Fantastic Fest: 'Fish Story'

J-horror director Nakimura goes punk

Gekirin: Loud fast rules!
Gekirin: Loud fast rules!

If your only exposure to Japanese director Yoshihiro Nakimura's oeuvre has thus far been his work in the classic J-horror vein via Dark Water, this hyper-melodic paeon to obscurantist punk rock and the whims of fate, destiny, and three chords and the truth will enter your skull at 170 BPM and exit your heart doing at least twice that.

Adapted from a novel Kotaro Isaka, Fish Story comes across as the inevitable distallation of the Japanese yen for all things pop-culturally American (see also: Rockabilly, Cheap Trick, The Motards), but with a twist: this time is the Japanese themselves who are rocking the free world. (And saving it, to boot.)

Set in four different time periods – 1975, 1982, 2009, and 2012 – Nakimura's film pivots around the Japanese proto-punk Gekirin (think the Dead Boys) and their lone slab of vinyl output, a track dubbed "Fish Story."

Flash forward to Tokyo 2012: the streets are bereft of people, an ominous wind is blowing in from the Sea of Japan, and a lone man in wheelchair industriously makes his way to the only storefront that remains open. It's a record shop, and it's here that we discover the reason for the vanished populace: a comet is mere hours away from turning the earth into its own private astroid belt. As the old man and the store's only other customer, a true believer in the power of vinyl recordings, argue about the fate of all mankind, shop owner (Nao Omori, who looks and acts like he could have stepped from behind the counter at Waterloo, Amoeba, or any other 45rpm sanctuary you'd care to name) , spins the titular disc and frames the story of a mysterious "break in the recording" – a one-minute gap during which the sound of screaming can be heard.

Cut to 1982: college student (Gaku Omada), out with friends for a night on the town, is attempting to unravel the secret of the song, the gap, and life in general. Fate has other plans, though, and he ends up meeting a foreordained lover who drops a conversational bomb roughly equivalent to that of the Hiroshima blast: "One day you will save the world."

From there, Fish Story moves back and forth in time, ultimately linking a plethora of seemingly random characters into a final, cohesive whole that may yet save the world of 2012.

What's so spellbinding about Fish Story is its pitch-perfect punk rock panache – you're going to be helplessly craving your own personal vinyl copy of Gekirin's catchy, Johnny Thunders-esque theme song before it's over – and the flawless fashion in which screenwriter Tamio Hiyashi weaves so many characters from utterly different versions of the same society into a cat's cradle of suspense, oddball humor, manga tropes, and one of the most satisfyingly post-punk finales of this or any other Fantastic Fest film.

When Gekiro's twitchy, gangly frontman yelps, "Don't assume that I'm dead … music stacked up like blocks is the only salvation," you know what he means, and more importantly, you feel it, too.

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