their possibilities of survival, flashbacks which gradually build up the story that leads to the completely surprising resolution of the film. We also learn that the fate of the world hinges not on a song, but on a mistranslation.

Some of the special effects are unreal, such as the depiction of the comet remaining the same size and position in the sky throughout the film, although by the end of it the moment of impact was very close. I am not going into further details as to do so will be to spoil the plot.

The cinematography adds to the sense of impending disaster not only for the fate of Earth, but also for the fate of the characters, being particularly poignant in its rendition of the last performance by the band recording the Fish Story song. There is a Manga feel that particularly suits the film. The performance of the cast is, overall, solid, although in some points is all over the place.

The sad thing in this era of blockbuster domination of cinema is that if this striking although at times somewhat rambling film were to be made by one of the Hollywood studios, with all their marketing and distribution power and weight at their disposal, it would probably be a box office hit. A very intelligent, witty and and entertaining film that demands the viewer's full concentration to be enjoyed.

Fish story will be released at the ICA Cinema, London, on May 28th, 2010.

Distributor: Third Window Films
Film website:

All images  © Third Window Films.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please comment on issues relating to cinema or the specific post theme. All comments are moderated. All other comments will be rejected, particularly those marketing other sites or blogs.