"This is a film about human sexuality. It is not pleasant. Takuro Yamashita, played very effectively by Koji Yakusho, gets an anonymous letter telling him that his young, pretty wife is entertaining another man while he is out fishing at night, this after she lovingly prepares and packs his supper. He goes fishing but returns home early in time to catch them in medias res. In a cold rage he knifes his wife to death. He bicycles to the police station and turns himself in. Eight years later he gets out of prison. This is where our story begins.Yamashita, now embittered toward others, and especially women, is on parole. He sets up a barber shop in a small town. He keeps a pet eel because he feels that the eel "listens" to him when he talks. One day he discovers a woman (Keiko Hattari, played by the beautiful Misa Shimizu) in some nearby bushes who has taken an overdose in a suicide attempt. He brings help and she is saved. She then enters his life as his assistant. Her presence challenges the emotional isolation he is seeking and forces him to face not only his future but his past. The eel itself (a wet "snake") symbolizes sexuality. When this sexuality is confined it is under control. When it is let loose it is dark and deep and mysterious. Director Shohei Imamura's technique is plodding at times, and striking at others. His women are aggressive sexually even though, in the Japanese "princess" style, they may look younger than spring time. His men can be brutal. Their emotions, confined by society as the eel is confined by its tank, sometimes burst out violently.For many viewers the pace of this film will be too slow, and for others the sexuality depicted will offend. For myself and others who are accustomed to seeing the faces of the players in long close ups on TV and in Western movies, Imamura's medium shots and disinclination to linger on the countenances of his actors will disappoint. Yakusho's face suggests the very depth and mystery that Imamura is aiming at, yet I don't think the camera lingers there enough. Also disappointing is how little we really see of Misa Shimizu's expressions. Chiho Terada, who plays the murdered wife, is also very pretty and completely convincing, but we see little of her. Her expression just before dying, a combination of shamelessness and resignation, funereal acceptance even, was unforgettable.This is very much worth seeing, but expect to be irritated by the how slowly it unravels and by the central character's stubborn refusal to forgive both himself and his late wife, and his inability to embrace the life that is now his."
A film with a rare kind of integrity.
50cent-haircut | 08/01/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Shohei Imamura returns in fine form with "Unagi" (Japanese word for 'eel'). There are certainly noir-ish themes explored in this film. There's a protagonist in a lonely, secluded state of existence who must face life with staunch stoicism, there are shots where exaggerated emphasis on color depicts the emotional content of the scene/character, dream/surreal sequences, a crime from which everything unfurls, etc... However, to view the film only as an homage to certain noir films is a grave disservice to Imamura's originality and craftsmanship. The characters and storyline are rendered without a trace of sentimentality, which is a feat given that the familiar story matter invites kitsch: a man catches and kills his adulterous wife, receives parole and begins a new life. It just makes me shudder to think what kind of cornball Hollywood would have come up with, given the same subject matter. Koji Yakusho gives another fine performance as a confounded man who does not know the true nature of his crime, who nonetheless craves a new beginning, no matter how uncomfortable he is with all the things in the world. The male and female protagonists are fantastically flawed people, and that's the way most people (us) are, aren't we? There should be more films like this: portraying the worst and redeeming qualities of people with unflinching honesty. Imamura's honesty pays off handsomely when there seems to be a hint of redemption for these fallen people. It is genuinely moving, and the redemption is a believable one, the kind that all of us wish for ourselves when we are down on our knees. All the emotions - sexuality, voyeuristic tendencies, inferiority complex, fear, etc- are so accurately conveyed and palpably summoned up that you begin to muse about the shadows that lurk within yourself."
IGNORE P. WU'S REVIEW
John Farr | 03/13/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"According to P. Wu, "The Eel" is a "male-dominant movie" because:
1. The guy gets only 8 years for murdering his wife. (Maybe that's the way it is in Japan. What's unrealistic about that???)
2. He was "mean" because he was "unsociable" and "mean" for rejecting the lunches that a woman made for him.
Then P. Wu says, "All he had to do was dish out some kindness once in a while, and the girl was hooked. Men's fantansy if you ask me."
