Archive for June 18th, 2012

The Eel (1997)

White-collar worker Takuro Yamashita finds out that his wife has a lover visiting her when he’s away fishing at night. He returns home early from a fishing trip one evening and discovers his wife and her lover in bed. In his rage he stabs her to death with a butcher’s knife. Yamashita turns himself in to the police. After eight years in prison, he returns to live in a small village on parole, opens a barber shop (he was trained as a barber in prison) and talks almost to no-one except for the eel he “befriended” in prison. He feels the eel listens to him when he talks. One day he finds the unconscious body of Keiko, who attempted suicide and reminds him of his wife. She starts to work at his shop, but he doesn’t let her become close to him. She starts to fall in love with him but the shame and bitterness of his crime means he cannot return her love. A former prison inmate of Yamashita who starts works as a garbage man begins to play mind games with him, trying to make him feel guilty about his wife’s death and not to get involved with Keiko. Yamashita does his best to keep cool and not do anything as if he gets into trouble with the police he could get thrown in prison once more. How long can he keep his anger under control before he explodes?

A wonderful engaging and captivating movie about a person who is so afraid of falling in love with somebody because he feels he could kill once more so he distances himself from people and only confides to his pet eel. Granted we should not feel sympathy for a murderer as what Yamashita did was a terrible thing even if he was pushed. However, we can see that he’s a decent man so we want him to get together with Keiko but as anybody who knows about Japanese culture, the people in the country are notorious about shielding their feelings from each other. This movie is a great character study of a man trying to turn his life around. He obviously likes his co-worker although he doesn’t show it but because of the deep guilt and shame he carries he chooses to keep himself to himself. Keiko tries her best to make him like her by waiting on a bridge with a lunch box during the evening when the fishing boat passes underneath but Yamashita ignores her good intentions. Faultless acting from the two main leads. There’s a varied cast of supporting characters who visit Yamashita’s barber shop such as a wannabe gangster with his flash sportscar who tries to get some protection money to a young man who is trying to contact aliens by using fairy lights to lure passing UFO’s. The movie is carried by it’s character interactions. When Keiko and Yamashita’s fishing buddy Jiro do find out about his murderous past, they accept what he’s done is wrong but don’t play the guilt trip on him. As Jiro says to Yamashita “all men carry sins”.

Even though this movie is a mix of drama and light comedy, be prepared for a small dose of gore at the beginning when Yamashita kills his wife with a knife. The blood spurts like a hose and it sprays directly onto the camera. It doesn’t fit in with the rest of the movie though. The story is well thought out, the cinematography is beautiful and the directing by Shohei Imamura is excellent. The plot is slow and does take time to unfold but that’s due to Yamashita’s stubborn refusal to forgive himself and the wife who betrayed him. Thankfully, redemption does come for him as we near the climax as Keiko’s former boyfriend and his cronies come looking for her and starts being violent. Yamashita who has been the picture of restraint for most of the movie snaps once again but this time it’s to defend the honour of his co-worker even though carrying out his actions means he faces another stint in jail.

I really liked The Eel and it is definitely worth seeing. It’s got an complex and interesting storyline. Yet another brilliant movie by talented director Shohei Imamura. Recommended.

Sadako’s Rating: 4 stars out of 5

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