A playful Japanese sci-fi shaggy-dog story.

Music has charms to save planet Earth in “Fish Story,” a playful Japanese sci-fi shaggy-dog story. Low-budgeter is set across multiple time periods, which, thanks to near-zero production values, look almost identical, but a strong concept, a rocking main tune and an amusing middle act are all solid bait. Pic tanked on March local release, perhaps indirectly due to the PR overload for big-budget punk-rock laffer “The Shonen Merikensack” though “Fish” is more upscale in its material. Pic could have remake potential for an ambitious producer.

Yarn begins in 2012, with an unnamed man (vet Kenjiro Ishimaru) riding in a wheelchair (equipped with a colostomy bag) through Tokyo’s deserted, garbage-strewn streets. After noting a slowly approaching meteorite, the man enters a record store and chastises the proprietor (Nao Omori, “Vibrator”) and his only customer for listening to trivial music as the world ends: The store manager is trying to turn his customer on to the forgotten band Gekirin, which pre-punked the Sex Pistols with a seminal song called “Fish Story.”

Next sequence jumps back to 1982. Mild-mannered Masaru (Dakaku Hama) is driving around two boorish friends who are hoping to pick up girls. Their conversation turns to music, specifically the aforementioned cult song, which contains a strange silence that is allegedly cursed.

Leapfrogging between frames and tenuously connected events, the script has as its center the 1975 formation of Gekirin and its struggle with a conservative record company. But it’s a 2007-set scene on a ferry boat that hilariously resonates: En route to the northern island of Hokkaido, a martial arts-adept waiter (Mirai Moriyama) rescues passengers from hijackers. The episode appears to be completely unconnected with the narrative, but, as it moves from wry and dry to laugh-out-loud funny, one almost doesn’t mind.

The final reel puts the movie’s events in chronological order and fills in missing details along the way, delightfully making sense of the whole thing.

The audacious script by Tamio Hayashi (who wrote helmer Yoshihiro Nakamura’s previous film, “Route 225″) revels in its literary, episodic nature and makes no concessions to conventional screenwriting wisdom. Nakamura’s direction is functional, only sparingly adorned with stylish flourishes.

Performances are variable. Kora Kengo (“The Summer of Stickleback”) impresses as Gekirin vocalist Goro, but Moriyama (“One Million Yen and the Nigamushi Woman”) delivers the film’s outstanding perf as the ferry waiter, who singlehandedly tackles armed terrorists without dropping a plate.

Musical purists will balk at the idea that Gekirin is made up of legendary musicians or even punks. Still, the oft-repeated title song makes for comfortable listening. Lensing is washed-out, in typical Japanese indie style.

Fish Story

Japan

Production

A Fish Story Film Partners presentation of a Smoke & Dub production. (International sales: CJ Entertainment, Seoul.) Produced by Hitoshi Endo, Yasushi Utagawa. Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura. Screenplay, Tamio Hayashi, based on a story by Kotaro Isaka.

Crew

Camera (color), Takashi Komatsu; editor, Ohata Eisuke; music, Tsugihiko Sasaki; production designer, Tomoharu Nakamae; sound (DTS Stereo), Yasuo Takano. Reviewed at Hong Kong Filmart, March 25, 2009. Running time: 108 MIN.

With

Atsushi Ito, Kora Kengo, Mikako Tabe, Dakaku Hama, Mirai Moriyama, Kenjiro Ishimaru, Nao Omori.

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