There is a scene in Shion Sono’s 2008 film Love Exposure in which a girl destroys a family home, smashing the walls, furniture and family photos to smithereens, all by hand. This she informs us through a voiceover was her job for some time and she loved it. Destroying the space inhabited by a “happy family” is a thrill to her, she gets high on it.

This scene encapsulates a theme that has run through a number of Shion Sono’s blistering and brutal films and it is one that he returns to with force in his latest, Cold Fish.

In the opening scene of Cold Fish, Taeko (Megumi Kagurazaka) throws food into a shopping basket in a supermarket with the pounding music and editing and composition of a dynamic action sequence. She then returns home to microwave everything she has purchased, preparing a family meal for her resentful and bratty step-daughter, Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara), and her doormat of a husband, tropical fish shop proprietor and protagonist of Cold Fish, Shamato (Mitsuru Kikikoshi).

Following this less than happy family meal the three characters are swiftly thrust into the lives of rival tropical fish dealer Murata (Denden) and his polymorphously perverse wife Aiko (Asuka Kurosawa) via an act of shoplifting by Mitsuku. Murata and Aiko are in many ways the polar opposites of Shamato and Taeko, confident, charismatic and liberated. They are also prolific serial killers with a disturbingly effective method of disposing of their victims, making the bodies “invisible”.

The way in which Murata seems to have some kind of control over Shamato and Taeko, purely due to his charisma, also recalls Sono’s Suicide Circle, a film that focused on cults and the sheep like behaviour of the general populace. Shamato seems less won over by Murata but meekly goes along with him, following orders, even as events escalate to an extreme degree.

This escalation takes time but the effect of the lengthy runtime is that the film wears you down and when you reach the lowest point with Shamato, the pace suddenly increases, the editing becomes more intense and the punch to the gut in the climatic scenes is significant and earned.

Near the end of Cold Fish, Sono also shows us a dinner scene reminiscent of the opening but in doing so highlights the vast transformation that Shamato in particular has gone through, the Straw Dogs evocation in the film’s poster is very appropriate, and it is at this point that the tension built up during the last thirty minutes reaches an almost unbearable level. Sono pushes it more though and the final scenes provide a dark climax to the film and one is left ruminating on the final words uttered by Shamato, words that explicitly state the intended sentiment in this twisted morality tale. The story told in Cold Fish is brutal and unfair but so is life. A bleak and disturbing outlook but one that Sono delivers with ferocious skill.

The DVD from Third Window is a good release and the transfer effectively replicates the film I saw projected at the London Film Festival in 2010. There are a few picture issues (most notably a very strange issue at 1h02m) but Sono’s stylistic choices rarely result in high end visuals and the lo-fi look in a number of scenes is almost certainly due to the production process rather than being unique to this home entertainment release.

Supplementing the main feature are two interviews, one with scriptwriter Yoshiki Takahashi (split into two on the DVD) and the other with journalist and author of Tokyo Vice, Jake Adelstein. The latter is particularly fascinating as Adelstein goes into a great deal of detail about the true story on which the film is based and in what ways the real life events and the film differ (possibly less than you might have thought).

Cold Fish is available to buy or rent on DVD and Blu-ray from the 27th of June and a full list of the special features can be found below.

Film [Rating:4/5]
DVD [Rating:4/5]

– Exclusive interview with journalist Jake Adelstein on the ‘Saitama Dog Lovers Serial Murders’ case.

– 2 Exclusive interviews with ‘Cold Fish’ scriptwriter Yoshiki Takahashi on the creation of both the film and original artwork.

– Theatrical trailer

– Trailers of other Third Window releases