The Eel

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The Eel (Unagi) is a Japanese film directed by Shohei Imamura. It was released in 1997 and found some acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival that same year, winning an award known as the Palme d’Or, which is the highest prize that any movie entered into Cannes can achieve. Shohei Imamura is legendary because he was the first Japanese director to ever win two Palme d’Or awards. One for The Eel and the other for The Ballad of Narayama, which was released in 1983. Imamura was an amazing 71 years old when he directed The Eel.


The Eel follows Tokura Yamashita. Takuro is a blue-collar worker who is very quiet and calm. He likes to spend his evening fishing, so his wife Emiko dutifully packs him a lunch and sends him on his way. One evening, when he is fishing, he gets a letter that is unsigned. It says that his wife is having an affair and that the two meet every time he goes fishing. Tokuro immediately goes home and finds Emiko indeed having an affair. Enraged, he stabs her to death. He takes his bicycle and heads for the police station, where he tells them that he has murdered his wife. The judge takes it easy on him and hands him an eight year sentence. Takuro completes the sentence and manages to make an eel his pet.

Takuro is eventually released and is made to live with a priest. The priest is kind and helps Takuro to start up his own barber shop. Takuro then starts a strange existence with his friend, the eel, and a neighbor who is trying to contact aliens. One day Takuro comes upon a woman named Keiko. Keiko looks just like his dead wife and it is hard for Takuro to look at her. He finds, though, that Keiko has tried to kill herself and indeed manages to save her from doing so one night.

The priest talks Takuro into training Keiko to be his assistant and the barber shop flourishes. Keiko finds herself attracted to Takuro but Takuro, who is still feeling extremely guilty because of his wife’s murder, can not seem to care the same way for Keiko as she does for him. The movie comes to an end when Takuro realizes that he needs to depend on Keiko for a happy future.


  • Koji Yakusho – Takuro Yamashita
  • Misa Shimizu – Keiko Hattori
  • Mitsuko Baisho – Misako Nakajima
  • Akira Emoto – Tamotsu Takasaki
  • Fujio Tsunets – Jiro Nakajima
  • Sho Aikawa – Yuji Nozawa
  • Ken Kobayashi – Masaki Saito
  • Sabu Kawahara – Seitaro Misato
  • Etsuko Ichihara – Fumie Hattori
  • Tomorowo Taguchi – Eiji Dojima
  • Chiho Terada – Emiko Yamashita

Misc Info

Shohei Imamura’s oldest son is named Daisuke Tengan. Tengan is making a name for himself as a script writer and director and did, in fact, help his father on a few films, one of them being The Eel.

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