The Eel


This award winning 1996 Japanese film is unusual to say the least.  Peter Travers of the “Rolling Stone” called it “An erotic spellbinder.”  A couple of the scenes are very erotic!

Lawrence Van Gelder of the New York Times called it: “Riveting!  Jealousy, rage, crime, punishment, remorse, the onerous baggage of ghosts and guilt and, most of all, the possibilities of redemption, the persistence of hope, the achievement of love and the miracles of rebirth and survival.”


The story starts out with a man reading anonymous letters telling him his wife is having an affair, that when he goes fishing she engages in adultery.  So, instead of confronting her with the notes, he deliberately comes home early one night from his fishing trip and finds his wife in bed with her lover.  (This is one of the erotic scenes.)  He gets a knife and stabs the man and then stabs his wife repeatedly.  Covered in her blood, he gets on his bike and pedals to the police station where he hands over the knife and announces that he just killed his wife.


The next scene is eight years later as he is getting out of prison.  During his imprisonment he has had a pet eel.  When asked why, he explains: “He listens to what I say.  He doesn’t say what I don’t want to hear.”


While in prison he has been trained to be a barber and so when he leaves the prison on parole he opens a barbershop.  One day while fishing, he finds the unconscious body of a young woman and informs the police in time for them to save her life---she had just attempted suicide.  The young lady thanks him for saving her and then goes to work in his barbershop and falls in love with him.


Just as he is hiding his past from her, she is hiding her past from him.  She has been involved with a married man who is a loan shark and she also has a mentally ill mother that her lover is taking advantage of by getting the mother to give him money as she is fairly well off.


Eventually a big fight ensues when the married lover comes to the barbershop and because of the fight the barber has to return to prison for another year.  However, during the fight it comes out that the woman is pregnant by her loan shark lover, but the barber, who has never made love to her, says it is his child.    During the movie the barber and another man frequently go fishing for eels at night.  (The movie is based on the book Glimmering in the Dark by Akira Yoshimura.)  The eels represent the glimmering in the dark, the hope that can be found even in the darkest moments of life.  Toward the end of the movie the barber takes his beloved pet eel and releases him into the ocean.  It is symbolic of his being ready to start life anew, of his having found new meaning in life, of his having grown past his guilt.  (He loved his wife very much and killed her because he couldn’t deal with the pain of her infidelity.)  His willingness to assume responsibility for the unborn child of the new woman in his life is an indicator of his ability to go beyond jealousy, of his new ability to accept life and others with all of their flaws.