Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Screenplay: Tamio Hayashi
Based on a Novel by: Kôtarô Isaka
Starring: Atsushi Itô, Kiyohiko Shibukawa, Noriko Eguchi, Hidekazu Mashima, Gaku Hamada, Takashi Yamanaka, Kazuki Namioka, Kenjirô Ishimaru, Mikako Tabe, Mirai Moriyama, Nao Ohmori
Running Time: 112 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Yoshihiro Nakamura is a director Third Window have long supported in the UK, releasing DVDs of three of his films over the 15 years they’ve been running. To celebrate 10 years since the release of one of these, Fish Story, they’re upgrading it to Blu-ray. I’ve heard a couple of people recommend the film, so I figured I’d cast my line and see how it sized up.
Like another three of Nakamura’s films, including The Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God in a Coin Locker which was also released by Third Window, Fish Story is based on a novel by Kôtarô Isaka. It’s a multi-strand story that intercuts between four decades, with the strands becoming interlinked by the end.
The main link between each section is the titular song by the fictional obscure punk band Gekirin (in reality written by Kazuyoshi Saitô). We first hear this song in the 2012 section (the future when the film was made) that opens the film and sees an asteroid heading to destroy the world. The Tokyo streets are largely deserted with most heading for higher ground, but an elderly man comes across a record shop that’s still open. He heads in and tells the seemingly oblivious owner how hopeless the situation is but the owner claims that “music will save the world” and continues to play obscure music to his sole customer, including Fish Story.
One of the other stories shows us what led to the song being recorded, including its mysterious 1 minute of silence in the middle. We see Gekirin get discovered and taken under the wing of a manager, then later struggle to find an audience, leading to their dissolution but not before recording their final number, Fish Story.
Another strand is set in 1982, when a young man named Masashi (Gaku Hamada) is the designated driver for a group of ungrateful friends who are trying to get laid. One of the friends is obsessed with supposedly cursed music and claims those with a sixth sense can hear a woman’s scream in Fish Story’s silent minute. This terrifies the timid Masashi but a premonition from one of his friends’ dates and a chance encounter later that evening change his life forever.
There’s a brief sojourn into 1999 when some of the 1982 characters are disappointed to find Nostradamus’ predictions about the end of the world weren’t accurate and take revenge on the cult leaders they’ve been following due to those prophecies.
Then the other main segment is set in 2009, where Asami (Mikako Tabe) is on her way to a prestigious college but falls asleep on the boat so ends up heading elsewhere. She meets a handsome but unusual chef (played by Mirai Moriyama) and the two have strong chemistry together but any romance is spoiled by hijackers taking over the ship.
With all of these various strands, Fish Story is probably closer to a shaggy dog story, though there are quite a few heightened elements to point towards the classic fish story mould. What’s great about the film though is how well these seemingly disparate narratives are juggled. Links are only subtle until the end, but the film never feels messy or confusing. The stories are all enthrallingly told, with characters you’re interested in and care about, despite only spending relatively brief amounts of time with them. It helps that none of the strands are overly complicated in themselves. This allows for scenes to play out at a natural pace rather than racing through to fit everything in.
The stories all share similar themes too, which helps make it all cohesive. There’s a surface message about how music or art can change the world, but I felt the film was really about faith and standing up for yourself. It explores this theme effectively without shoving morals in our faces too.
A minor gripe I had with the film is really just a question of personal taste. It has that overly-sharp digital look that makes the film look a bit like a TV movie, which was a bit of a turn-off. There are a couple of nicely lit segments though and an action sequence in the middle is surprisingly well handled. I say surprisingly because elsewhere the film is relatively low-key and down-to-earth.
The music must also get a mention before I wrap up. Of the four actors who make up the band, two of them hadn’t played or sung before at all, so it’s all credit to them for learning in the space of 2 months. The special features show how they really bonded as a band as well as fellow performers, and they even performed a few short gigs to promote the film. There aren’t a lot of different songs in the film, with the title track being repeated several times for obvious reasons, but thankfully the song ‘Fish Story’ is excellent and I was always happy to hear it crop up again as the film went on. The full recording session scene that comes later on in the film is particularly good and imbued with emotion like most of the film.
Like a good punk song then, Fish Story seem a little low-tech on the surface but it has the ability to hook you in and demand your attention. With an unusual tone that blends a little science fiction with melancholic indie drama, a touch of action and a fair dose of humour, it’s a unique ode to the impact of art and creativity, as well as having faith and standing up for yourself.
Fish Story is out now on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, released by Third Window Films. The picture quality is pristine, with a sharp and clear picture. Audio is great too.
There are a few special features included:
– Making Of
– ‘Gekirin’ Various live shows
– ‘Gekirin’ CD Launch Q&A at HMV
– Q&A with director and cast
– Deleted Scenes
The making of is decent enough, though a little over-filled with actors’ final shoot celebrations. I’ve noticed this is a bit of a trend in Japanese ‘making of’s. The live shows are a nice addition and show how the cast managed to truly form a band together in a couple of months. The HMV Q&A is nothing special but I enjoyed the other one, as the cast members present and the director have a nice rapport and a couple of interesting things to say.
The deleted scenes are worth a look though they’re largely extended sequences so there’s nothing too eye-opening here.