by Jeremy Clarke.
A comet threatens to destroy life on Earth. Three years earlier a religious cult attempts a ferry hijack. In the 1970s a punk band records and disbands before the Sex Pistols do. Welcome to the bizarre and quirky vision of Yoshihiro Nakamura’s Fish Story (2009). As well as being the screenwriter of Dark Water, Nakamura is also a prolific writer-director whose films include the likeable See You Tomorrow, Everyone. Fish Story had a DVD release back in 2009 and distributors Third Window are now putting out a Blu-ray with a lovely new transfer and a heap of excellent albeit standard definition extras.
Based on a novel by Kotaro Isaka, the film is touted in the press blurb as the story of how a song by a punk band can change the world… which, while a good bit of PR spin, makes this highly entertaining and enjoyable film sound far more focused than it actually is.
It has a frame story set three years in the future i.e. 2012, within which it skips around between four other stories in different time periods, including one in the then-present day of 2009, all of which are connected. Central to all of this is the pre-Sex Pistols punk band Gekirin (Wrath).
In the 2012 frame story, a bad-natured curmudgeon (Kenjiro Ishimaru) turns up at vinyl record store Coconuts Disk to inform the manager (Nao Omori) that “no-one will be buying today”. (Omori played Ichi in Ichi The Killer and more recently the bent cop in First Love, both for Takashi Miike). The reason, as revealed when the old man switches on the news, is that there are only five hours until a huge meteor hits the Earth, causing a tidal wave that will engulf Japan. This might seem somewhat prescient, as in 2011, two years after the film was made, real-life north-east Japan was devastated by a tsunami.
Unlike the bombastic Hollywood blockbuster movie of the same name, the American Operation Armageddon failed to blow the asteroid up en route. And so, the old man informs us, Japan will definitely get wiped out later today. He dismisses other fictional sources of possible planetary salvation: “No Gundam. No Power Rangers.” Later, he goes on to announce that he’s partaken of both the great delicacy that is Chinese Egg and a threesome, one of whom was blonde. He’s lived life to the full as he sees it and is now heavily in debt and dying of cancer which he hasn’t bothered attempting to cure because he knows the planet is going to be wiped out. Nice bloke.
Unperturbed, the manager ignores him and instead tells a punter on the premises about Gekirin. He puts their sole LP Fish Story on the turntable. It starts off as a quiet ballad but soon turns into wild, thrash-y punk with otherworldly lyrics. “The story of my failure / If my failure were a fish.” It cuts out for about a minute, too.
In 1982, listening to a home-pirated audio cassette of the album on the car stereo an unruly car passenger tells his driver Masashi (Gaku Hamada, later the lead in See You Tomorrow, Everyone) that the minute of silence is deliberate. They cut that out because there’s a woman’s scream on there. Paranormally sensitive types can still hear the scream apparently and if they do then dire consequences will follow for them. This has echoes of Ring, directed by Nakata before Dark Water. Not that the tone of Fish Story is anything like a horror movie.
The put-upon Masashi contrasts heavily with a chef (Mirai Moriyama) in the 2009 segment on a ferry to Hokkaido who has been raised with the vague notion that he should be a Champion of Justice. He has no idea whether this upbringing worked. After explaining this in a lengthy conversation to Asami (Mikako Tabe), a maths student on a school trip who fell asleep and missed her stop, he finds the ship taken over by gun-wielding cult members whom he must overpower using his finely honed fighting skills, unexpectedly turning the film into a terrific action movie for about five minutes. This episode will inspire Asami to become an astronaut, one of a five-person Indian team attempting to save the world in 2012.
The band Gekirin (Wrath) were created for the film using four actors, two of whom had never played or performed before and had to be put through intensive music training. Much of the second half of the excellent 34-minute Fish Story Making documentary details this preparation and rehearsal period through interviews and footage shot during the process.
Creating a band on film is notoriously difficult to do well, but Nakamura and his team create a pretty decent sounding group. Guitarist Toshimitsu Ohkawauchi appears to be a bona fide musician who never appeared in another film and at this stage in his career had played with the band Drive Far. Drummer Tetsuya (Lowlife Love’s Kiyohiko Shibukawa) already played but had to learn to read music. While integral to the band’s sound, outside of the sequences playing music neither play a major part in the film.
Bassist Shigeki (Atsushi Ito) is also the band leader. He had to learn his instrument from scratch in about two months. Vocalist Goro (Kora Kengo) had never sung before and underwent extensive voice training to do the role. When you see him in the film he’s convincing, but according to director Nakamura his singing really only came together about a week before the shoot. What was ultimately captured on film is so impressive that Nao Omori says of Gekirin that it’s as if they’re not a made-up band.
Indeed, Gekirin had a minor career after the film, releasing a CD and doing live performances and Q&As in record stores. Three welcome extras on the Blu-ray comprise a half hour Q&A / gig at O-East, ten minutes worth of gig at Tower Records and five of a Q&A at HMV, all in Shibuya. Towards the end of the latter, actress Mikako Tabe expresses amazement that she’s never seen this happen to a bunch of actors on a film before.