Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Day 2: Unagi (The Eel)

Day two’s movie is Unagi (The Eel). It’s a Japanese film directed by Shohei Imamura in 1997 and doesn’t feature any Yakuza, giant robots, cyborg samurai, or penis-tentacle monsters. If you can get around these serious deficiencies, you’ll be enjoying an otherwise fine film about a man dealing with the demons of his past.

Takuro Yamashita (Koji Yakusho) is a white-collar office drone who likes to take all-night fishing trips. On his way home, he reads a letter detailing that his wife is seeing another man when he’s out fishing. That night, he decides to return home from fishing quite early and finds his wife entwined with another man. In a fit of passion, Yamashita takes a kitchen knife to his wife and then turns himself in to the police.

Eight years later, Yamashita is out on parole. He starts life anew as a barber in a small village under the guidance of his parole officer/reverend. He spends his time quietly cutting hair during the day and fishing at night. He also keeps an eel he caught while in prison as a pet. “They know how to listen,” he says when asked why he prefers the eel’s company.

One day while out fishing, he finds an unconscious woman named Keiko Hattori (Misa Shimizu). It turns out she was attempting suicide. She comes to live at the temple and help out around the barber shop. Of course, this brings up the past that Yamashita has been trying to forget and put behind him. Let’s not forget also Keiko’s demons that drove her to suicide.

Unagi is a well crafted film that builds slowly to its climax. This seems to be the usual case for films from the East. You don’t find so much of the typical Hollywood three-act structure inherent in mainstream Western fare. In fact, Yamashita doesn’t really do much in the way of making the choices; he’s pretty passive for the most part. It’s the outside world that forces him to confront his past and move on.

Eventually, we all must come to terms with who we are and what we’ve done. Some of us won’t be able to accept what we find, but as Unagi shows, it doesn’t matter where we come from, we’re all magnificent eels.

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