Japan eel ad compared to a sexist horror movie

The commercial, which was meant to put the spotlight on sustainably farmed eel, features a woman who turns into an eel.
The commercial, which was meant to put the spotlight on sustainably farmed eel, features a woman who turns into an eel.PHOTO: YOUTUBE

TOKYO • Officials in Shibushi, Japan, wanted to drum up some attention for their delicious, locally farmed fish. So they filmed a glossy online advertisement meant to showcase their eels as some of the most exquisitely pampered and sustainable in the country.

Unfortunately, their method did not hit the artistic sweet spot they intended. The two-minute commercial, which features a woman who turns into an eel, quickly received outcry for denigrating women, and was mocked as a clip that looked like it belonged to a horror film.

Narrated from a man's perspective, the video opens with a woman in a black swimsuit lounging around a pool, asking the man to feed her and help her grow.

"I decided I would do anything for her as much as I could," the narrator says, with soft piano music playing in the background. "I fed her lots of delicious food. I let her sleep well."

The message was meant to put the spotlight on sustainability, using the tagline: "We're growing eels carefully."

But some people on social media said it was sexist and brought to mind kidnapping and cannibalism.

At the end of the video, the woman says goodbye, jumps into the pool and turns into an eel. Soon after, a shot of grilled, sizzling eel flesh fills the screen.

"This makes me think of a girl who is being kidnapped and locked up... it's the delusions of a pervert," said one Twitter user.

Shibushi officials quickly caved to social media protest and pulled the advertisement.

Japan's industry has for years been threatened by rampant overfishing and, because of that, prices of the traditional delicacy have been rapidly rising. But showcasing the eel industry in a commercial that was ultimately interpreted as sexist probably was not the right way for Shibushi's government to encourage consuming sustainably farmed eel.

This is not the first time a Japanese city has found itself in hot water for advertising deemed demeaning to women.

The city of Shima, which hosted G7 talks this year, changed its new female mascot after it was blasted as obscene and sexist. The cartoon of a voluptuous 17-year-old aspiring "ama" or "sea woman" in search of a boyfriend drew fire from real female divers who traditionally harvest seaweed, clams and, in some areas, pearls.

While Japan's opposition party has a woman heading it for the first time in history, the country still dismally lags behind in female workforce representation. Out of 142 countries worldwide, the World Economic Forum, a Swiss non-profit, ranked it at only 104 - behind Kazakhstan, Bangladesh and Zimbabwe.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2016, with the headline 'Japan eel ad compared to a sexist horror movie'. Print Edition | Subscribe