Friday, July 29, 2011

MIFF session 6: Cold Fish

WOOO HOO! Now we're cookin'
"You think of the earth as a small blue dot. I think of it as a cluster of rocks"
So screams Murata San to Shamoto San as the former stands over the film's first murder victim who is still choking to death. Here endeth the lesson. Well, not quite.

(Shamoto, who runs a) LITTLE (tropical) FISH (shop) MEETS (Murata who runs a) BIG (tropical) FISH (emporium). Shamoto's life is small and low on function. His daughter is a tearaway and hates his new wife who has grown cold on him. Called in one night to a supermarket to represent the daughter who has been caught shoplifting, the couple are desolate and expect the worst in this latest of minor atrocities enacted by her. Then Mr Murata influences his way into the scene and charms the supermarket manager out of pressing charges. He then charms the unglued family to see his bigger and better shop. It's the big business version of their own dowdy place and they are humbled and excited by it. Mr Murata suggests giving Mitsuko (daughter) a job to keep her honest and start her earning.

Things already aren't looking quite right with the appearence of the burningly sexual Taiko (Murata's wife). Mitsuko goes to work in the Murata uniform and when her father goes to check on her and visit the family saviour he is treated to the scene I started with above. One step and he's an accomplice. The corpse is dismembered (in more senses than one, though it's offscreen) and rendered ...elemental and cast to nature. Mr Shamoto didn't know he was weak until he met Mr Murata. Now he does, how will he cope with the knowledge and what can he do about it?

This is a non-Yakuza gangster story based on a much smaller story from the news. Sono, as he did with Suicide Circle, Noriko's Dinner Table and Strange Circus, brings his own vision to the table. This outing is visually restrained (as Noriko was) by comparison. These are the deep waters of a character study and would only be muddied by the flamboyance of Suicide Circle or Strange Circus. Sono uses 35 mm filmstock and sticks with it, favouring a plain optical tone until the setpieces towards the climax demand more. As usual, he draws strong perfomances from his cast and takes his audience to the far side of crazy to the point where even those chortling nervously are equally in the spirit as those who gasp in horror. At some points the only response entirely individual. Seeing it at a packed Greater Union tonight, this phenomenon was both disconcerting and thrilling.
As with all his films, however far into gaspingly violent mayhem he can take us, Sono never loses sight of morality and doesn't mind showing how ghastly its face can get. This story of a weak man who finds his strength when forced is pushed far beyond the shadows on a multiplex screen, however strong they might be. Morality bends, warps and acts like it's on the same acid that Hendrix took at Woodstock but, unlike the Tarrantino or Ritchie gangster comedies, it never surrenders to nihilism, however close it comes. This is exhilarating cinema!

Screening note: I sat in my usual third from front row centre. At the point of the feature starting, as those around me cool talked into their moblies, saving seats and closing off anodyne chats, a huge guy sat a knight's move away from me. The moment he removed his jacket I caught a gust of the worst B.O. I've ever smelt outside of a friend of mine who went for weeks at a time claiming that nature was its own soap. A thick, almost staining acrid stench. He managed to clear a near perfect circle of seats around him and reminded me of photographs of the devastation of the forests at Tunguska.

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