“There are some flashes that make this fascinating, but it lacks too much energy to warrant a high position on your watch list”
Fish Story is an odd choice to bring back to our screens. It is a perhaps underserved resurrection of the 2009 release, yet one that’s also intriguingly timely in our hope-starved times. The film begins with a comet heading towards Earth, and jumps across time to show how this cataclysmic event is linked to an eponymous, potentially humanity-saving song and multiple acts of heroism. Its unique concept is matched by the quietly ambitious of humour, knowingness, sincerity, and wit. The central song is a fantastic track, too, that almost alone warrants sitting down for a watch, however the film as awhole isn’t half as exciting as its concept deserves.
The story’s bare bones provide a lot of potential for something thrilling, original, and meaningful. It’s a compelling idea that a punk song might be able to change the course of life as we know it, and seeing this play out in different eras and scenarios – from a superficially mundane night out to a gun-toting ferry heist – suggests a varied and multifaceted work. Unfortunately, the structure lacks verve in a way that undermines what the film wants to say about human connection: it’s tediously linear so that, often, you’ve mentally checked out way before there’s any actual substance to grapple with. There’s a workmanlike approach to good material that makes it feel like a pre-prestige TV adaptation by a first-time director, not a feature film that’s seen as important enough to warrant reissue.
A major barrier to connecting with the story comes from an almost totally consistent lack of tonal control. The start is, sharp, witty, and self-aware, and so it’s both bizarre and disappointing when the film descends into silliness and amateurishness. These failures extend across the entire production: unnatural performances, uninteresting sets, and uninventive camera moves act together to distance you from having an emotional connection to events that should be intensely exciting. A variety of tones wouldn’t be a problem in a film that had a strongly crafted identity, but here there’s little evidence of a director with clear vision or precision.
But perhaps the fatal element is a lack of ideas. Fish Story is not interested in fleshing out its characters or exploring alternative angles on its theme, the several adventures doing little to advance the narrative nor being weighty enough to function as self-sustaining vignettes. The most affecting moment is witnessing the innocent intensity with which ‘Fish Story’ is performed by its creators, them honestly believing it’ll have no lasting impact despite the song’s brilliance. It’s such a rare scene compared to the many fumbles around it, and a glimpse of well-presented, emotionally involving insight makes the failure of the film weigh more heavily.
Watching Fish Story is often immensely frustrating. The plot is intriguing and provides an enormous scope in which to shape something thrilling, varied, and involving, but this broad canvas has been wasted. In what’s resulted we occasionally get to see things come together to be fascinating and emotionally moving, but these occasions are few and far between. If you’ve got some spare time there is some profundity and fun that you won’t be able to find elsewhere, but it’s a shame that brilliance is sporadic enough that it’s impossible to imagine a wide appeal. Fish Story, unlike its namesake, is unlikely to change the world any time soon.
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Producers: Yasushi Udagawa
Cast: Vincent Giry, Gaku Hamada, Atsushi Itô, Kengo Kora, Mirai Moriyama, Mikako Tabe
Release Date: 10 August 2020 (DVD / Blu Ray reissue)
Header image courtesy of Showgate