In a poor 19th century rural Japanese village, everyone who reaches the age of 70 has to climb a nearby mountain to die. An old woman is getting close to the cut-off age, and we follow her last days with her family.
Life of a pornographer who tries to stay under the radar of the mob. He has a mistress, a step-son, a step-daughter (whom he's attracted to) and a wife who believes her first husband was reincarnated as a restless carp.
Near the turbulent end of the Edo era, a man returning to Japan after exile in America searches for his wife and becomes swept up in the current of revolution in this incisive period drama from the great Shohei Imamura.
White-collar worker Yamashita finds out that his wife has a lover visiting her when he's away, suddenly returns home and kills her. After eight years in prison, he returns to live in a small village, 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. 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. Written by
Based upon the novel Glimmering in the Dark by author Akira Yoshimura and co-written by director Shohei Imamura's son Daisuke Tengan, The Eel is the second Imamura film (after The Ballad of Narayama) to win the Palme d'Or award at Cannes. It's a highly unusual film that's parts bloody thriller, parts redemption drama, parts surrealistic clusterf*ck, parts quirky comedy and parts character study, starring Koji Yakusho as a psychologically broken businessman (the same actor will return in Imamura's final film a few years later).
This movie is really, really weird, but it executes its strangeness effortlessly. You're never really baffled while watching it, it's only after you've already seen it that you start pondering what the hell you just saw. Basically, the story is as follows: businessman Yamashita gets an anonymous letter saying that his wife is cheating on him. He kills his wife and gets sent to prison for eight years, where he befriends an eel. He's released on parole and opens a barbershop in a coastal town, getting acquainted with a new circle of individuals, including a suicidal girl who reminds him of his murdered wife, an UFO nut, an extortionist, an ex-con who then becomes a hallucination of Yamashita's, a friendly fisherman or something, and so on. The movie reminds me of Imamura's earlier film, The Pornographers, also with a pet fish, a barbershop, a woman called Keiko whose mother is in a psychiatric hospital, Buddhist chants, and Ozawa Shoichi, who plays the main role in The Pornographers and gets a cameo as the gynecologist in The Eel. Why these similarities, I don't know.
The Eel, as I see it, represents Yamashita's reserved, or sexually repressed self. The sight of an eel, a sexual symbol, trapped in a water tank may allude to Yamashita's psychological impotence. As the pfilm progresses, it becomes questionable whether or not someone actually sent the anonymous letters to Yamashita or he just imagined them, which may or may not add layers to his damaged psyche if we choose to interpret the film in this way. It definitely seems like the kind of film which becomes clearer on re-watches. The setting, the washed out coastal craptown, fits the characters' repression but I'm not too sure what to think of Shinichiro Ikebe's soundtrack. I mean, I like it, but it sounds like it's from an Age of Empires game.
Imamura's style in this film is very different from his '60s works, but you can definitely sense that it's the same director. The rhythm of the film isn't as fast-paced or modern as his '60s stuff, but rather slow- paced and quiet for the most part. But, aside from the aforementioned similarities to The Pornographers, it carries other Imamura trademarks, like comparisons of people with animals, dark humor, and a strange way of carrying the plot. Instead of the story casually progressing, sometimes it'll focus on one character, then on the next, and so on. So this is definitely one of the weirder Imamura films, but I don't really like it. It's too long for my taste and somehow feels toothless when compared to his other achievements. I don't really know why this one won the Palm d'Or.
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