A film about the love affair between an anthropomorphized goldfish (Fumi Nikaidô) and an aging writer (Ren Ôshugi), Gakuryû Ishii’s Bitter Honey is less surprising for its whimsical premise than it is for its not infrequent excursions into dour melodrama. What appears at first to be a supernatural sex comedy soon involves the ghosts of the old man’s past lovers and friends and shifts its focus towards the heavy subject of death. His demise soon approaching, the old writer struggles to produce quality work or even control the women he has functionally created, as both Akako the goldfish and the ghost (Yôko Maki) are more or less fictions the old man has constructed. Yet the film’s interest in skewering the writer’s masculinist ideation of women so often feels at odds with the sex, comedy, and goldfish fetishism that fill out its runtime. Although Nikaidô once again proves more than capable of handling massive tonal shifts as an actress, and is as fun to watch confronting Ren Oshugi as she is detailing her desire to be swallowed, the unfocused Bitter Honey vacillates too loosely between pervert comedy and death-obsessed melodrama. The ending, then, functions as the film in miniature: a cruel twist of fate that’s undercut by an unearned moment of bliss.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2016 | Dispatch 1.