Re­venge is a fish best served raw

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

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

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