Fish Story -- Film Review

Bottom Line: Light entertainment that will thrill J-pop lovers.

HONG KONG -- The Japanese take music very seriously, and so it's no surprise to find it at the heart of another fluffy, genre-bending film about fate, the transcendent power of music and our profound, if unwitting, connections to each other.

Based on Isaka Kotaro's novel, "Fish Story," with its stellar cast of young stars, will no doubt achieve moderate theatrical release in Asia and fit nicely at niche festivals abroad. Foreign release is a long shot, but the film is glossy enough for limited release in urban markets where Japanese pop culture is still hip.

The movie begins in 2012 at a record shop, where the store's owner plays the song "Fish Story" for a customer and explains its history. It was supposed to give cutting-edge punk band Gekirin (they predated the Sex Pistols) its shot at glory back in 1975. That never happened.

While they chat, Taniguchi (Ishimaru Kenjiro) stumbles in and points out that a comet is about to strike the planet. The fate of the world is rather intricately linked to the 40-year-old song, and in a complex series of flashbacks we find out why. The major players are Taniguchi; the song's producer Okazaki (Omori Nao); Gekirin's singer Goro (Kora Kengo) and songwriter Shigeki (Ito Atsushi); schoolgirl Asami (Tabe Mikako); shrinking violet Masafumi (Hamada Gaku); and a martial arts master/baker (Moriyama Mirai) who's also the Champion of Justice.

To say the temporal manipulations are jarring is an understatement (there are five distinct "eras" where the action unfolds), but director Nakamura Yoshihiro handles the shifting time frames and multiple characters with ease and keeps things appropriately understandable and mysterious. The film has a bright, shiny color palette with an unfussy camera that doesn't distract from the complicated story, a wise move under the circumstances.

"Fish Story" does lag at times and could stand trimming; the film's final connective sequence is superfluous for those who had been paying attention. But for the majority of the time, the film engages, usually by stoking curiosity. The heavy acting duties are left to Nao ("Vibrator"), and if there's a weak link it is Mikako in a blessedly small role (she mostly cries, badly, and gazes admiringly at Moriyama). Atsushi and Kengo are strong as the Vicious and Rotten of Japan, and though clearly not rock stars, they're convincing enough to carry their share of the film.

By the end of it all, you will be humming the titular song (by Saito Kazuyoshi) whether you want to or not.

Production companies: Dub, Amuse Soft Entertainment.

Cast: Ito Atsushi, Kora Kengo, Omori Nao, Hamada Gaku, Tabe Mikako, Moriyama Mirai, Ishimaru Kenjiro.
Director: Nakamura Yoshihiro.
Screenwriter: Hayashi Tamio, based on the novel by Isaka Kotaro.
Producer: Endo Hitoshi, Utagawa Yasushi.
Director of Photography: Komatsu Takashi.
Production Designer: Nakamae Tomoharu.
Music: Kikuchi Yukio.
Costume designer: Kobayashi Miwako.
Sales: CJ Entertainment.
No rating, 108 minutes