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Now available on Blu-ray from Third Window Films and on Demand

Pop culture references can often be a jarring inclusion within a film, particularly when it comes to humour-laden superhero stories, but there’s also an odd charm to them when they’re used appropriately. Which is the case with Yoshihiro Nakamura’s Fish Story. It’s a yarn that asks the audience; can pop culture save the world? Specifically one forgotten punk rock song from the Seventies nobody bought, from a band without a lasting career. But more broadly it considers things like television shows, books, and even ghost stories. Do individual actions and beliefs, sometimes separated by decades, have any real impact on the world in the course of human history? Or is it all just a lot of wasted time and lost memories?

In 2012 a cataclysm seems to be taking place as the comet from Final Fantasy VII is about to collide with planet Earth. Giant tsunamis and a new Ice Age are predicted, meaning that even those hiding in safety are doomed. With only five hours left to go before the world ends it’s oddly appropriate that the last few people to take shelter are simply hanging out. In a tiny record shop two music fans and an ageing con-artist meet as they bicker about an Armageddon style plan to blow up the approaching rock. One of the younger guys starts to panic but the other believes that somehow music will save the day, perhaps with help from a Sentai style team of five heroes. The older man meanwhile has lived an apparent life of selfish hedonism and is ready to die before a terminal illness takes him.

It soon becomes obvious that references to entertainment are going to pop up everywhere. Teenagers talk about cursed cassette tapes, the predictions of Nostradamus, and what it means to have a so-called sixth sense. Elsewhere in an earlier time a young boy trains in karate by painting a fence. A large proportion of the tale even seems to be a riff on Back to the Future as the actions of a timid youth and a rock band who are too loud for their audience shape future events. It’s an oddly structured film that jumps between 1975, 1982, 1999, before a reveal that connects these random vignettes to a book being translated from English to Japanese in 1953. Which means the eventually these separate threads do form a cohesive whole, although it takes a long time getting to the point.

In 1975, after two years of trying to make it in show business, the obscure band ‘Gekirin’ get one last chance to release a hit song. Despite their obvious talents they can’t seem to catch a break. Which is weird considering the music is actually pretty good. The song they will eventually record is Fish Story, a fun punk rock ode to solitude and sea life… at least as far as anybody knows. The group’s struggle with the record label and their manager Okazaki (Nao Omori) and later their frontman Goro (Kengo Kora) are a solid dramatic base for the rest of the story, even if it’s a long-winded journey to get there. There’s even a mysterious one-minute silence on the final recording. But again the pacing is a problem in a movie which takes a while building up to what should be the major thread.

Tonally it’s a drama in which people have to decide what to do in the face of failure, adversity, and imminent tragedy. In 1982 Masaru (Gaku Hamada) must find courage and face his bullies, even if things don’t go the way that you’d expect. In 2012 the few people that have ever heard Gekirin’s song argue about how the world might be saved. But the story also jumps between a boat hijacking and a short chapter involving an earlier apocalypse event, one that clearly didn’t come to pass. Some moments are introspective and some are eccentric. A scene in which failed doomsday prophets fight one another over the true date the world will end certainly leans into absurdist comedy. There are even moments of action as a young man trained to be a ‘Champion of Justice’ (Mirai Moriyama) has his resolve tested.

It’s certainly not an action thriller beyond this pastiche of the genre, even if Gekirin does end up fighting their own audience in one standout brawl. It’s simply an eclectic series of skits and scenes, some that are brisk and others that outstay their welcome. The whole thing is just shy of two hours which doesn’t help things. Ideally this could have been a short and sweet seventy-five minute ride to really sell the punk energy. The film-makers clearly wanted to spend plenty of time with all the characters in each time period, but more restraint would have helped. Certain elements are often repeated which means that even a few of the music cues start to become repetitive after a while. Balancing the premise of a time hopping yarn and an effective ticking clock could have been done with more judicious editing.

Overall it’s a fun blend of odd characters and odd circumstances, in which all the different segments do compliment one another eventually. Make no mistake, despite a few flaws it’s often self aware while managing to have plenty of heart. The positive vibes and general message of doing your best with what you have, whether it’s limited time, limited talent, bad luck, or weirdly domineering parents, is often likeable. It’s just a shame that the whole thing meanders so often before it reaches a really great final montage that puts all the pieces together. Still, for those looking for a distinctly strange mixture of the mundane and the life changing it’s a music fuelled adventure worth seeing.

Rating: ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆

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About Mocata 146 Articles
A sucker for classic epics, 80s science fiction and fantasy kitsch, horror, action, animation, stop motion, world cinema, martial arts and all kinds of assorted stuff and nonsense. If you enjoy a bullet ballet, a good eye ball gag or a story about time travelling robots maybe we can be friends after all.

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