Dead Fishes is an atmospheric, if somewhat narratively flawed, look at the residents of a Tokyo commuter suburb.
Newcomer Shun Miyata moves to the suburb and takes up a job at a bento restaurant run by a woman named Yuriko. There, he becomes close with another co-worker named Yuka. Shun, who is around 20, has moved to the Tokyo area not solely to work in a restaurant, but rather to pursue his dreams as a writer
As it turns out, the seemingly idyllic suburb these characters live in holds a dark secret. Yuriko is having an affair with Saeki, the head of the neighborhood market association. Moreover, Yuriko and Saeki are involved in a plot to poison the neighborhood’s elderly residents in return for insurance money. This includes, as it were, Yuriko’s husband Kenji.
The plot of Dead Fishes strikes two registers between its two subplots–the first of everyday bento restaurant operations, the second of the murder plot—before they eventually collide. Yuka and Shun gradually become a couple, sharing a sense of disenchantment with those around them: the adults who seem to think of nothing but money or fellow peers, who themselves seem shallow and not so different from the adults. However, it is not long before the two stumble across Yuriko and Saeki’s murder plot.
Dead Fishes excels primarily as a character study of Yuka and Shun, particularly after they discover the murder plan. Instead of driving the pair to, say, seek justice, the murder plot simply reinforces their sense of disgust with those around them.
By contrast, Yuriko and Saeki do not fare as well. Despite a particularly commanding performance by the actor who plays Saeki, the two prove somewhat cartoonish. It’s not clear to the audience what drives them to commit violent crimes–the movie suggests they are driven by “adult” passions, rather than simple greed, but this concept remains ill-defined.
In this sense, the juxtaposition between “adults” and “children” in Dead Fishes feels somewhat overwrought. A more nuanced film would have had a less distinct border between “children” and “adults”, to show how the former grows into the latter, or how adults can themselves have understandable motivations.
This narrative flaw undercuts the movie. Nevertheless, Dead Fishes has strong merits, for instance with its evocative depiction of Tokyo. The film’s setting is a commuter suburb of the metropolis, and provides a glimpse of a slower pace of life nestled within the otherwise bustling city, particularly with regard to the small shops, businesses, and local market associations that serve as linchpins of everyday life. Likewise, the clear chemistry between Yuka and Shun manages to drive much of the film. Even if imperfect, Dead Fishes still has its charms.
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Dead Fishes (Japanese: 僕らはみーんな生きている)—Japan. Dialog in Japanese. Directed by Tomoaki Kaneko. First released December 17, 2023. Running time 1hr 54min. Starring Yutarou, Noa Tsurushima, Maki Kuwahara, Mr Chin, Hiroyuki Watanabe, Kazuhiko Nishimura, Akiko Nishina.