Cold Fish (2010) Sono Tips the Horror Scales

DVD cover of Cold Fish

The 2010 film Cold Fish, co-written and directed by Sion Sono, aka Shion Sono, is based upon “true events.” In 2001 two dog breeders were sentenced for poisoning several customers and disposing of the bodies. Known as the “Saitama serial murders of dog lovers” as the crime took place in the Saitama Prefecture, the film version of the real criminals and their horrific deeds differ in that the “pets” on offer in Cold Fish are, by evidence of the title, fish.

Tropical fish in fact. At the start of the film Nobuyuki Syamoto, his second wife and teenage daughter are living over his small tropical fish shop. The teen is caught red-handed shoplifting in a store and the manager calls her father, Nobuyuki. He and Mrs. Syamoto go to the scene of the crime and as the store’s representative threatens legal action, a middle aged business man intercedes and talks the manager into not pressing charges.

Nobuyuki and his entire family then have their lives taken over by Yukio Murata, his wife Aiko and Tsui-Tsui another accomplice of Murata’s. Syamoto’s daughter goes to work and live with Murata, who has his own tropical fish shop with a bevy of teenage “troubled” girls who are there already. After becoming involved with the Murata’s Nobuyuki soon finds out that Yukio is a murderous psychopath. The younger shop owner is pushed into helping Yukio and Aiko get rid of a victim’s body and he gets caught up in the couple’s deadly game of making people become “invisible.”

While some things were changed considerably in the retelling of the real crime’s details the disposal methods where the victims were made invisible are exactly the same as those in the Saitama case. Sono specializes in films which concentrate on the more bizarre sections of Japan. This has led to an inevitable comparison to Takashi Miike.

Certainly Sono does have the same tendency as Miike to use copious amounts of claret in his death scenes, but he lacks the complete eccentricity of using the parts of Japan that one does not normally see. For example, Miike’s apparently hermaphrodite “Schoolgirl” in Fudoh: The New Generation or the villainess in Audition as well as other films feature the “underbelly” of Japan and Sono may come close but he still has a way to go in the Miike department.

Most of Sono’s work seems to be taking a sly dig at Japanese societal mores while turning most of his horror films into black comedies. The director’s take on these true life murders is no different. He makes his characters all that bit more eccentric and because of this the more horrific scenes take on a dark comedic slant. He does insure that the tragic elements remain. In the scene where the murderous Yukio is dying in the back of Nobuyuki’s car, the ramblings of the man reveal the horrific facts of his childhood.

Sono specializes in this juxtaposition of elements in his films. EXTE: Hair Extensions has a antagonist who is undoubtedly the oddest villain ever seen in a horror film. Singing about hair, his fixation, while the stuff engulfs his entire apartment is one of the weirdest and funniest scenes in the movie.

Cold Fish does not offer the same sort of comedic moments in its retelling of murder and a small dysfunctional family unit. There are scenes which can be described as amusing but not overtly funny. The surreal nature of the film overrules any other feelings that the story and the action may attempt to induce.

The viewer really feels as though they are trapped with Nobuyuki as he vacillates between fear and revulsion although his decision to go along with the whole thing instead of running down to the nearest police station does defy belief. At one point the local cops stop him outside Yukio’s massive fish store and question the hapless accomplice.Amazingly, the reluctant participant says nothing.

Sion Sono has delivered yet another quirky film with Cold Fish. The movie won several awards, not least of which was Denden (Yukio Murata) getting the Best Actor award from the Japanese Academy for his portrayal of the serial killing fish shop owner. This is a fascinating film and well worth the trouble spent (for those who do not like subtitled films) reading the English translations of the original dialogue. A real 5 out of 5 stars for entertainment.

A word of warning: The subtitles on the trailer below are slightly different from the DVD I watched.

EXTE aka Hair Extensions (2007) Hirsute Black Comedy

Poster for Hair Extensions aka EXTEEXTE OR Hair Extensions is a 2007 black comedy horror film made by the Shion Shono (who made the “based on a true story” horror film Cold Fish in 2010) and in EXTE Chiaki Kuriyama (Battle Royale, Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2) plays very much against type as a hairdresser in training who must take on a madman and a lot of cursed hair extensions to save herself and her niece.

At the start of the film two Japanese character actors who seem to be in pretty much every J-Horror film ever made open a shipping container because it smells. Upon opening the thing, they discover it is full of human hair. A body is also found and taken off to the police morgue.

Once it arrives, assistant and hairdresser(?) Tatsuo Sugarawa, played by Ken Mitsuichi (Audition, 13 Assassins) becomes obsessed with the bald-headed corpse and takes her home. Once there, he discovers that she is continuing to grow hair which he cuts off and sells, or gives away, to local hairdressers.

Unfortunately the hair is possessed and whomever gets one of the extensions soon dies, some after they’ve killed someone else. It seems the hair contains memories of the dead young lady who was murdered for her organs. Yuko and Yuki are roommates, the first a hairdresser in training and the latter a dancer in training.

