Fish Story (2009) Movie Review

This film doesn’t really have much to do with fish, but it does have something to do with a story – so the title’s not a complete lie.  This ‘story’ follows a 1970s Japanese punk band and the influence that their song – ‘Fish Story’ – has on the generations that follow its release.

We start in 2012 – where unfortunately, a giant comet is heading towards Earth.  Introduced first is an old man who wanders into a record shop in a deserted city only to find a customer and the shop’s owner carrying on as though nothing’s wrong.  But something is wrong – there’s a giant fuck-off comet headed to Earth, as you already know.  Eventually the other two come to terms with the fact that the world is going to end, and decide that they’d probably rather like to spend their last day on Earth listening to their favourite music – at which point the shop owner introduces us to ‘Fish Story’, and the real ‘story’ begins.

“Fish Story” has a lot in common with similar mind-benders like “Memento” and “Irréversible” by virtue of its time-hopping narrative – or the way in which we start at the beginning and hop between different time zones in order to discover how we came to the present point.  It all seems very confusing – and is for the most part, until the end, when it all comes together and you understand everything and you can go and get a cup of tea and have a sit down and probably watch some television or another film if you wanted or maybe you feel like a snack or even a quick nap – it’s up to you.  At least everything came together in the end.

So what about the build-up?  Well, there are a few stories and situations at the film’s disposal, which although seemingly separate, are actually connected in some way.  We have a weedy kid who gets bullied by his friends and goes about learning to stand up for himself; a group of people held hostage on a cruise liner; the struggling punk band Gekirin and their struggle to get famous; the modern day record shop attendees, and a group of people and priests waiting for the world to end.  All these time zones intertwine with one another throughout the film and offer enough questions to fill an exam – particularly one on how a song called ‘Fish Story’ can affect the lives of so many people even though no-one has really heard it.

Yes, not many people get to hear the titular song in the film world – but we do, lots of times.  Luckily it’s rather good and insanely catchy – I was singing it for the whole day after seeing the film.  It goes a bit like this:

“DUH DUH DUH DOH badabadumba dum ba DUH DUH DUH DOO ba dam bada ba doo da DUH DUH DAH DOO bedee be da ba doo ba DUH DUH DAH DOO”

Sounds good doesn’t it?

But that’s not the only good part of the film – pretty much everything else is too.  Performance-wise, everything is tip-top – with each separate story propelled forward by strong, individual lead performances and stand-out supporting turns.  This is reinforced by a personal and original sense of direction from Yoshihiro Nakamura, who gives a recognisable yet separate feel to each timezone in order to make the conclusion all the more unexpected and pleasing.

Talking of ‘pleasing’, it’s impossible not to smile at the end – as it’s such a concise and succinct climax that ties up all loose ends that it gives you the same feeling as when you finally understand something that’s been bugging you for ages.  Like when I spent an entire day completely in a world of my own and not listening to a word anybody said because I was focusing every inch of my being on remembering Kane Hodder’s name.  The feeling acheived when I finally recalled his name was at least twenty times better than an orgasm, and made me suddenly and to my complete surprise shout ‘Kane Hodder!’ to the startled bemusement of those around me.  I looked like an idiot – but at least I could sit safe in the knowledge that I knew Kane Hodder’s name, regardless of the fact that the conversation in which I needed the information occurred around 9 hours previously.

Anyway, watching “Fish Story” is a bit like that.

If there’s anything wrong with it, it’s that it does tend to drag in certain places.  There’s one particular part of the film where we’re following the punk band, and it does dwell for a rather long time on a conversation they’re having in a bar – it’s quite an amusing scene, but it goes on for just that bit too long.  Still, if you find yourself getting bored, it’s not too long before something hilarious or exciting happens, so any instances of slow pacing are minor qualms in the grand scheme of things.

All in all, “Fish Story” is a film that deserves to be watched by an audience much bigger than I’m sure it will get in the West.  If this was an English-language film, I’m sure plaudits would be thrown at it left, right and centre, but as it’s not, there’s unfortunately the small chance that it could fade into obscurity.  If you don’t want this to happen, then spread the word as this film needs to be seen.  Even if you’re really disappointed that it’s not about fish.

“Fish Story” will be playing theatrically at the ICA in London late May to early June – I urge you to check it out if you can.

Yoshihiro Nakamura (director) / Kotaro Isaka (based upon the novel), Tamio Hayashi (screenplay)
CAST: Gaku Hamada
Atsushi Itô
Kengo Kôra
Mirai Moriyama
Yoshihiro Nagata
Nao Omori
Mikako Tabe

Buy Fish Story on DVD