While American filmmakers fall into their navels and spend nine figures on movies manufactured largely by keystrokes, Japanese and Korean cineastes are frantically busy trying to outdo their own cannon-shot invention and coolness. Yoshihiro Nakamura's Fish Story is a prime, self-conscious sampling: we start in a Tokyo left empty because of an impending comet strike, and then pitch back in time 30 years (and forward, and back), half-seriously conjuring a pulp timeline in which, literally, punk music saves the world. The amount of winking cheese Nakamura piles on is sometimes thick as a brick — Nostradamus mavens, narcoleptic schoolgirls, "champions of justice," clairvoyants, apocalyptic hijackers, jokey and then crucial allusions to Bruce Willis and Armageddon — and the real suspense in the story is in wondering how Nakamura will tie it all together. He does, rather movingly and with a light wit M. Night Shayamalan could do worse than to cultivate, arriving at a decades-spanning myth of salvation that's almost Pynchonian with the hidden significances it locates in overlooked pop effluvia. Nakamura is no artiste, and the surfaces of his adeptly titled movie are often redundant and chintzy. But the tale, from a novel by famed whatzit creator Kotoro Isaka, not a manga, is a vivid, ultra-extrapolated hoot.
Fish Story, a copresentation of the New York Asian Film Festival and Japan Cuts: Festival of New Japanese Film, screens tomorrow afternoon at 1pm at the IFC Center, and at 6:15pm on Thursday, July 2, at Japan Society.