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AICN HORROR: Ambush Bug interviews Sion Sono about his demented new film, COLD FISH! Plus a review of the film!

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Greetings, all. Ambush Bug here with a special AICN HORROR: ZOMBIES & SHARKS column. I had a chance to talk with Sion Sono, the director of the devilishly unpredictable film COLD FISH. It was the first time I ever conducted an interview through a translator, but the interview turned out pretty well. Before I jump into the interview, here’s a review of COLD FISH to let you know what this little nightmare of a movie is all about. Enjoy!

(Click title to go directly to the feature)

Review of COLD FISH (2010)!
Interview with COLD FISH Director Sion Sono!

Released on DVD/iTunes August 23rd & available on VOD in September!
Part of Bloody Disgusting International Selects series!

COLD FISH (2010)

Directed by Sion Sono
Written by Yoshiki Takahashi
Starring Makoto Ashikawa, Denden, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Magumi Kagurazaka, Hikari Kajiwara, Asuka Kurosawa
Reviewed by Ambush Bug

COLD FISH is one of those chilling little films that connive their way into one’s soul with compelling characters then rips it to shreds in the final, chaotic act. Directed by Sion Sono, a beat poet turned director who international film lovers will remember from SUICIDE CLUB and STRANGE CIRCUS, COLD FISH first and foremost wants to drive the point home that this is a true story. Sono does this by stating this in bold print in the first seconds before moving onto the banal life of the main character Syamoto (played by nebbish Mitsuru Fukikoshi) and his dysfunctional family: a dissatisfied and cold wife named Taeko (played by the gorgeous Megumi Kagurazaka), and Mitsuko (Hikari Kajiwara), his rebellious daughter. COLD FISH is a dreamlike film that unfolds into a nightmare by the end credits.

The drama begins as Jon’s daughter is caught shoplifting and is forced to be indebted to Matura (Asuka Kurosawa), a swarthy competitor of Syamoto’s fish store. Soon, Matura controls every aspect of Syamoto’s life by seducing his wife, swaying his daughter to come work for him, and forcing Syamoto to take part in illegal dealings himself. Pressure mounts as everything Syamoto has held dear is chipped away. With nothing left and backed into a corner, Syamoto snaps in one of the goriest climaxes I’ve ever seen on film. Though this film plays out as a drama/thriller throughout, the seeds of horror bear fruit big time by the gruesome ending where no one is left unstained by gallons and gallons of blood and gore.

Not for the squeamish (but what the hell are the squeamish doing reading a column called AICN HORROR anyway), COLD FISH is a film I will not soon forget. Sono takes his time making one feel for Syamoto as his life is ruined, making the gory climax all the more effective. Though Sono states in the interview below that he embellished the truth in making this film, even if it bares any semblance to reality it is something that makes my skin crawl. The carnage-laden poeticism of the ending will haunt you long after the credits roll. COLD FISH is anything but. It’s a relentless monster of a film that fills your heart with sorrow, then stabs it straight through.

Q’s by Ambush Bug!

@’s by COLD FISH Director Sion Sono!

Ambush Bug here. Sion Sono has made quite a name for himself in his home country of Japan with such films as SUICIDE CLUB and STRANGE CIRCUS. Now American audiences can see what all the fuss is about with his twisted comedy / horror film COLD FISH as Bloody Disgusting features the film in its international selects series. Here’s what Mr. Sono had to say when I talked with him a few weeks ago…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk with me today. I had a chance to watch the film COLD FISH, and I really would love to hear in your own words just how you describe the film, because it is a very unusual film. It’s a really entertaining film, but I would really like to hear how you describe it to people.

SION SONO (SS): First, thank you very much for taking the time for the interview today. COLD FISH is half real, like a true thing, and half fantasy. It’s based on a true event, but it’s mostly about the dialog of memory. The main character is named Jon, he’s not real, so he’s the fictional character that I made up for the film.

BUG: I wanted to compare this to another film out of Japan, not just because it was from Japan, but also just because it’s kind of similar in tone and structure, but AUDITION. I don’t know if you agreed with that, just with the pacing, because it seemed like there was a drama all the way towards the end of the film and then all of a sudden everything just goes really gory and really violent very quickly.

SS: I know about AUDITION and I know Takashi Miike, but when I was making COLD FISH I really wasn’t thinking about that movie in particular. Probably a better comparison in my mind would be the Coen Brothers movie called BLOOD SIMPLE and really I thought more about older Japanese movies, so not so much AUDITION or more recent movies, but more older and classical movies.

BUG: So you said it was based partially on a true story. Is this a well-known story in Japan or is this something that you just kind of happened upon?

SS: The story happened in between two big events, you know the big probate risk states and the Sarin gas in Tokyo. So the event that I was referring to in the movie happened in between both of those two really big events, so in Japan it wasn’t famous, but if those two really big events hadn’t happened then the event that I was basing the movie on would have been really big news.

BUG: Alright, well that sounds good. So I know that you are a very accomplished poet as well; how does poetry factor into filmmaking, if it does at all?

SS: I don’t really write poetry any more, but when I’m making my movies and writing the script I have the same kind of method, the same kind of writing method as when I write poetry, so when I write the script it’s the same kind of feeling, the internal feeling of writing a book of poetry.

BUG: Well, let’s talk about the effects: like I said, the blood and everything towards the end is so over the top. For the most part most of the film is a pretty straight up drama, but it gets really…gory. What went into the effects work in the film? How much were you involved in that? The climax of the film as so bloody--did you have an intent behind that?

SS: Everything, all of the special effects and the way that everything looked like with the art direction, was my idea. It came from within me, so I basically had my hand in everything.

