×

The Eel

As slippery and succulent as the fish that provides its symbolic core, Shohei Imamura's first film since "Black Rain" eight years ago is a mood-shifting small-town saga about the redemption of a murderer.

With:
Takuro Yamashita ..... Koji Yakusho Keiko Hattori ..... Misa Shimizu Jiro Nakajima ..... Fujio Tsuneta Misako Nakajima ..... Mitsuko Baisho Tamotsu Takasaki ..... Akira Emoto Yuji Nozawa ..... Sho Aikawa Masaki Saito ..... Ken Kobayashi Seitaro Misato ..... Sabu Kawara Fumie Hattori ..... Etsuko Ichihara Eiji Dojima ..... Tomoro Taguchi

As slippery and succulent as the fish that provides its symbolic core, Shohei Imamura’s first film since “Black Rain” eight years ago is a mood-shifting small-town saga about the redemption of a murderer. Filled with colorful characters, and fluctuating alarmingly — but with surprising success — among several levels on the emotional spectrum, this handsomely produced Palme d’Or co-winner seems unlikely to have much theatrical exposure internationally, but should certainly enhance its director’s rep on the festival route and play on quality TV networks.

Based on a novel, pic opens in 1988 when white-collar worker Yamashita (Koji Yakusho) receives an anonymous tip that his wife is committing adultery while he’s away on all-night fishing trips. He returns home unexpectedly one night, finds his wife in bed with her lover, and stabs her to death. Soaked in blood, he gives himself up at a local police station.

Eight years later, he’s released on parole, having trained in prison as a barber. Among his few possessions is an eel he found while in the slammer and which he has befriended — he talks to the creature and to almost no one else. His parole officer, a priest, takes him to a small village on an estuary, where Yamashita starts to rebuild his life, opening a barber shop. Though he’s extremely taciturn and unsociable, he is befriended by a small group of locals, including a mechanic and an eccentric who spends his time awaiting the arrival of UFOs.

One day he stumbles across the unconscious body of Keiko (Misa Shimizu), a 30-ish woman who’s attempted suicide and who reminds Yamashita of his dead wife. She recovers, and attaches herself to him, working in his barber shop and helping make it a popular place to hang out for members of this small community. But although Keiko would clearly like a more intimate relationship, Yamashita keeps her at arm’s length.

Until this point, “The Eel” successfully charts the gradual rehabilitation and humanization of its isolated protagonist, who has lost the knack for communicating but finds himself drawn back gradually into everyday life.

But the increasingly bizarre situations and characters who inhabit the second part of the film ensure that sober realism is left behind in favor of highly charged emotional drama and, eventually, even farcical comedy. These elements begin with the introduction of a garbage man who recognizes Yamashita, having served time in the same prison, and continue with an exploration of Keiko’s background, which includes her affair with a gangster who hopes to obtain money from her wealthy but deranged mother.

Yakusho gives a dignified performance as a man who killed in a mad moment of jealousy (many viewers may feel Imamura lets this character too easily off the hook) and who gradually returns to a normal life. Even better is Shimizu as the warmhearted Keiko, who helps with the healing process although she has plenty of scars of her own.

Supporting characters are colorful, especially Etsuko Ichihara as Keiko’s flamboyant mother, a woman incongruously addicted to Spanish dancing.

While the symbolism of the eel itself is a bit obvious, Imamura has created a rich tapestry of characters and situations, all of it vividly brought to life with pristine visuals and a generous emotional warmth.

The Eel

Japanese

Production: A Shochiku presentation of a KSS/Eisei Gekijo Co./Groove Corp. production, in association with Imamura Prods. (International sales: Shochiku, Tokyo.) Produced by Hisa Iino. Directed by Shohei Imamura. Screenplay, Imamura, Motofumi Tomikawa, Daisuke Tengan, based on the novel "Glimmering in the Dark" (Yami Ni Hirameku) by Akira Yoshimura.

With: Takuro Yamashita ..... Koji Yakusho Keiko Hattori ..... Misa Shimizu Jiro Nakajima ..... Fujio Tsuneta Misako Nakajima ..... Mitsuko Baisho Tamotsu Takasaki ..... Akira Emoto Yuji Nozawa ..... Sho Aikawa Masaki Saito ..... Ken Kobayashi Seitaro Misato ..... Sabu Kawara Fumie Hattori ..... Etsuko Ichihara Eiji Dojima ..... Tomoro TaguchiCamera (color), Shigeru Komatsubara; editor, Hajime Okayasu; music, Shinichiro Ikebe; production design, Hisao Inagaki; sound, Kenichi Benitanai; line producer, Yasushi Matsuda. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (competing), May 11, 1997. Running time: One hour, 56 min.

More Film

  • Warner Bros., Bron Strike $100 Million

    Warner Bros., Bron Strike $100 Million Co-Financing Deal

    Warner Bros. and Bron Creative have closed a $100 million co-financing deal for five movies, including Clint Eastwood’s “The Mule” and Rebel Wilson’s “Isn’t It Romantic.” The deal, announced on Tuesday, also covers the “Joker” origin film starring Joaquin Phoenix; crime drama “The Kitchen,” with Melissa McCarthy and Tiffany Haddish; action-comedy “Superintelligence,” toplined by McCarthy, Bobby [...]

  • VICE

    Adam McKay Explains the 'Vice' Musical Number He Left on the Cutting Room Floor

    Adam McKay’s “Vice” has clearly divided critics, with some calling it a bold and daring analysis of one of the most pivotal figures in American politics, and others mincing no words in labeling it, full stop, the worst film of the year. (Truly, in the year of a Dinesh D’Souza movie, people are grandstanding with [...]

  • Penny Marshall Obit Dead

    Penny Marshall, 'Laverne & Shirley' Star, Director, Dies at 75

    Penny Marshall, who starred alongside Cindy Williams in the hit ABC comedy “Laverne & Shirley” and then became a successful director, died on Monday night at her Hollywood Hills home due to complications from diabetes, Variety has confirmed. She was 75. Marshall was the first woman to direct a film that grossed more than $100 [...]

  • 'They Shall Not Grow Old' Box

    Peter Jackson's 'They Shall Not Grow Old' Collects $2.3 Million on Monday

    Peter Jackson’s World War I documentary “They Shall Not Grow Old” earned $2.3 million at 1,122 theaters in North America on Monday. Warner Bros. released the movie five weeks after it aired on Armistice Day on the BBC. The studio partnered with Fathom Events in the U.S. for a one-day event, marking the largest single [...]

  • Dua LipaVariety Hitmakers Brunch, Portraits, Los

    'Alita: Battle Angel' to Feature New Song by Dua Lipa

    Robert Rodriguez’s “Alita: Battle Angel” will feature a new song by Dua Lipa. “Swan Song,” co-written by Justin Tranter, Kennedi Lykken, Mattias Larsson, Robin Fredriksson and Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL), in addition to Dua Lipa, will drop ahead of the film’s U.S. opening on Feb. 14. The Twentieth Century Fox action-adventure movie was produced by James Cameron and Jon Landau [...]

  • Les Arcs Festival Unveil Prizes For

    'System Crasher,' 'White on White' Win Work-in-Progress Awards at Les Arcs

    Nora Fingscheidt’s “System Crasher” and Theo Court’s “White on White” won the top prizes at Les Arcs Film Festival’s Work-in-Progress session. Both titles were among the 18 films in post-production pitched during the 10th edition of the Work-in-Progress showcase which is spearheaded by Frederic Boyer, the artistic director of Les Arcs and Tribeca festivals. “System [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content