Whenever a film feels the need to sell itself on its controversial or shocking nature, you can usually be certain of a few things: tackiness, puerile shock tactics and, above all else, a director at the helm with an overwhelming ineptitude for storytelling. So, it may come as no surprise to hear that Shion Sono’s latest gore-fest Cold Fish (2011) slots quite neatly into that category.
Described as a darkly comic horror movie, Cold Fish manages to defy the trade descriptions act on both fronts. As with most bad horror films, it claims to be ‘loosely based’ on true events; a claim that is evidently false and, in any case, fails to contribute any additional weight to proceedings.
The ‘plot’ focuses upon struggling, tropical fish breeder Shamoto (Mitsuru Fukikosho) and his enforced descent into a series of murderous shenanigans at the hand of the hugely successful aquarium owner Murata (Denden). Initially seeming to be a larger than life character of huge success and a willingness to help his lowly competitor, Murata convinces Shamoto to go into business with him. However, all is not as it seems, as Murata suddenly reveals a deeply disturbed side to his personality, killing anyone who dares to disagree with him or get in his way.
The ensuing action makes for a thoroughly boring and unimaginative viewing experience. It’s moments of black comedy are virtually non-existent, and, when these attempts at humour do arrive, are based almost entirely around over-the-top gore and violence; the very same gore and violence supposed to create the film’s scares. Clearly, this serves only to blur the lines as to whether laughs or frights are the intended outcome and, inevitably, falls well short of either.
Another staggering flaw at the heart of Cold Fish is its lack of character development. If there were one interesting angle with which to slant the narrative, it may have been a further exploration into Murata’s past. This exploration, however, is, at best, skimmed over, with a remarkably vague mention to childhood abuse from his father. Aside from this one, brief insight, Murata remains essentially as a one-dimensional villain.
Although there is plenty of blood and gruesomeness present in Cold Fish, it doesn’t quite seem enough to justify its reputation as truly shocking and disturbing. Whilst any extra shock-value would certainly not have made Cold Fish appeal to me in any greater capacity, it may have enhanced its notoriety and cult status in a similar fashion to that of the abysmal Visitor Q (2001); a terrible film, yet understandably bestowed a reputation of enormous controversy. Sadly, Cold Fish will not linger long enough in the memory to be attributed with any such reputation.