BUG: So how are you anticipating how American audiences are going to respond to this film given that it is so steeped on actual occurrence, a true story that happened in Japan? I know it makes it blatant at the very beginning to say “THIS! IS! A! TRUE! STORY!” How do you think American audiences will respond to this film?

SS: So I don’t think necessarily that American audiences will respond to this any differently than a worldwide audience, because since it’s based on a true event and people can relate to the feelings of criminality, being a victim, being a witness, and more importantly in this movie I was trying to explore this idea that witnesses and victims really can’t speak for themselves, so there is that part of the fantasy where they would imagine how they would respond to these events, so that’s why I wanted to try and make this movie based on an actual historical event. In a way I’m sort of thinking about what those victims were thinking.

BUG: Has it been screened in Japan?

SS: It’s been screening in Japan and the reaction was of surprise and shock of course, but it became kind of a hit in Japan and I was very happy, because it seems that many of the Japanese audiences understood that it was a black comedy, because there were people laughing at the appropriate times in the movie.

BUG: Good--okay. So now that it’s going to be screening through Bloody Disgusting and there is going to be a whole new audience taking a look at this film, do you think you are going to be expanding into possibly an American language film? Are you going to keep working in Japan?

SS: Actually yesterday and the day before I met with a couple of American producers, so as early as next year I have several projects that are coming down.

BUG: Oh? Fantastic. I just wanted to see what your response is to the term “J-Horror” that seems to be thrown around a lot. What is your reaction to that? Do you consider yourself a “J-Horror” director?

SS: So the term “J-Horror” has boomed in popularity before, but right now it’s not so popular. The term has gotten kind of weak, but in terms of your question whether I consider myself a “J-Horror” director, I’ve never really attributed myself to be a “J-Horror” director, because basically “J-Horror” is not funny. There is no real sense of comedy, so I don’t really like it, but I prefer, in terms of horror movies more of the American or Italian horror movies, because there’s a lot of black humor in a lot of those kinds of horror movies.

BUG: Okay, well I can understand that. So let’s go back a little bit, I know you’ve done quite a few films. Out of all of the films that you have done, do you have a favorite?

SS: As far as my favorites go, it’s always the newest one that I’ve made, so recently I submitted the film GUILTY OF ROMANCE to the Cannes Film Festival and right now that’s my favorite. I think that’s the best one. (laughs)

BUG: (Laughs) Fair enough. Do you have any final comments for the Ain’t It Cool News readers who are going to be reading?

SS: I’m actually a fan of the site. I read it a lot when I’m in Tokyo and I’m very happy to have been able to participate in this interview. I’m especially happy to have this connection with the readers.

BUG: Great! Well, thank you very much. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. I really appreciate it and I know everybody is going to be really appreciative to read this interview when it goes on the site. It was a great and twisted film; thank you so much.

SS: Thank you.

BUG: I recently found out that COLD FISH will be given a limited release UNCUT in select cities throughout August, so it may be a bit difficult to seek out, but it will be getting a DVD / iTunes on August 23rd, then released on VOD through September. You can find out more about COLD FISH, where and when it will be released on the Bloody Disgusting Selects site.

Look for our regular AICN HORROR column on Friday!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole / wordslinger / reviewer / co-editor of AICN Comics for over nine years. Mark is also a regular writer for FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND and will be releasing FAMOUS MONSTERS first ever comic book miniseries LUNA in October (co-written by Martin Fisher with art by Tim Rees)! Support a Bug by checking out his comics (click on the covers to purchase)!

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Readers Talkback
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  • July 28, 2011, 11 a.m. CST

    Cold Fish

    by professor murder

    Is better than warm fish

  • July 28, 2011, 1:59 p.m. CST

    Cuttle fish and asparagus

    by Detective_Fingerling

    or vanilla paste?!

  • July 28, 2011, 6:53 p.m. CST

    Sion Sono is my kind of weird

    by Jon

    Cold Fish is a good film - saw it at TIFF last September, it was my first Sion Sono film - but definitely a slow-burn that is almost frustrating in how passive/weak the main character is for most of the film. It wouldn't be as much of a problem if it were twenty minutes shorter. Still, it has a satisfyingly grotesque payoff, a solid screenplay, and a brilliant lead performance. I did get around to seeing two of his earlier films later on - Suicide Club and Love Exposure. By God, these were brilliant and both are much less restrained and more batshit insane than Cold Fish. Enjoyed Suicide Club a lot but Love Exposure, despite being FOUR HOURS LONG, is not boring at any point. Throw in panty-picture snapping gangs, Kung Fu, cults, religion, a healthy mix of action, romance, slapstick comedy, genuine drama, and just flat out weirdness and you get the most epic 'B-movie' (I mean that in a good way) ever. Whatever you think of the movie, you will not be bored. Personally, I thought it was the work of a genius. I'm pumped for Guilty of Romance, crossing my fingers it plays at TIFF this year.

  • July 29, 2011, 12:48 a.m. CST

    Cold Fish

    by Winston Smith

    Disappointed me. Guess I like it better when the Koreans do it, most J-horror or extreme or whatever you want to call it doesn't float my boat, but Chan-wook Park is one of my favorite directors of all time.

  • July 29, 2011, 1:46 p.m. CST


    by thommcg

    Hahahaha :-)

  • Very much seconded. I saw 'Love Exposure' just a week or two ago on Film4 and was amazed just how quickly the whole movie went by. Great flick.

  • July 29, 2011, 4:32 p.m. CST

    Thanks for the words Joncedit

    by Detective_Fingerling

    I'll have to check out Love Exposure. Suicide Club was just ... off after the first hour. And don't get me started on that weird ass "Because dead" song.