Features and Columns · Movies

Import This! Fish Story (DVD)

By  · Published on July 26th, 2010

Great movies come from all around the world, and so do great DVDs and Blu-rays. Import This! is an irregular feature here at FSR that highlights discs and/or movies unavailable in the US that are worth seeking out for fans of fantastic cinema. We’ll cover movies both foreign and domestic, new and old, and while some discs will require region-free players others will play on any DVD or Blu-ray machine. The one thing they’ll all have in common is their status as damn fine films and/or solid entertainment currently unavailable in the US but well worth importing into your collection.

It’s 2012 and Roland Emmerich and the Mayans are screaming “told ya so!’ at the top of their lungs to anyone who’ll listen. Why? Because a large comet is heading towards Earth, and it’s mere hours away from impact. A lone electric wheelchair moves silently through empty city streets until its driver spots the only other sign of life… an open record store. Inside are two men talking music as the world is about to end. In particular they’re discussing a long-forgotten punk band called Gekirin and their song “Fish Story.” A song that just may save the world…

Read on after the jump for more reasons that make this disc and movie worth importing…

From there the film jumps backwards in time across the previous forty years to seemingly disparate story-lines. In 1975 we meet Gekirin as they work on their third and final album and struggle to come to grip with their apparent failure. 1982 finds a shy and insecure young man named Masahi spending a night with friends. They talk about a punk song with a minute-long gap of silence purported to contain a woman’s scream only audible to certain people. A ferry trip in 2009 introduces a teenage girl named Asami who falls asleep during a school trip and misses her stop. A young cook takes time to cheer her up until they’re interrupted by a group of terrorists who hijack the boat and threaten the lives of everyone on board. Where’s the common thread? What does a singular punk rock song have to do with it all? And how can something so minor possibly save the world from destruction?

Fish Story is a brilliantly structured tale of epic proportions told on an intimate scale. It’s ostensibly about the end of the world, something we’ve seen a thousand times before in big-budget Hollywood productions, but our players are far from the typical heroes we’re used to. The US have already failed in their attempt to detonate nukes on the comet, and one character asks with hopeful sincerity, “isn’t Bruce Willis still up there?” But Willis, Ben Affleck, and Steve Buscemi aren’t the ones the movie’s interested in. Instead we have a punk band trying to make their mark a year before the Sex Pistols will introduce punk to the world, an awkward and weak young man who has just been told by a stranger that one day he’ll save the world, and a teenager whose fate rests in the hands of a mysterious cook turned martial artist. We see mistakes and failures that combine to eventually succeed against not only all odds but also our traditional cinematic knowledge of what makes a hero.

The film’s minor deconstruction of the traditional doomsday heroes and movies continues beyond the character types. Aside from the large comet burning in the sky above the film is absent any grand special effect spectacles. What we do see is relegated to display on a small television playing in the record store with talking heads describing the events. It’s a disaster film with our exposure to the immediate threat twice removed, and yet it’s still compelling and suspenseful entertainment. It manages that feat by focusing on relationships both romantic and friendly and on smaller challenges like standing up for yourself and finding your purpose. Some unexpectedly solid fight choreography and plenty of humor helps too. Plots and stories that seem disjointed all serve a larger, beautifully designed purpose, and the eventual realization and disclosure is presented in a final series of scenes that will leave you smiling uncontrollably.

It’s rare to find a film so confident in its story and purpose that it’s willing to leave the viewer uncertain and unclear for most of the running-time, but director Yoshihiro Nishimura (and Kotaro Isaka’s source novel, their second collaboration) trusts his film and his audience to work together as the tall tale unfolds. And it is that idea of a tall tale that he’s exploring here, from the exaggerated and hard to believe circumstances to the reality behind our expectations. Hope and music are powerful forces especially when tied together through what passes for the inconsequential. Each segment holds your attention with its own drama, laughs, and characters, but their collective destination is elegantly simple and immensely rewarding.

DVD: Fish Story hits DVD in the UK (region 2) this week from Third Window Films, and if you have an all-region player I really can’t recommend it enough. The DVD includes a making of feature that runs over thirty minutes and covers the characters and filming throughout the varied time periods. Also included is a live performance from the film’s fictional band, Gekirin, that they gave at a Tower Records in Shibuya, Japan. The extras are rounded out with the film’s trailer along with additional trailers for other Third Window releases.

– Buy Fish Story on DVD from AmazonUK

*Note: I use a Phillips DVP-5990 region-free player. It’s currently available at Best Buy for under sixty bucks, and it has so far handled every DVD

I’ve tossed at it including successfully enabling PAL format onto my NTSC television. Feel free to email me with any questions.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.