Day Four: Fish Story (2009) (MotM 2021)

Guess what, everyone? I don’t have any history with this film or anyone involved with it. That can only mean one thing: I will talk about the film without fluffing up the word count talking about myself! Cue thunderous applause!

…But I will do so for a little bit. Please, bear with me for just a moment! I discovered Fish Story while browsing through Letterboxd one day, traveling through related works of random people and what-not. It’s a fun, albeit pointless hobby of mine. The one thing I noticed above all was its premise, which seemed completely bizarre:

A rock band writes a song called “Fish Story” based on a sentence from a badly translated novel by a quack translator. The song exceeds the boundaries of space and time and ties people and their stories together. Thirty-seven years go by, and the song strikes a comet and saves the Earth from total destruction.

I mean, really. Who the hell is not going to watch that?

He won’t.

To put it into perspective, the synopsis above it less of a premise and more of a summary; in truth, it’s almost spoiler territory. Yet I don’t blame them for using it—there’s just way too much content to this film to try and explain it in 50 words or less. A fragmented story of multiple parts, multiple time-jumps, and multiple characters, all loosely connected that builds unto the ultimate conclusion.

“Wow, this is so complex,” you may be thinking to yourself. I thought so, too—initially. As it continued, it felt more convoluted than complex, with negative connotation implied. All of these stories, these characters; bite-sized in their showtime and wildly varying in entertainment value and impact. At a certain point, it’d be easy for the viewer to go, “What’s the point of all of this? Why are we being shown all of these different scenes?” The answer comes at the very end, like a detective casually explaining the evidence to solve a murder case.

Alas, it is this end that had me nodding halfheartedly rather than snapping my finger in bewilderment. With all the build-up Fish Story goes through, its ending feels rather undercooked. One thing leads to another, and then another, and then another—events hidden behind the scenes only to be shown later to connect all of the dots. And, well, it doesn’t feel particularly clever or insightful. Like getting 80% of the way in each subsequent game of a long-running franchise with multiple sequels, only to have the final game reveal the remaining 20% of each game up until that point. Okay.

C’mon, Fish Story. I expected more from you.

This next point is certainly debatable, and its placement within the film is very likely intentional. Putting it bluntly, it’s pretty far-fetched. Lots of details about this film feel almost fake, drenched in a sort of pseudo-reality that’s occasionally difficult to take seriously. Whether events, characters, or how situations are resolved, there is no shortage of dumb things that occur.

Such is the essence of Fish Story, whose name can literally mean “an incredible or far-fetched story.” Such exaggeration and fabricated details are just a part of what gives it its spirit. It’s stupid because it’s meant to be. Such ridiculous tales of heart and hope belong in a threshold of romantic babblings that go against the cynical constraints of organized society. Basically, I’m a big meanie-head asshole who didn’t get swept away by the heart of the cards of the film.

So I’ll give it its due: there are various scenes that have some cute fervor to them that I enjoyed. The “champion of justice,” the perils of a band that can’t sell, a strange girl with a telling stare that sees all; Fish Story is certainly memorable, for better or for worse.

The Great Saiyaman?

Now, I couldn’t help but notice in the (opening?) credits that this film is based on a novel (like 90% of films, I know). With that in mind, these weaving timelines and their lingering connection to one another would probably work better in that format. Not to say it was a complete mess here, but a lot of scenes simply ended just as it was picking up steam.

My personal favorite section dealt with the band at the core of this entire story, Gekirin. A punk rock band established almost in sync with The Sex Pistols, their music doesn’t connect with people—they were ahead of their time, so they say. The dilemma of dealing with the fact that they’ll never be big, despite being provided a chance, is something that was appealing to see unfold. And yet, it didn’t delve that far into what it could’ve. I’m almost tempted to read the novel somehow to see if it goes any deeper. Nevertheless, that is an issue each section of the film deals with; first-time viewers will likely feel slighted throughout.

In terms of performances, given I’m unfamiliar with basically everyone, it’s hard to gauge who did as well as expected and who didn’t. Going at this blind, I believe a fair number of actors did as well of a job as they could given the nature of the script. Again, the timeline concerning the band was probably among my favorite bunch. They weren’t all stellar, but it provided the most opportunity to branch out into serious, almost uplifting territory.

Thanks, you too!

An appreciable aspect to having this band be the core of the story is that it gets an ample amount of mystery and intrigue to them, given just about every timeline references them to some extent. Thus, when it finally comes time to present the band’s struggles in their time, it feels more satisfying to get the truth of things, and the bizarre circumstances that surround their single “hit.” That’s most of why I enjoyed that section. All this other stuff about meteors and chance meetings and all that… mostly set dressing. I get it’s in theme with the “heart” of Gekirin’s song and how it inspires people and yadda yadda… didn’t hit home for me as effectively.

As much as it may seem like I’m being an apathetic stooge, I did like the way it tried to present something in a complex, heartfelt way. It just didn’t stick the landing as well as I believed it could. There are some good scenes here and there, and enough of a memorable narrative structure to give it some emphasized appeal. If the synopsis/summary at the very beginning of the review appealed to you, I’d recommend you give it a shot. It’s goofy and mildly alienating, but it’s generally fun at the very least.

Final Score: 6.5/10

The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.

For more, check out the March of the Movies Archive!

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