Sion Sono is a messy director. His last film was the indulgent but brilliant mess Love Exposure - a four hour clusterfuck that a lesser director would have trimmed to half that length. Sono, though, managed to create a meandering and satirical genre mesh instead, one which throws a tonne of pop-cultural themes and ideas (from religion to upskirt photography) at the screen with a surprising amount of 'em sticking. Cold Fish, his follow up to that beautiful monstrosity, is messy in a whole different way. The 'lots-of-the-colour-red' sort of mess.
The joy of this film is how unexpectedly mental it gets, so I'll keep the plot synopsis brief so as not the ruin too many of the surprises. The set-up is thus: Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikoshi) is an unhappy tropical fish shop owner. His daughter Mitsuko is rebelling after he re-married a younger woman following his first wife's death. After being caught shoplifting, Mitsuko is 'rescued' by the charismatic Murata (played by a fellow called Denden), a rival and more successful tropical fish shop owner. Murata quickly makes efforts to befriend Shamoto's family, agreeing to employ Mitsuko to try and get her back on the right track, and quickly involving Shamoto in a seemingly lucrative business deal. Things, not surprisingly, are not as they seem.
Cold Fish begins with scenes of urban despair - indeed it opens with a very funny and hyper stylised montage of microwave cooking. With that setup, where it ultimately ends up - what we'll politely call an orgy of bloodletting - is a little surprising. It's sort of like Audition in a way - a seemingly innocuous beginning ultimately becoming something much more violent, although Sono makes his intentions clearer much sooner than Miike did. It's only around half an hour or forty-five minutes into the two and a half hour running time (Sono still, endearingly, declining the indulgence of a cutthroat editor) that we discover Murata is actually more murderous than initial appearances have suggested. Denden's colourful performance makes a compelling psychopath with compellingly vague motives. If this film seems over-the-top and a little silly, that's because it is. This isn't a yakuza film, it's just the tale of a 'normal' man caught in a frankly absurd situation.
What the film eventually becomes is, for lack of a more accurate description, an exaggerated parody of your bog-standard revenge movie. Fukikoshi's nervous performance transforms at a particular point, and the film doesn't let up after that (not that there weren't a few moment of grizzly violence prior to that, mind). The squeamish be warned - the violence and aggressive sex of this film don't make light, family friendly viewing. It does, though, have a sense of humour. Pitch black, no doubt about it. But the victims of Fukikoshi's revenge are what surprise, and despite the ludicrous amount of blood the over-the-top nature of the final act is performed with tongue deep in cheek.
Cold Fish is certainly a messy film - arguably overlong and literally drenched in fake blood. For a relatively low budget film - most evident when the otherwise impressive digital photography struggles to keep up with a lack of light in some scenes - it's extremely intense and extreme cinema. What puts Sono apart though are his sense playfulness and colourful eccentricities. This is a film that amuses and shocks in equal measure. It can easily be forgiven for being a little messy.