Film: The Eel

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Film:

The Eel: (Unagi)

Director: Shohei Imamura
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Distributor: New Yorker Video

Catching his young wife having sex with another man, a jealous husband stabs her to death. Hardly the regular way to start a comedy but, as a filmmaker, Shohei Imamura has always operated according to his own rules. The Eel, his first film after an eight-year break, traces the slow rehabilitation of a man self-exiled from society. The murder serves as prelude to the main action in which, having served eight years in jail, Takuro Yamashita is paroled to a remote lakeside settlement. He sets up as the world’s least talkative barber, his sole confidant the…

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Catching his young wife having sex with another man, a jealous husband stabs her to death. Hardly the regular way to start a comedy but, as a filmmaker, Shohei Imamura has always operated according to his own rules. The Eel, his first film after an eight-year break, traces the slow rehabilitation of a man self-exiled from society. The murder serves as prelude to the main action in which, having served eight years in jail, Takuro Yamashita is paroled to a remote lakeside settlement. He sets up as the world’s least talkative barber, his sole confidant the titular eel. But the arrival of a troubled young woman slowly changes his outlook on life. It could easily fit the formulaic Hollywood feel-good drama, but Imamura’s idiosyncratic vision and oblique narrative style keeps the film pushing away from conventionality. Surreal, dream-like episodes collide with bursts of near-slapstick and quiet moments of lyrical beauty. The privacy of the characters is always respected, and to the end Takuro remains an enigma. As slippery as an eel, the film is a beguiling peculiarity of a movie with a flavour all its own.—Philip Kemp

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