This comeback from veteran Japanese director Shohei Imamura was the joint-winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes in '97. It traces the rehabilitation of a wife-killer who is released on parole after eight years inside.
Accompanied by an eel he befriended in prison (hence the title), Yamashita (Yakusho, from Shall We Dance?) sets up a barber shop in a remote village and settles down to live quietly, talking to no-one but his slippery companion. However, saving a strange woman (Shimizu) from suicide and the reappearance of a former cell-mate have far-reaching consequences on his life. With its frequent swings in mood,
The Eel makes for uneasy viewing, as low-key realism gives way to farcical comedy. However, Imamura clearly feels warmth towards his taciturn protagonist and oddball supporting characters, and is repaid with some rich performances. An intriguing portrait of contemporary Japanese society that serves as a universal testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.