Revenge is a fish best served raw
MILD-MANNERED fish-store owner Shamoto can’t catch a break at home. His bratty teenage daughter won’t accept her young, prepossessing stepmom; his shy, stressed-out bride is as distant as the proverbial piscine of the title.
Our put-upon hero doesn’t look entirely convinced when Murata, an overbearing rival fish-store owner, intervenes in his troubled domesticity, but Shamoto lacks the backbone to say no. There’s something troubling and cloven about Murata, a sleazy, ingratiating bully with a Ferrari, from the get-go. Perhaps it’s the team of “difficult” adolescent girls he hires to patrol about in tank tops and hot pants. Perhaps it’s the way he laughs at really inappropriate moments. Or maybe it’s the fact that his enemies keep disappearing. Worst suspicions are quickly confirmed and completely surpassed. But by then Shamoto is in way too deep.
Returning to the out-there fetishist themes of Suicide Club and Love Exposure, director Shion Sono soon gets operatic with this frenzied chop-’em-up. Cold Fish is J-gore, but not as we know it. The body parts are meaty and grimy; the bloodwork bares little resemblance to the geysers and scarlet corn syrup that once defined Japanese genre pictures, nor to the stylish shadows of late-1990s J-horror.
Cold Fish is different. It plays with extremes without ever looking like an Asia Extreme title. Its source material is a grisly series of real-life murders and its primary purpose looks to be allegorical.
The reliably cultish Sono wracks a story that was previously popularised as the Japanese Sweeney Todd into something far more discombobulating. No character emerges with dignity. The viewer is repeatedly goaded into cheering on the monster. Few taboos are left unmolested. The actors, conversely, retain a chilling grip on a wide spectrum of dysfunctional and downright messed-up behaviours.
In the director’s unforgiving swipes at societal sicknesses and national flaws, there are comparisons to be made with Tetsuya Nakashima’s recent Confessions . There is something, too, of Steven Sheils’ 2008 Brithorror Mum and Dad, a decadently black comedy that found grotesque inspiration in Fred and Rosemary West.
It hardly needs to be said that a highly developed sense of humour and a distempered psyche are mandatory. Leave the Fanta. AH, YES, NOW this is the real thing. We have, already this year, had our fair share of terrible films, but The Roommate – Single White Female with a frontal lobotomy – maps out previously unchartered territories of rampaging wretchedness. The representation of mental illness is offensive to a near criminal degree. The actors break new ground in avant-garde inexpressiveness. And Billy Zane plays a professor of fashion.
Watching The Roommate is, however, not an altogether dispiriting experience. As the magnificent poison seeps through your eyes and ears, everything you’ve previously heard or seen suddenly seems that bit more vivid and delicious. Ill-remembered clouds brim with sunshine. The music of Daniel O’Donnell starts to sound invigoratingly challenging. Bailed-out bankers appear sweetly benevolent.
You could, of course, get the same surge from smashing your head repeatedly with a boulder, but then you wouldn’t get to see Billy Zane play a professor of fashion.
The film follows the misadventures of Sara, a blandly beautiful student (Minka Kelly). When she first encounters Rebecca (Leighton Meester), her new roommate, we are, one imagines, expected to remark on the eerie similarity between their appearances. They do look alike. Then again, everybody at this fictional university (any genuine third-level institution would sue) has the same gleaming hair, the same off-the-peg nose and the same rigid mannequin pout.
Rebecca is, of course, suffering from full-blown, clinical barminess. Before too long she’s brandishing knives, shrieking malevolently and, in one moment that must be spoilt, flinging blameless kittens into tumble driers.
In decades to come, The Roommate may, perhaps, be held up as an indicator of what went wrong with western society in the years before its final decline into barbarism. Every aspect of the picture – its lazy pacing, its disdain for meaningful education, its taste for empty dialogue – is overpowered by an inclination towards neutered style. Come to think of it, one can imagine 23rd-century Billy Zane lecturing on the film to his tinfoil-clad students.
He’s a professor of fashion, you know.
Directed by Shion Sono. Starring Makoto Ashikawa, Denden, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Megumi Kagurazaka