Cold Fish

Cold Fish

DVD Rating: ***1/2

Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

Read Owen Van Spall's film review of Cold Fish

Arguably the best Japanese serial killer feature since Imamura Shohei's Vengeance Is Mine (1979), and certainly the finest film to have emerged so far from Nikkatsu Corporation's new Sushi Typhoon label, Cold Fish is a (mostly true) crime story that just has to be seen to be believed, told by one of Japan's most consistently innovative and idiosyncratic directors, the poet Sono Sion (The Room, Suicide Club, Love Exposure).

Accordingly, Third Window Films have given the home market release of Cold Fish the deluxe treatment that it deserves. Accompanying the two-disc DVD (or Blu-ray) are three lengthy, in-depth interviews that set the film in its context, and help viewers to sort the true crime from the tall tale.

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Over the course of 40 minutes, Jake Adelstein, a Tokyo-based journalist who reported at length on the original Saitama Dog-Lovers Serial Murders Case (and subsequently authored the book Tokyo Vice) speaks knowledgeably about precisely where Cold Fish adheres to (and deviates from) the details of the real case. Few viewers could fail to be impressed by the comedian Denden's mesmerising performance as the appetitive killer Murata, but Adelstein also reveals that Denden has captured every look and mannerism of Sekine Gen, the murderous dog-dealer on whom his character is based (and whom Adelstein met twice).

Names and professions may have been changed and there may be all manner of stylistic flourishes, but Adelstein shows how closely Sono has followed the original story – until, that is, the pure fiction of the film's memorable third act which Adelstein, ever-obsessed with the facts of the case, strongly dislikes. Still, it is this ending which delivers the film's emotional and (a)moral truth.

"I'm a pretty good Satanist here", declares Takahashi Yoshiki, co-writer of Cold Fish. With his red-dyed hair, his all-black clothes, his poster-strewn apartment and his impeccable English (not to mention French), he cuts an intriguing figure – and this makes up somewhat for the awkwardness of interviewer Norman England (who perhaps would better have been edited out, as in the interview with Adelstein).

In the first interview (50 minutes) of two, Takahashi discusses his previous career as a true-crime manga writer, and his working relationship with Sono. Apparently it was Sono who added to Takahashi's first draft the focus on protagonist Shamoto as a family man, and the film's demented ending. Meanwhile, Takahashi's motives for changing the murderer's profession from dog dealer to fish dealer were twofold: managing fish on set is cheaper; and dogs might have been distracting in their cuteness. Takahashi suggests that Japanese cinema became, to its detriment, more staid and respectable during the economic bubble, and that the reason for the popularity of Cold Fish is that "in the deep of your heart, everybody wants to see sex and violence and death".

In his second, shorter interview (eight minutes), Takahashi discusses his design of the original Japanese poster for Cold Fish. Inspired by the poster for Straw Dogs, it depicts Shamoto in extreme close-up, with Murata reflected in his cracked spectacles – and, as Takahashi expressly intended, its meaning only becomes evident after the film has been seen. It is a striking image, far better than the rather tepid poster that replaced it in the UK, and certainly worthy of an extra.

All that is missing here is Sono himself – but the sheer exhaustiveness of the extras in all other respects is some compensation for his absence.

Reviewed on: 27 Jun 2011
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Cold Fish packshot
An innocent tropical fish salesman gets caught up in a series of murders in this violent and extremely gory thriller.
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Product Code: TWF 028 (Blu-ray TWF

Region: 2

Ratio: 16:9

Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0/5.1 (Blu-ray: DTS 5.1)

Extras: Interview with co-writer Takahashi Yoshiki, interview with author/journalist Jake Adelstein, featurette on the original Japanese poster, theatrical trailer, Third Window trailer reel

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