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PLEASE NOTE: Michael D's is currently in READ ONLY MODE. Anything submitted will simply not be written to the database.
Lots of stuff is still broken, but at least reviews can now be looked up and read.
The Eel (Unagi) (1997)

The Eel (Unagi) (1997)

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Released 21-Jul-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Trailer-Dead Man, A Stroll
Rating Rated R
Year Of Production 1997
Running Time 134:20 (Case: 146)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (72:32) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Shohei Imamura
Madman Entertainment
Starring Kôji Yakusho
Misa Shimizu
Mitsuko Baisho
Akira Emoto
Fujio Tsuneta
Sho Aikawa
Ken Kobayashi
Sabu Kawahara
Etsuko Ichihara
Tomorowo Taguchi
Chiho Terada
Shinshô Nakamaru
Sei Hiraizumi
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Shinichirô Ikebe

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Takuro Yamashita (Koji Yakusho) is a happily married chap who begins receiving letters informing him of his wife's adulterous affairs with a man who visits while he's away fishing in the evening. He's understandably eager to learn the truth, so one night he leaves for his fishing trip but comes home early, finding her exactly as he feared he would. He sees red - literally - and murders his wife without thinking twice. After doing the deed he calmly gets on his bicycle, rides to the police station and turns himself in.

    Eight years pass and he is leaving prison after a shortened sentence, with his pet Eel under his arm. The pet has become the embodiment of the voice he heard while reading the anonymous letters, and the two share some bizarre conversations, much to the bewilderment of those around him. While on parole, Takuro is in the custody of a priest who helps him establish a modest barbershop business. He has some difficulty breaking out of the prison routines, but transforms a decrepit old building into a thriving salon. He does his utmost to keep to himself and avoid trouble, until he is credited with saving the life of a lonely woman, Keiko (Misa Shimizu), who bears some resemblance to his late wife. She offers to work for him and he is obligated to help her, so the two begin running the business together, sparking rumours about the nature of their relationship. Just when things are settling for him, a former prisoner recognises him and threatens to reveal his violent past.

    Besides boasting a career in film that spans four decades, director Shohei Imamura has an interesting visual style and an admirable use of colour and framing, with a beautiful fluidity that graces every scene. This screenplay is based on a story by Akira Yoshimura. The quirky characters are endearing and at times hilarious, such as the local helmet-wearing youth who tries to communicate with aliens. The strength of the screenplay, the outstanding performances and the unique vision of this director amount a rare film of beauty, tension, hallucination and violence that will linger with you long after the credits roll.

    The Eel won the Palme D'or in 1997. We have received the 134 minute director's cut of the film, previously available in Japan. This film's theatrical runtime was 117 minutes.

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Transfer Quality


    Unfortunately, this transfer is an NTSC conversion. The source was apparent to me from the opening frames of the film, with noticeable interleaving issues and limited resolution. Note that the cover slick incorrectly lists the PAL runtime of 146 minutes. The video transfer is presented in 1.78:1 and 16x9 enhancement is included. The film was screened theatrically in 1.85:1, so it would appear the matte has been opened a little for this transfer. The image is surrounded by a thin black border on all sides of the frame.

    The image is generally clear and has a moderate degree of detail, considering the source. Shadow detail is good and the depth of black in the many night-time scenes is realistic. Colouring is bold and consistent throughout.

    The transfer is void of any ugly MPEG compression artefacting, but there are the usual jagged edges we would associate with an NTSC conversion. There are film artefacts as well, amounting to some mildly noticeable specs of dirt here and there. Persistent but mild telecine wobble is an issue that becomes particularly annoying during the film's still moments. For interest's sake, I viewed some of the film on my 76cm widescreen CRT and found the image much more bearable. It would seem projecting the image with progressive processing doesn't do it any favours.

    A removable English subtitle stream is activated by default, comprised of a yellow SBS-style font. Aside from some questionable grammar here and there, the translation is readable and timed well with the pace of the dialogue.

    This disc is RSDL formatted (DVD9), with the layer transition placed during the feature at 72:32. The brief pause interrupts a rather noisy scene transition and could have been more suitably placed at one of the silent, black fadeouts during the film.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There is only one soundtrack included; a generally serviceable Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 stream encoded at 224Kb/s. This is the film's original language.

    The spoken word is audible and perfectly in sync with the video. A little distortion can be heard in the dialogue at 53:33, but this is an isolated glitch in the soundtrack that only seems to happen once.

    This is effectively a mono soundtrack, with absolutely no stereo panning at all. I briefly processed the soundtrack via Pro Logic II and found all of the film's audio directed to the front centre speaker.

    The score by Shinichiro Ikebe is simple but effective and ranges from a medieval feel in some places to a percussive traditional Japanese mood in others. Although it is a little odd, it suits the film's quirky qualities perfectly.

    Obviously, the subwoofer and surround channels are not given any work to do. I feel that a quality surround mix could have greatly improved the atmosphere and tension of the film.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Menu Audio

    The main menu page is static and accompanied by a brief audio clip from the film's closing credits. All of the menu pages are 16x9 enhanced.

Gallery-Production Stills (8)

    A series of black and white stills taken during the film's production, to scroll through using your remote.

Theatrical Trailer (1:10)

    A short and poor quality trailer, geared at an English speaking audience. This trailer is presented in widescreen but is not 16x9 enhanced.

Madman Propaganda

    Trailers for Dead Man starring Johnny Depp and what appears to be an intriguing film from Russia, A Stroll.


    There is censorship information available for this title. Click here to read it (a new window will open). WARNING: Often these entries contain MAJOR plot spoilers.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 disc is similarly bare in the extras department but is not 16x9 enhanced. It has a runtime of 116:20.

    The Region free Hong Kong disc is also non-anamorphic, with a runtime of only 112:16. It also has a watermarked image, with non-removable Chinese subtitles.

    The Japanese Unagi: Perfect Edition (Region 2 NTSC) is 16x9 enhanced, has a runtime of 134 minutes and includes Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. A making-of featurette and interviews are included, but the feature doesn't appear to be English subtitled. This disc retails for over US$50.00 in some online stores.

    It seems the Region 4 disc is the best option available for English speakers at the moment.


    The Eel is a haunting and tense romantic thriller with endearing, quirky characters that you'll want to revisit more than once. It's great to see a release of this film in Region 4, despite it being a disappointing transfer.

    The video transfer is an NTSC conversion and suffers from some noticeable telecine wobble.

    The audio transfer is disappointingly minimalist, considering the film is less than ten years old. This would appear to be the Director's intention.

    The extras are very brief.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Rob Giles (readen de bio, bork, bork, bork.)
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-3910, using DVI output
DisplaySanyo PLV-Z2 WXGA projector. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationDenon AVR-2802 Dolby EX/DTS ES Discrete
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora lll Mains (bi-wired), Rears, Centre Rear. Orpheus Centaurus .5 Front Centre. Mirage 10 inch sub.

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