What P. Wu FAILS to mention is that the reason the man murdered his wife is because she was cheating on him. Plus, the reason he is "unsociable" and "mean" to the woman who makes lunches for him is because SHE LOOKS LIKE HIS LATE WIFE WHO CHEATED ON HIM.
I'm pretty sure if your spouse was cheating on you, you would behave in a "unsociable" and "mean or unpleasant" way to a woman who looked like your wife. And that goes for if the gender roles were reversed. I'm sure a woman would behave the same way to a nice guy if he looked like her unfaithful husband.
P. Wu, if you're going to write a review--AT LEAST TELL THE WHOLE STORY. Not just what you want to manipulate the readers to think.
Aside from all that, "The Eel" is an excellent movie on betrayal, redemption and forgiveness. In many ways it reminded me of "Crime and Punishment." I highly recommend it. Incidentally, "The Eel" co-won the Best Picture award at the Cannes Film Festival. I'm pretty sure the Grand Jury didn't find "The Eel" to be a sexist film that Pet8 would want you to think."
2nd REVISED REVIEW: Guilt and Redemption
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 05/18/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Guilt and Redemption are the pervasive themes of this quirky, disturbing, very fine film from Shohei Imamura. The consequences of the instantaneous loss of control molds this story in the way such life happenstances unfold - slowly - and Imamura knows how to take us with him in this strange tale, pausing here and there for the surreal, dreamlike sequences that can and do alter our perceptions of reality.
Takuro Yamashita (Kôji Yakusho) is a quietly married blue-collar worker who spends some evenings fishing for sport and food, his passive wife Emiko (Chiho Terada) sending him off with boxed lunches. Takuro receives an anonymous letter that states his wife is having an affair while he slips away to fish. Incredulous, Takuro returns early from his nocturnal fishing to find his wife engaged in flagrante and Takuro stabs her to death, then bicycles to the police station and turns himself in for the murder of Emiko. He is imprisoned for eight years and conforms to the rigid life of the incarcerated, his only companion is a pet eel with whom he feels he can communicate.
Here the film's story begins. Upon release from prison, Takuro is placed under the supervision of a kindly priest who helps him start a barbershop, living a quiet secluded life, his only friends being his pet eel and a strange character who has set up a field station to attract friendly aliens from outer space! All is calm until he encounters the disturbed Keiko (Misa Shimizu) who closely resembles his murdered wife. Takuro saves Keiko from a suicide attempt and the priest encourages him to take on Keiko as an assistant.
Takuro is emotionally dead over his guilt for the murder of his wife and refuses to entertain the idea of opening himself to Keiko's affectionate advances. There are too many similarities between the dead Emiko and the frightened Keiko. Yet when all of the forces collide in the climax of the film, Takuro realizes how much of his past is mixed with fantasy/nightmare and, equally, how much his present is dependent on his interaction with Keiko, the priest, his sci-fi friend and the forces who would destroy Keiko and his quiet existence. Though the ending is somewhat marred by an unfortunately Keystone Kops type silly sequence, it suggests that the cracks in Takuro's mental armor may be healed as the possibility for redemption unfolds in a tender way.
There are many levels of interpretation to this fable and to explore each of them would rob the first-time viewer of this little film of the pleasure of the chess game Imamura sets for us. The acting is solid, the night scenes are lovely, and the day scenes are as visually chaotic as the real world in which we live. There could be improvements in the editing, definitely in the musical score and in the camera work. But those are minor blemishes in this film that engages the mind in the challenge of entering a new mode of thought. A strange little film, this, and not for everyone. Grady Harp, May 05 "
John Farr | 07/17/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Though Imamura's engaging psychodrama of regret and sexual repression opens on an overheated and violent act, it soon cools to a slow burn, as the friendship between two troubled people blossoms tenuously before taking an unexpected turn. Yakusho, an expert at playing stone-faced, emotionally distant protagonists, is both sympathetic and impossible to fathom. Poising the action between icy restraint and simmering catharsis, Imamura--who indulges himself in a couple of surreal vignettes--makes his "Eel" a reflecting pool for modern malaise."