The Eel (Unagi)

on August 21, 1998 by Ed Scheid
   The eel is the beloved pet of Takuro (Koji Yakusho) who has been paroled after spending eight years in prison for stabbing his unfaithful wife and her lover to death. He saves a young woman (Misa Shimizu) from suicide; he hires her to work at his shop and they predictably fall in love. But both of their pasts threaten to destroy the relationship.
   Yakusho gives a good performance in the lead role but the screenplay does not go beneath the surface of the characters. Writer/director Shohei Imamura, who won the Palme d'Or in 1983 for "The Ballad of Narayama," in this film tries unsuccessfully to mix different styles.
   Fantasy scenes (oddly reminiscent of "Trainspotting") in which Takuro imagines himself swimming with his pet are an imaginative contrast to his daily routine, but scenes in which a neighbor makes elaborate plans to greet an alien spaceship and a climatic slapstick fight with police ruin the serious mood set by the main love story.    Starring Koji Yakusho and Misa Shimizu. Directed by Shohei Imamura. Written by Motofumi Tomikawa, Daisuke Tengan and Shohei Imamura. Produced by Hisa Iino. A New Yorker release. Drama. Japanese-language; subtitled. Not rated. Running time: 117 min.
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