Fish Story Review

2012 and the end is nigh for mankind as a comet plummets toward Earth, with just hours left on the clock. Residents have fled to higher ground in a bid to escape an impending tidal wave, yet few remain on the quiet Tokyo streets. A cancer-riddled man (Kenjiro Ishimaru) enters a record store and begins spouting about the end of days, while the store owner (Nao Omori) nonchalantly carries on with his day and a customer samples tracks. The men then promptly discuss how the world can be saved: Superheroes? Missiles? Music perhaps? While in the background there plays an obscure song entitled “Fish Story”, written by a Punk band named “Gekirin” (Atsushi Ito; Kengo Kora; Kiyohiko Shibukawa; Toshimitsu Okawa), whose style of music wouldn’t make an impact until the arrival of “The Sex Pistols” one year later. As we learn of their song’s origin and its fate in the year 1975, we’re also taken on a journey through various other periods in time, where their music has affected the lives of others.

Flash back to 1982, where a timid student named Masashi (Gaku Hamada) becomes privy to a conversation directly related to the song. Rumours concerning its muted solo sets his mind at unease, yet the lyrics somehow resonate within him. Still content with being picked on, it’s not until he meets a young woman (Mai Takahashi) who predicts that he’ll meet someone in need of help, that he’ll finally take a stand against his oppressors.

In 2009, whilst on a school trip, Asami (Mikako Tabe) finds herself stranded on a Ferry to Hokkaido after falling asleep. Upon realizing her mistake, she’s quickly befriended by the ship’s cook (Mirai Moriyama), who tells her his personal story of growing up. Unfortunately, the rest of his tale will have to wait as gunmen take siege.

Yoshihiro Nakamura’s second feature adaptation based on the works of Kotaro Isaka (the first being 2007’s Foreign Duck, the Native Duck and God, with Golden Slumber on the way), is an ambitious telling of how a single song helped to write the future. It’s a film that initially doesn’t seem fundamentally different from a dozen or so other contemporary Japanese comedy/dramas in its dealing with self-discovery, fulfilling dreams and battling oppression, while its telling everything in a non-linear fashion seems all too convenient. A tale of underdogs versus a society that’s apprehensive toward their rebellious efforts of trying to shake it to its very complacent core, should ensure that there are enough ingredients here to sate audiences via the usual emotionally charged sentiments as they cheer on their protagonists.

Sure enough, Fish Story is every bit a positive feature with a very clear message, but Nakamura doesn’t lay everything out quite so predictably for the viewer. Not only does he manipulate the narrative’s timeline, he also imbues each section with a particular genre trait, thus serving us an eclectic mixture of science fiction, comedy, wistful drama and action, each underpinned by the eponymous song which has no real meaning. In making sense of it all, however, its relative ambiguity is an effective means by way of highlighting the trials and tribulations of a band struggling to meet particular tastes and standards at the expense of their own success; resigned to the fact that their music isn’t commercially viable, but instilled with the belief that one day there will be those who can identify with their work. The film’s greatest strength is that while doing this - despite some evidently goofy moments - it remains a grounded piece of work, with a non-pandering sense of reality and a refusal to force us into pitying its characters. Its ideology is never undermined by over-the-top theatrics, but embraced with a sincere form of levity, which not only presents the ridiculousness of a burdensome society, but also admirably reflects how sometimes a radical move can make a difference for the better.

While ‘Gekirin’ is of course the heart and soul of the piece, the director doesn’t skimp on the lives of his feature’s other players, each of whom are affected in some way by Fish Story’s lyrics through their sharing of common hardships. It’s through these various time shifts that much of the feature’s energy is derived, and while not every individual is satisfactorily fleshed out they serve their purpose in sending out familiar messages of standing up for one’s beliefs. The tone rarely drops below quirky as Nakamura fills his narrative with some choice conversations about seemingly insignificant topics, which wouldn‘t feel out of place in a Katsuhito Ishii movie. He’s clearly having a lot of fun with his cast via his perpetual media satire, while the often uttered “Seigi no Mikata” gives way to some terrifically opportunistic - not to mention impressively staged - homage’s and parodies of U.S. action cinema, including the likes of The Karate Kid, Under Siege and the naturally appointed Armageddon. Feel good vibes indeed.


Third Window Film’s 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation captures a nice amount of detail and replicates colours and contrast exceptionally well, which naturally complements Fish Story as the wonderfully bright and often cheery looking feature it is. Unfortunately it’s also one of considerable pace, and it’s during some of its more energetic moments that the NTSC-PAL conversion shows its faults. Ghosting is prevalent, and more disappointing is that the bit rate just isn’t strong enough to set aside compression artefacts.

The solo Japanese DD 2.0 track is also fine, though leaves us hungering for a 5.1 option. While dialogue, music and effects are handled well, there’s no real punch to what would be expected of the soundtrack. The optional English subtitles are excellent, being well timed and with no discernable errors.


Making of Fish Story is a solid 35 minutes of behind the scenes footage, featuring cast and crew interviews as it sifts through the various time periods in providing strong insights into the director’s intentions, during the relatively short shooting schedule. The most interesting portion of the piece is that dedicated to the Gekirin shoot, in which we learn that the four principal actors put their all into learning and recording the material over a period of a few months. Plenty of heartfelt emotions and heaps of praise to be had.

Live at Tower Records - Shibuya 2009 runs for ten minutes and sees the band returning to promote the film through a small gig. A very energetic live performance, which easily convinces us that these guys would have no problem switching vocations.

Also included is an original trailer.

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