Film: Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚)

reviewed by Amy Seaman

If  you’ve read Tokyo Vice, you’re already familiar with the story of Sekine Gen and Hiroko Kazama, the husband and wife pet-shop owners that killed at least four people in the nineties, poisoning them and dismembering their bodies in a very gruesome but effective fashion and the strange twists and turns the police investigation took along the way to their arrests. (Both have been sentenced to death).  The cult  film director, Sion Sono, made a movie based on the case, in which he changes the venue from a pet shop to a tropical fish shop, but is more or less faithful to the actual events until the final third of the movie. Jake Adelstein, my editor, caught the film while it was still playing in Tokyo and later did an interview with the DVD producers for the UK release.  The protagonist of the film who become an accomplice, Shamoto-san, is based on a real person, who was not convicted for murder but was arrested on those charges.He was later convicted for helping in dismembering and burying the bodies illegally.

Patrick Galloway, at the Asian entertainment blog, Asia Shock, has a very good review of the DVD release  movie and notes in his writing: I received a review copy of the Cold Fish double disk from Third Window Films and particularly appreciated one of the special features, a half-hour discussion of the actual case upon which the film is based. This comes courtesy of Jake Adelstein, journalist and author of the book Tokyo Vice. Adelstein relates the details of the case in great detail, revealing how accurate the film is to real events (although the plot goes in a completely different direction in the third act). Adelstein also offers insights into the way murder is investigated (and often not) in Japan. Apparently 80,000 people a year go missing in Japan, and only 4% of suicides are investigated. So it seems that a lot more people are being murdered in Japan than is reflected in official records.

Jake says that the portrayal of Sekine Gen, called Murata in the film, is eerily accurate.

Jake said, ” I had the pleasure of meeting Sekine twice before his arrest and watching him interact with customers several times and the performance is dead-on. I was awed by the movie until the point on the bridge where the plot bridged off from the real events and knowing the real story as well as I do, I’m probably not able to give the film an objective review.”  However, Mr. Galloway does and if you’d like to know more please check out the review of Cold fish here.  My take on the film is that if you’re interested in the psychology of serial killers, how ordinary people can be coerced into playing a role in murder, and have a very strong stomach–it’s a film worth seeing, but not before dinner.

*Jake Adelstein contributed to this review.

Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚)is a recent movie based on the Saitama Dog Lover Serial Killings.

11 thoughts on “Film: Cold Fish (冷たい熱帯魚)”

  1. Thanks for the info, and for the real facts.
    I read your book, it’s a great in-depth writing on the yakuza and it gives an insight of Japan we don’t know much. I also liked the tone which is really frank.

    1. You’re very welcome. The tone is frank because I’m not a particularly eloquent writer. (LOL). But I’m glad that gained some insight into Japan. I hope it explains some aspects of Japanese culture in a way that is useful and informative; I intended for the book to have reference value as well.

  2. The book certainly gives some insight into Japan that you don’t easily come across in your standard Japan sources. I’ve been into East Asia and Japan ever since I was a little kid, but the book still managed to include new insights for a lot of things for me.

    One aspect I loved in the book was that it offered such a multilayered view of Japan. It wasn’t just about yakuza, or journalism, or Japanese policework, or being a foreigner in Japan, but gave insight into all of those things, and then some on regular every day things as well.

  3. Hi Jake,
    Just finished Tokyo vice and absolutely loved it. I’m half Japanese half Chinese and spent most of my time in Japan so it was great to half that somewhat gaijin perspective on Japan. I think you’ve done a wonderful job in the revelation of such events. Ganbatte and please continue to write!

    1. Nellie, thank you very much for writing in! Do you speak both Japanese and Chinese? I appreciate the input especially from someone who probably has a unique insight into Japanese society. 頑張ります!

  4. Jake,
    My first language was cantonese and mandarin, but through little use, I’ve forgotten the majority of it. I speak Japanese and English with conversational spanish. I was one of those ‘inta’ kids in Japan I’m sure you ran into at Ropps. I am still impressed with your insight and ability to adjust to the Japanese. They aren’t the easiest of people… Even for the Japanese! Look forward to reading more from you.

  5. After recently watching the film, I’ve been prowling around looking for thoughts on it, and I quite enjoyed yours. I found it quite chilling to know you met Sekine in person and that the portrayal was realistic. I tend to watch a lot of extreme cinema and am also a big fan of Sono’s work, so I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time. It was a surprise to find how deeply it disturbed me — the third half, which I see was completely different from the story of the real murderers, showcased something about human beings that is difficult to look at. As always Sono shows us that unflinchingly, but I’m not sure it’s something I wanted to see.

    I love the site! Thanks for creating such an interesting space 🙂

  6. It has been a while since this was written, but I must say thanks to Amy Seaman for the article.
    I read Tokyo Vice 3 years ago and I am still re-reading it.
    It was thanks to it that I watched Cold Fish and became familiar with Sion Sono.
    I am from Spain and these kind of movies and books get here very rarely. Unfortunately not the crimes though.
    Thanks to Jake Adelstein we know the “other side” of Japan.
    アデルステインさん、ご研究おめでとうございます。
    確かに、アデルステインさんのおかげで日本の両方サイドが見られる。
    頑張ってください!

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