Slippery Creatures

Eight years later, the wife-killer is paroled from prison, along with his pet eel--a symbol so blatant, and so quintessentially Imamura, that it soon becomes thoroughly defamiliarized. ("He listens to what I say--he doesn't say what I don't want to hear," is how Takuro explains his attachment to the creature.) Having trained as a barber while in jail, Takuro sets up shop in some obscure corner of Japan with his eel installed in a prominent fish tank. Takuro doesn't care much for human contact but, this being an Imamura film, his eccentricities scarcely set him apart from the rest of the species. His parole officer is a ridiculously understanding Buddhist priest; his nearest neighbor is engaged in constructing a six-pointed star with jerry-built flashing lights in the hopes of attracting a visitor from outer space.

Despite occasional shots from inside the fish tank, The Eel is more staid--and even more tentative--than the 70-year-old director's vintage films. Still, the mood-shifting narrative line is adroitly handled. As slippery as its namesake, the movie starts like a thriller, settles into what might be an elaborate purification ritual, then--once Takuro has almost grudgingly saved the life of Keiki, a would-be suicide who resembles his murdered wife (and is played by the same actress)--blossoms into a sort of wistful romance. As obvious a symbol as the eel, Keiki's embodiment of Takuro's second chance appoints herself, against his wishes, as helpmeet--and thus, under the influence of their respective pasts, pushes the plot toward melodrama.


Your Friends & Neighbors
Written and directed by Neil LaBute
A Gramercy Pictures release
Opens August 21

The Eel
Written and directed by Shohei Imamura, from the novel Sparkles in the Darkness, by Akira Yoshimura
A New Yorker Films release
At the Lincoln Plaza
Opens August 21

Ferocious yet gentle, its tone shifting once more to gangster drama and then black comedy, The Eel concludes with a lunatic yet symmetrical turn of events that culminates in an unexpectedly hallucinatory and touching ending. Ultimately, The Eel is the unconscious made tangible. Takuro becomes the eel and, in becoming the eel, he sets it free. This simple, sinuous fable may not be among Imamura's greatest films--it lacks the crazy libidinal energy of The Pornographers or Eijanaika--but it could hardly have been made by anyone else.

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