The story of my solitude
if my solitude were a fish
it would be so militant
a whale would fear it
Listen to this song, it’s an important song. It was recorded in 1975 by a Japanese band, punk avant la lettre, one year before the Sex Pistols were formed. The band wasn’t successful and the song is only available on the first vinyl pressing, but it is this song that will save us all in 2012. This song, “Fish Story”, will be the reason why a comet won’t hit our planet. Not bad for a song by an unsuccessful punk band, a song that’s remarkable because in the middle of the track there’s suddenly a long pause.
This is the story of Fish Story (or Fisshu sutôrî), the latest film by Yoshihiro Nakamura which was recently shown at the BIFFF. It’s hard to talk about the film, without spoiling your pleasure, but I’ll have a go anyway. The film starts in 2012 and the streets are abandoned. Well, almost abandoned… there’s an older man in an electric wheelchair and he’s riding around the town. All of a sudden he spots a record store that isn’t closed. In fact, there’s even a customer who is quite happy he’s learned to know the Sex Pistols cover of “My Way” (listen to it here). The guy behind the counter alerts the customer to a rare vinyl album, made by Japanese band Gekirin in 1975: a punk album one year before punk was launched. The customer is amazed, but the old man isn’t: how come these two people aren’t afraid? The answer is simple: they hadn’t heard the news that this was the day a comet would hit the earth, the day Japan would perish in a tidal wave. The news scares the guys, much to the amusement of the older man, who doesn’t understand why the record store guy has the idiotic notion that music will help soothe the pain.
But it’s not idiotic, as Fish Story will prove. Hovering between 1946 and 2012, the film tells the story of a handful of people: the three guys in the record store, an unsuccessful band, a virtually bankrupt publisher of literature, the tv show Go Rangers (granted, it’s only a cameo, but it pops up in the film a couple of times), a girl who falls asleep on a ferry and who’s forced to stay on the ferry until the next stop, the young waiter who tries to console her and who always wanted to be a ‘champion of justice’ and the ridiculed driver of two men who collect ghost records (songs which may be haunted). These stories may or may not be connected but these people (or people they meet) are all a cog in a giant machine, cogs that’ll help one song to save the world.
Fish Story doesn’t offer you something you haven’t seen before: there are a lot of movies where the characters’ fates are part of a bigger story, but it’s a sort of film that isn’t easy to make. Either the story is so thin the viewer is able to predict the final after twenty minutes or it’s so complicated people will either lose track and switch off or will stop caring. One director who’s keen to make such films is Atom Egoyan and sometimes it has helped him to make brilliant films (Family Viewing, Exotica, …). The trick is – and I know it’s easier to describe than to make such a film – to tell the story bit by bit, just enough to draw the lines, but not enough to see the entire picture. Yoshihiro Nakamura has found a brilliant trick: not all of the stories are told until the end. What comes later will only be shown at the end of the story, when we see which story lines helped to save the world. (I had a long thought about this part of the review: whether or not it would spoil the film, but I don’t think it does: you know that you’re watching story lines and that somehow these stories must be connected. The only thing you don’t know is how they’re connected and that’s something I won’t tell you. So no spoilers here.)
Fish Story is not a perfect film, but it’s the sort of film you’ll love more than flawlessly made films. All of the stories tackle the subject of despair in one way or another, a bit like the beginning of the song “Fish Story”: if my solitude were a fish, it would be so militant a whale would fear it. This film may not be perfect, but it’s militant. Fear it.