A lone man meanders through the seemingly empty streets of Tokyo on his scooter. Garbage is strewn in the streets; cars are abandoned; there is not a soul in sight. That is, except at a strange little record shop. The man seems annoyed that the owner, a strange and exceedingly calm man would open his store on the day a comet is racing towards the Earth, inevitably causing its destruction. The young man is not concerned; he knows that an obscure Japanese punk song from the 1970s will save the world. And so begins Fish Story, a seemingly disparate tale told over several times periods and unrelated people, only to show a strange butterfly effect in the climax.
The film has been making the rounds at various film festivals for almost a year, and deservedly so. There is something of the great bizarre film Funky Forest in this piece. Not that Fish Story is nearly as confusing, but more that there is logic behind it all that only someone of that culture can understand. Director Yoshihiro Nakamura creates a genre-bending film from a novel by Kotaro Isaka that is comedic, dramatic, supernatural, action-packed, and probably most of all a film about music and how even the most obscure music can reach far beyond its original tiny listening audience.
The film jumps between 2012 (so maybe the Mayans were right?) and the old man’s infuriation with the shop owner’s insistence that the world will be saved; the 1970s when the band recorded their strange little song; the 1980s when the song enters and haunts the life of a shy young man; the old man and his sullied past of religious fanaticism; and just a few years before the arrival of the comet, when a young schoolgirl gets trapped on a ferry boat that is taken hostage, and the young Champion of Justice who must try to save her.
Nakamura keeps his camera focused tightly on his actors; it is how they react to the events and problems around them that are at the heart of the story. It is how we react that creates the butterfly effect. Do you conform to what is popular, or do you stick to your artistic vision at the cost of your career? Do you keep your mouth shut or do you stand up to bullies and criminals? Do you give your own life to save one young girl, even if you don’t know her significance? For Nakamura, the answer is always the latter. With unabashed sentimentality, Nakamura closes in on his actors to show that pain of choice, the internal struggle, and the final decision that marks the next step on the path of the butterfly.
I can’t say more without giving away too much of the plot. Fish Story is a wonderful addition to the canon of Japanese mash-up films, and one that will leave you singing the title song long after you’ve left the theatre.