I went into Fish Story not knowing anything about it; in fact, I had never even heard of it prior to its selection for my Potluck Film Fest. Collecting the little bits of data — poster, links, and trailer — as I do for all of the movies before I watch them, added almost no information beyond the apparent involvement of a punk band. I had no idea what to expect, and if there's one thing that I've learned from watching selections from the last three decades of Japanese cinema, it's that I never know what to expect. Japanese filmmakers — or, at least, the ones who have come to my attention — seem to be a wholly unpredictable bunch working from an odd muse that consistently defies genre and formula.
Fish Story begins in 2012 (the near-future), with the Japanese facing their imminent destruction from a slowly encroaching Earthbound comet, and then its narrative bounces back and forth between tangentially related quirky stories from five other time periods, with the key binding element a sense of failure: an obscure proto-punk band records their last track for a doomed album on a hostile label; a timid cab driver allows himself to be pushed around by jerks despite encouragement from a pretty and possibly psychic girl; a schoolgirl's inopportune nap puts her in the middle of a battle between ferry hijackers and an inexperienced hero; a doomsday cult deals with an unfulfilled prophecy; and a man's deceitful desperation to provide for his family results in an unmarketable product. Like the lighter fare from cult filmmakers Shion Sono and Takashi Miike, Fish Story takes on an unwieldy series of events with iconoclastic and unpredictable zeal. Based upon a novel by Kotaro Isaka, the plot broadly flirts with absurdity and mysticism but never feels arch, disingenuous or cynically "weird." While director Yoshihiro Nakamura lacks the bold visual flair of his more extreme peers, he keeps the pace flowing gently and manages a consistent tone that is both appealing and amusing, despite withholding the story's key connections until the climax.
Toward the end, Fish Story focuses for its longest spell on the struggling punk band, and this comparatively prosaic chapter retreads a few too-familiar band movie tropes, creating a suspicion that, perhaps, the movie's final act may underwhelmingly balk at paying off its early promise; but, Nakamura ties it together with surprising heart, creating a poignant tribute to the enduring value of sincere efforts, whatever their apparent immediate success.
Fish Story was brought to my Potluck Film Fest by Flickcharter Nick Dallas. He ranks it on his Flickchart at #349 / 2181 (84%), putting it at #4 out of 71 Foreign Language Movies of the 2000s on his Flickchart. Fish Story ranked on my overall chart at #1351 (66%), where it's my 63rd favorite out of 161 Foreign Language Movies of the 2000s.