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Oboreru Sakana (Tsutsumi Yukihiko 2000)


Oboreru Sakana
[Drowning Fish]

Genre: Ultra-Hip Crime Thriller

review in one breath

When corporate executives are blackmailed into public displays of nudity on the busy streets of Shinjuku, the big guns are called out to locate "Oboreru Sakana". The "big guns" are a misfit duo of ethically questionable characters who must infiltrate a gay nightclub and "fit in" while they search for clues. What ensues is both hilarious and action-packed.


Oboreru Sakana is a 2000 film directed by Tsutsumi Yukihiko. Although hardly a household name, Tsutsumi has directed several films which j-fans should be aware of. These include Kindaichi no Jikembo, the Black Jack Trilogy (2000-2001) and Toire no Hanako-san: Shin Sei (1998). Oboreru Sakana follows on the heels of Beautiful Dreamer, a highly successful TV crime drama which resulted in theatrical releases.

Tsutsumi's earliest work in Kindaichi no Jikembo evidenced a real directorial skill of combining complex plots with entertaining, pop-icon-filled characters. Oboreru Sakana is in many ways a polished progression of Tsutsumi's earlier work. Oboreru's cast pulls in several impressively big names including Shishido Jo (!), Ken Watanabe ("Last Samurai"), Kubozuka Yousuke (of Makai Tensho and Kyouki no Sakura), Nakayama Yukie (she played Sadako in Ringu 0: Birthday), Ibu Masato (of Hakuchi and Gohatto), and many others.

Oboreru Sakana is a rather ambitious and often hilarious contemporary crime thriller. Its narrative swings from the grisly to the humorous and pulls in as many pop culture elements as it can manage. Several of the film's lead characters are depicted as homosexual or "new half" and much of the storyline takes place in a trendy night club in the heart of Shinjuku where all manner of bizarrities are witnessed. The movie's soundtrack is very good with tunes ranging from hip-hop to rock and roll, many of which are played live from the stage of the nightclub by various bands.

Director Tsutsumi seems to have taken a great amount of care in drawing a rather complex, multi-layered crime drama populated with a wide assortment of very interesting characters. This is not a film simply painted in large strokes. Instead, every inch of the canvas seems to include some different and entertaining detail. This results in a rather fast-paced, completely entertaining experience both visually and narratively.


The monolithic DAITO corporation is receiving increasingly humiliating demands from a well-positioned black-mailer called "Oboreru Sakana". The strangely constructed e-mails from Oboreru Sakana always demand that the lofty executives of the DAITO corporation undergo a socially humiliating scenario inevitably involving their nudity. One top executive is required to streak down the busy thoroughfares of Shinjuku at high noon. Other executives are forced to rehearse and then perform a rendition of the pop song "Summer Bride" by Morning Musume. This involves the three chubby execs wearing bizarre dresses while singing and dancing to the tune on a busy street corner. Their audience is in for a big finale as the three end their performance by ripping off their dresses and finishing the dance in the nude. (!!)

Needless to say, the DAITO board of directors is seeking every means possible to track down Oboreru Sakana and do away with him. This, however, they must do in secret to avoid potentially damaging media coverage of the corporation's vulnerability and weakness. They hire Ishimaki (Ibu Masato) a hitman in debt up to his eyeballs with the yakuza to locate and deal with Oboreru. All trails lead to a trendy Shinjuku nightclub where Ishimaki lurks to gather more information.

Meanwhile, a rather secretive branch of the Tokyo Police force is already aware of the blackmail and has initiated an investigation using "recruits". In order not to blemish their own hands in this, the Secret Police force the participation of two criminals. Shirosu (Shiina Kippei) is a rough and tumble, yet persistently corrupt cop whose cunning and street-wise ways are tapped into for this project. Munetaka (Kubozaka Yousuke) is a transvestite whose skill with disguises (all women's wear) and knowledge of the homosexual community will come in handy for where they're headed, the trendy Shinjuku nightclub. This rather hilarious odd-couple team is then sent out to infiltrate the nightclub's Gay culture, a task which requires some very funny situations.

The owner of the club is Tetsu (IZAM). From the opening moments of film we are privy to the fact that at a very early age Tetsu witnessed the slaughter of his family by a mysterious man. Standing before a massive tank containing Tetsu's large fish the killer asks the child whether he has ever seen a drowning fish and then proceeds to pour poison into the tank. Now grown, Tetsu has become a successful yet highly enigmatic artist who lives in an expansive loft above the club he owns. He has had disputes with the DAITO corporation in the past and is the likely suspect behind the blackmail.

When DAITO receives a new demand from Oboreru Sakana, this time requiring a massive amount of money, a truly chaotic showdown ensues. When the dust settles and few survivors remain standing, the true identity of Oboreru is revealed, which in turn initiates another vicious battle to the end.


This was definitely fun and entertaining and can be easily recommended. The movie really goes out if its way to be funny and succeeds. Some of the more memorable scenes involve the cameo appearance of (yakuza demigod) Shishido Jo demonstrating almost supernatural skills with a gun, and our odd-couple's ad-hoc song and dance number during the club's "Gay Night Open Mic", a performance which thoroughly (and unintentionally) endears them in the hearts of the many half-naked men in leather chaps swooning in the audience over Shirosu's machismo (and tiny cowboy outfit!). This film successfully pulls off a well-constructed crime thriller in a very comedic and satisfying package.

Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
There is some big talent here, including a cameo by Shishido Jo. Rather gruesome shots of a slaughtered family. Plenty of gun violence (Jo nails three with one ricocheting shot!). Several shots through foreheads. Some homoerotic scenes involving an ice cube and honey. This is actually a very good crime thriller/comedy hybrid, sustained by an entertaining plot and an excellent cast.

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