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A grisly murder occurs in Maruyama-cho, Shibuya, Tokyo - a love hotel district - a woman was found dead in a derelict apartment. Kazuko (Miki Mizuno) is a police officer called to investigate on this case, she will discover the story of two women who, despite appearing respectable on the outside have all manner of darkness hidden away. Written by
A female detective arrives straight from indulging her extra-marital affair to a crime scene where the mutilated sexual organs of a female victim have been re-combined with a mannequin. We then follow three female protagonists in an ostensible exploration of female sexuality.
Sex and murder in the first sixty seconds, part of an impressive sequence that presents bold, dark colours and incessant rain, and promises to analyse the margins of the human psyche in the vein of Seven.
Sion, unfortunately, fails to deliver on the promise, instead indulging his juvenile penchant for sexual humiliation and big sausage jokes. One character drones on endlessly in pseudo-philosophical terms about female sexuality, dressed up for intellectual effect by lacing in Kafka, the females all the while slipping over to the 'dark' side. However, the sex scenes go on too long and are very stagey. The paint balls and asphyxiophilia don't seem to comment on anything except Sono's immaturity. The criminal investigation is non-existent as the detective visits crime scenes, has phone sex, then has the murderer handed to her on a plate. Two of the three females are both indulgent of and ashamed of their sexuality, while the third has an implausible double life as university professor and prostitute. (Coincidentally, the true story that this character is based on is a much more prosaic and toned-down affair).
Sono sets out an interesting stall and there are some juicy dark themes to be explored here, but his writing is not up to the task. He is both fascinated and appalled by female sexuality, and ends up fetishizing it. The camera's gaze on the women is prurient and voyeuristic. Contrast this with the representation of the men who populate the film; servicing the adult films, pimping the women, paying to be johns... They sit on the margins of the frame, their behaviour taken for granted and natural. Only female sexuality is in any way problematized.
Where Sono does excel is in the performances he gleans from his leads. Miki Mizuno as detective Kazuko Yoshida is a charismatic presence who deserved more screen time. Makoto Togashi puts in a kinetic shift as the disturbed Mitsuko Ozawa, managing to carry a role that is punctuated by risible scripted moments, such as a professor soliciting a male student on her own campus. The scene where Mitsuko sits down with guests for tea with her mother is very funny, darkly so, and manages to hit a high spot the rest of the film does not quite achieve. Megumi Kagurazaka, who Sono apparently married recently, also has some sharp comic moments in the early scenes of her buttoned-up marriage. Highly stylized, these moments nonetheless poke a stick at patriarchal attitudes still far too prevalent in 21st century Japan. Kanji Tsuda is impressive as the narcissistic husband. The one letdown is Ryuju Kobayashi, who in no way carries the malevolence his character is meant to convey. The wardrobe department clearly would like him to reference 'A Clockwork Orange', but he looks like an interloper from a boy band who stole a big boy's clothes.
'Cold Fish' shows Sono has talent and for the sake of Japanese cinema I'd love to see him stretch himself and break out from the niche genre - somewhere between Pink and Torture Porn - where he has set up camp. A more disciplined script, tighter running time, and more mature engagement with story might make that happen.
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