Yuko (Kuriyami) is an optimistic, funny and good natured girl whose dream is to become a professional stylist. Her sister, Kiyomi is a nasty bit of work who abuses her daughter Mami and drops her off with Yuko when she wants.

As the hair begins claiming more victims, Tatsuo becomes more and more consumed with his dead girl and he begins behaving bizarrely. The film has its funny moments and other times there are scenes which are surreally entertaining.

In terms of the Asian fascination with long black hair, this movie is the ultimate homage to all things hirsute and creepy. Some of the scenes with the hair extensions are difficult to watch and others just are just flat out horrible. Despite this urge to turn away from the screen, or to at least watch through one’s fingers, overall the movie is more funny than scary.

It has to be said that the scenes with the girl after she is caught by the organ traffickers (with its Christmas music background) are more sad than terrifying and while these are disturbing to watch, the film does fall firmly into black comedy territory.

For those who do not like subtitled films, EXTE comes with dubbing that, to be honest, is not too horrible. At least the American market one features “normal” voices and not those cut glass English accents of The Grudge fame. A definite winner from the chap who brought the brilliant Cold Fish to screen.

Avril Lavigne J-Pop Salute not Racist it is Kawaii

Avril Lavigne J-Pop Salute not Racist it is Kawaii

So according to all those that claim to know these things, Avril Lavigne’s J-pop salute is racist, I beg to differ, it is not, it is kawaii. Let me explain. Quite a lot of people have been explaining that the opening line, “Mina saiko arigato,” translates to “I’m rocking thanks.” They have, thus far left out the translation for kawaii. For those that are curious, it means cute.

 

End Call (2008):One Hell of a Phone Bill

Kiyoshi Yamamoto (who is perhaps better known as the cinematics director for the video game Dragon’s Dogma) directs this low budget horror film as a languid and lackadaisical urban myth in treacle.

The film starts with a group of four friends talking about a “special” phone number. If you call the number on your mobile phone the devil will grant you a wish. The only price you pay is that the amount of time that the phone call takes is deducted from your life. It sounds too good to be true.

And it isn’t.

The real price comes before the end of your life. Each girl gets a mobile phone bill that runs around 15 thousand pounds. None of them can pay this exorbitant fee and one of them (Mako) starts working in the sex industry to earn the money.

Mako’s boyfriend Sakamoto has found out that she is working in the industry and asks best friend Dijimo and Mako’s friend Mai to find out why. Mako is at work when she is told that she needs to see one more client before her shift ends. She goes down to the room and finds it is her lecherous teacher Jojima (who likes to fondle his female students and give them his website details) and she is horrified.

Jojima attempts to blackmail her into servicing him and she kicks him in the crotch and runs out. Later Mai meets her in a public toilet to give her a jacket. Mai asks about the huge phone bill and Mako says that Mai can’t understand; her family is well-off and Mako has to degrade herself to pay the bill.

Teacher Jojimo drooling over Ryoko.

Tragically, the reason for the phone call was that Mako wanted Sakamoto as a boyfriend, now that he has found out what is going on, he leaves. Mai never hears from Mako again and she is terrified that Dojimo will find out  she used the number to get him as her boyfriend.

Out of the group of five friends, one (Mako) disappears and another (Ryoko) kills herself after her boyfriend leaves her to date Mai. Mai has also got a huge phone bill and Ryoko’s boyfriend as a result of her phone call. Mai tell Dojimo about the phone number and the resulting big bill, but not about her phone call or wish.

Urukawa is the first of the group to use the number and she asks for freedom, which she gets, but not how she wants it. After an argument with Mai, she goes to the library to research this number. She bumps into Dojimo and they look together. He finds an old newspaper article saying that this same thing happened ten years ago.

All the girls who called this number died; either by suicide or illness and accidents. He says it sounds like an urban legend. He also finds out that the same thing happened again ten years later; each time 10 people die after ringing the number.

The movie ends with a twist, but by the time you get there, you might get confused.

The film is patchy and despite the promise of the story; the low-budget, poor acting and spotty continuity detracts from the impact of the film. The sound, especially the ADR, is very poorly done; as though the dialogue has been dubbed.

I’ve watched the film twice now (both times on Netflix) and I understood better the second time around what was really going on. It is an interesting film and worth a look, but it is nothing to write home about. It obviously did not make a big splash when it was released in 2008 as IMDb has only the absolute minimum of information about it on the site.

Not surprising considering the amount of things that are wrong with the film. If your attention wanders for even a minute, you will lose track of what is going on. There is not enough action to keep you glued to the events on-screen and the pay-off is minimal at the end. It would have been interesting to see what a difference a bigger budget would have made to the film.

End Call is not the best example of J-horror out there but, nonetheless, it is hard to stop watching it. More of a curiosity than a truly scary film the basic plot is more interesting than the overall presentation.

I will say this though, if there was such a number to call? You’d wind up paying one hell of a phone bill.

Urukawa daydreaming of how much better the film would be with a bigger budget.