Directed by Shion Sono
If the title Eros Plus Massacre hadn’t already been claimed by Yoshinge Yoshida’s 1969 classic, it might have well served in place of Cold Fish, the moniker given to a current offering by his countryman Shion Sono. The second part of Sono’s so-called “hate” trilogy—the concluding chapter, Guilty of Romance, screened at this year’s Cannes—Cold Fish has more than its share of both of the constituent elements of Yoshida’s title’s arithmetic, the sublimation of the life instinct (“eros”) resulting in several rounds of the younger director’s trademark bloodbaths. More specifically, Sono’s film illustrates, in always exacting, alternatively hot and cold detail, the ways in which frustrated masculinity tends to burst forth in desperate bursts of aggression, how a passive moral cowardice becomes an active moral turpitude.
The exemplar of passivity in question is Nobuyuki Shamato (Mitsuru Fukikoshi), the proprietor of a modest tropical fish store on the outskirts of Tokyo, husband to a younger, second wife who rebuffs his sexual advances and father to a teenage daughter who runs off in the middle of dinner to join her boyfriend. Unable to control either woman’s sexuality, Shamato is further distressed to learn that his daughter has been caught shoplifting.
The way out for the teen-girl-in-trouble comes via a charismatic if vaguely sinister fellow tropical fish seller (the eye-filling neon hues of the man’s store conveying both intrigue and sickening menace) who agrees to hire Shamato’s daughter for a live-in position at his shop and takes the other man in on some increasingly shady business deals. Before long the pursuit of profit leads to murder and gruesome dismemberment (the natural endpoint of rampant capitalism?) while the wide-eyed Shamato can only look on and vomit. It’s a grim—and queasily graphic—view of human nature, but it’s one that Shamato ultimately embraces, learning the only way to recover his sense of manhood in a fish-eat-fish world is by outbrutalizing the competition. And it’s fitting that one of the most memorable images in Sono’s sickening howl of a film should be a woman clutching a severed penis, since Cold Fish so clearly understands the fear of emasculation (both literal and figurative) as the driving force behind the increasingly desperate acts of brutality it depicts.
Opens August 5 at the reRun Gastropub Theater