This is where I would like to go again trumpeting Japanese film and its source of inspirational film making. Among the Japanese New Wave” begun some four and half decades ago, directors like Shohei Imamura; Susuma Hani; Seijun Suzuki; Hiroshi Teshigahara and Nagasai Oshima make a strong impression in the global cinema platform.
Extraordinary and deserving- Imamura other films like ‘The ballad of Narayama (1983)’ had won the top honors at the Palme d’Or, Cannes and accolades worldwide, one of the best I say in last thirty years and who can forget the soul-shaking Narayami bushi-ko’s character. Similarly in ‘The Eel’, we have comic role of Unagi’s character, reels us to laughter in between the serious turn of this film. The perennial iconoclast Shohei Imamura’s dark comic tale about love, redemption, and a man’s beloved pet eel, takes us to the new high. The film is loosely based on the novel “On Parole” by celebrated author Akira Yoshimura, combined with elements from the director’s 1966 film ‘The Pornographers’. It shared the Palme d’Or at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival with ‘Taste of Cherry’.
The film opens with Takuro Yamashita (Koji Yakusho) living in a small town and an apparent white collared salary man. Just when returning from his work, he gets an anonymous call. Acting on the advice of an unsigned note, Takuro Yamashita (Koji Yakusho) returns home early one night to find his wife in bed with another man. When he catches the couple in the middle of sexual activity, Yamashita attacks the couple with a kitchen knife. Consumed by blind rage, and savagely stabs them to death. Soon after he calmly rides his bike to the local police station and surrenders himself in.
Imprisoned for eight years, he adopts as his pet an eel, which becomes his confidant. Yamashita is released on parole into the care of a Buddhist priest living in rural Chiba prefecture. Far away from his former life, yet still plagued with memories of his crime, Yamashita decides to start anew by opening a barbershop on a quiet road next to a canal. Though inward looking and self-conscious, he eventually befriends a overbearing but good-hearted day laborer. His most fateful encounter though is with a woman named Keiko (Misa Shimizu), who he discovers unconscious following a suicide attempt. Looking to put a few of her own demons to bed, Keiko decides to stay in this sleepy corner of Japan and help her savior with his barbershop. Initially against the idea — she bears a striking resemblance to his dead spouse — he eventually agrees and even grows to like having her around.
We get to watch the film into an isolation of a person, in his loneliness and the other characters revolve around is extremely subtle and the viewer are left to surmise many undercurrent emotions and in one of the scene Shohei speaks to his pet eel, can be the incarnation of his dead wife. I often felt that Shohei was constantly troubled by his past, which as a fit of his rage could also be judged anything as crime of passion.
Though the film’s tense and dark- Imamura modulates the film’s tone to the lightness, preparing us for the film’s comic resolution. Curiously, delightfully, the harbinger of this is a secondary character, a young man who befriends Takuro; then you have the mobster’s benign double, he is genially obsessed with UFOs and has constructed in their remote outpost an elaborate display to attract aliens, who are, he is convinced, on their way. When the mobster is about to savage Keiko and Takuro at the shop, the young man is flexible enough to realize that the aliens—the mobster and his henchmen—have landed, and they’re not friendly; so he rushes off to bring back help. The result: a barbershop frenzy out of the Keystone Kops. Pregnant by the mobster, Keiko is spared further involvement with him when Takuro declares himself the father. Before Takuro is carted back to prison for violating parole, Keiko, at last optimistic about the future, tells him she will wait for him.
Director Imamura takes us through the marginalized people in Japanese society. Far from the affluent class, we get to see the characters such as the insane, the day laborer, the boatman, the poor, the mob, and of course the guilty. He once again draws the parallel between our own supposed civilized world and that of the animal world, this time personified by Yamashita’s sinuous (and strangely phallic) pet eel. In the Imamura universe moral judgment is suspended in favor of clearly depicting the messy lives of us and how we can easily stumble two steps to the right and achieve the best things around us. Besides how the providence and wrath can easily stumble our lives into couple steps sideways, wherein the devil in us in the transition can take our profound guilt, disgrace as a lifelong phenomenon and is there a degree of redemption can complete one’s life, so that’s enough to walk down the path being an human
The Eel has an apparent, unintentional and spontaneous visual facet. The characters are easily identified in any class of the society, and vividly so, the director deals with the repression of emotions, so that so, it takes on all the characters include the diverse lot of acquaintances who hang around his new barber shop, to express themselves openly. . Imamura’s film is enticingly elusive, both in style and substance. Imamura’s comedy of life becomes an adventure of discovery and an antidote to the contrived nonsense that too often passes for cinema. I found it to be very enjoyable and quite memorable film.
- Directed by Shohei Imamura
- Produced by Hiso Ino
- Written by Shohei Imamura, Daisuke Tengan, Motofumi Tomikawa and Akira Yoshimura
- Casting: Kōji Yakusho and Misa Shimizu
- Music by Shinichirô Ikebe
- Cinematography: Shigeru Komatsubara
- Edited by: Hajime Okayasu
- Distributed by Shochiku (Japan); Mongrel Media (North America)
- Release date: 12 May 1997(premiered at Cannes)
- Run time of 117 minutes
- Country: Japan
- Language: Japanese