Happenstance, predestination, mishaps, mistakes, premonitions, paranormal record collectors, an earthbound comet and a fateful proto-punk record are just a few elements of Yoshihiro Nakamura’s utterly charming Fish Story. Made up of a series of seemingly disparate, but ultimately interconnected stories, the film explains how music can save the world in the most unexpected of ways.
It opens on a scene of seemingly apocalyptic desolation - empty carrier bags nestle in abandoned doorways, the streets are empty; and, framed by crisscrossing power lines, a mysterious comet hovers menacingly in the sky. A man on a mobility scooter enters this eerie picture, cancer riddling his bones and cynical vitriol in his heart. After carefully toppling over a row of stationary bicycles he enters Coconut Records, open for business despite the imminent arrival of the life-destroying comet, and sets about making the two men in the shop as miserable as he can. Unfazed by this hostility, the chilled-out owner puts a rattling rock tune on the turntable and declares: ‘This song will save the day’. The song is ‘Fish Story’, and it becomes the soundtrack for Nakamura’s series of beautifully shot short stories.
First up is the tale of a timorous college student, played with a beguiling timidity by Gaku Hamada, who learns to overcome his fear after a student with sixth sense and an 80s pleated skirt counsels him to stand up for himself. Bullied by his belligerent friend and terrified by cursed mixtapes and the odd one-minute silence in the recording of ‘Fish Story’, he nonetheless attempts to muster some courage when it matters.
The film jumps forward to 1999, to a doomsday cult awaiting the end of the world in accordance with Nostradamus’s prophecies, as a cult leader and two acolytes promise to save the chosen few. Things don’t quite go according to plan, and the story moves on to the bit of the puzzle that takes place in 2009, on a ferry that is about to be hijacked. We are introduced to Asami (Mikako Tabe), a gifted schoolgirl who’s missed her stop and is stuck on the boat, and goofily affable waiter Mirai Moriyama, a self-described ‘Champion of Justice’ who has spent his whole life training for a moment of truth. Zen meditation, press-ups, and a cheeky send-up of the Karate Kid’s induction into martial arts allow Moriyama to shine when men with guns take over the boat in a beautifully choreographed fight scene. There are hints, clues and red herrings as to what might happen next, but Nakamura changes the scene again and heads back in time to the 1970s where punk band Gekirin (Wrath), described by their record company as ‘talentless losers’, record ‘Fish Story’, the song that is, somehow, destined to save the world, despite its inauspicious beginnings.
It’s a brilliantly crafted piece of storytelling, and each chapter could survive independently, but Nakamura revels in the idea that seemingly random events are intertwined, resonating down the years, until they culminate in a moment freighted with meaning. Funny, melancholy, hopefully, helplessly optimistic, deliciously absurd, Fish Story is a quirky gem of a movie.