Tsumetai nettaigyo, Out and Shion Sono’s passion for dismemberment

coldfish

 

I recently saw Shion Sono’s last film, Tsumetai nettaigyo, translated into English like Cold Fish –they forgot the “tropical”-, and provoked me an immeasurable uneasiness. Every time this Japanese cult-movie director releases a new title, it seems that he has reached the top of his career in terms of blood, violence and mental instability, but then it comes the next one, as is this case, and you feel emotionally overwhelmed in the armchair of the small movie theater filled with middle age men plus the young woman that you regret having invited. It’s been shown at film festivals like Toronto, Venetia and Sitges, with considerable success: some people left disgusted in the middle of the showing, and some others reacted with a standing and resounding ovation at the end. There is also some comedy in this 18+ rated movie, though, indispensable ingredient to psychologically deal with many of the hard scenes that it contains.
Here is the plot: an apparently normal but actually dysfunctional family starts hanging out with a successful businessman who happens to be a thug and eventually takes the whole family to an extreme situation. The character of the husband, a henpecked pater familias can tell from the very beginning what’s going on and what’s going to happen but his fainthearted personality prevents him from rejecting Murata San, one of the most evil rogues and psychopaths of the recent Japanese cinema. Gradually, the ugly, pushy and disgusting but funny and trickster Murata –sublime the Japanese actor Den Den in the role- takes his wife and daughter from him and the spectator can feel the husband’s anxiety in a crescendo of tension that eventually ends up as an orgy of violence, sex and blood. He suffers himself a radical transformation – a Tetsuo but without the cyborg stuff- in his character and becomes what he had been most afraid of. Based on a real story that took place in Saitama a few years ago, in Japan cases of killings with dismemberment seem quite common exceptions, as we can also see in Out, based on the novel with the same name by Natsuo Kirino based on a related true incident, although in this case it’s housewives the ones who do the butcher’s job.

NUDE , the story of a Japanese porn movie star.

nude

 

Hiromi is a countryside girl from Saitama who dreams of becoming an actress. Young, cute and determined, she finds a job at an airport in Tokyo and has a dull life in an apartment with her boyfriend from high school. The next in the story is a sequence of steps that eventually takes her to star in AV, i.e., porn movies.
Japan is a contradictory country when it comes to porn and sex in general. In some aspects, it’s so liberal that it could surprise a Western neophyte: transgressive adult magazines and videos are available at any 24-hour shop; love hotels can be counted in tens close to any train station, and prostitution is easily accessible through Internet, cell-phones or pink saloons. But on the other side, there tends to be an interest in suppressing explicit reference to real sex, as a way of justifying themselves, even though it’s obvious that it is there. One example is the blurred images of sex organs in magazines and videos. Another example is the issue that this movie tries to deal with: the contradiction of a society that condones and consumes porn massively but at the same rejects those ones who produce it.
One of the plot lines of this film shows how easy is for a Japanese young women to enter that AV world, but the theme is not treated in a Manichaean way of black and white, good and evil ones: everything is blurry, as some images in the Japanese AV movies. Hiromi has a dream and gradually realizes that she needs to adjust her aspirations for them to become true. She pays a price but in the end she is happy with what she has: actually she becomes a famous actress, although a porn one (this is not a spoiler, in the movie it is shown at the beginning). The price she must pay is the rejection of the society she has been part of before her new occupation. Family, friends, boyfriend, all of them eventually vanish from her life, who is filled by the morally ambiguous manager Enomoto San, character convincingly played by Mitsuishi Ken. Maybe the saddest moment is the break-up with her twin soul and best female friend Saya chan. Her school friend represents her childhood and attachment to society conventions. Told by common male friends, Saya rents one of Hiromi’s video and cries for hours in fetal position. But that separation is necessary for Hiromi –now Mihiro, her artistic name and the new person she eventually becomes- to find her own path in a world of onanists in search of the ideal female idol. The film’s music, matching the tone of the story, its artistic and sometimes silent shooting that shows Hiromi’s evasion from reality, and Watanabe Naoko’s fresh and moving performance, rounds off this indispensable movie.

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