David Blecken
Sep 29, 2016

'Unagi girl' video pulled after kidnapping controversy

Outrage over a Japanese fish farming promotion seems much ado about nothing.

A video to promote unagi (eel) from Shibushi has been withdrawn following mockery and even outrage on social media.

The promotion compares Shibushi’s farmed eel to a young girl in a black swimsuit. In a dreamlike sequence, the girl is shown swimming in a pool, taking the sun and generally enjoying life. She then bids goodbye and, upon diving into the water once more, transforms into an eel. The film then cuts to a shot of eel fillets cooking over a grill.

Social media pundits have accused the work of everything from suggesting kidnapping, to perversion, cannibalism and the denigration of women. It's apparently not a case of foreigners misunderstanding Japanese subtlety. One Japanese industry observer said the general perception would be the same regardless of nationality, and that those responsible for the work "should have been more considerate, thoughtful and careful with people and social issues".

Is the concept strange? Yes. Is its artistry misguided? Probably. Does it warrant all the hand-wringing? We don’t think so. As one YouTube commentator pointed out, the uproar stems simply from the fact that the video features a young woman.

“If it was a man no one would care,” the reviewer writes. “The piece is clearly meant to show eels are being treated well…so they can recover as a species.” Indeed, a city official reportedly explained the aim was to show that Shibushi eels are raised with care.

It’s a case of pure intentions getting lost in poor execution, which happens fairly often in Japan. Behold the result of Family Mart and UNY’s recent merger—a brand called ‘FU’—for example. These blunders are amusing and certainly not great for international brand building. But in the end, there are more important things in the world to actually get upset about.

We will say that a recent campaign for Kal Kan did a better job of personification, with an old man who is revealed to be a cat. Thankfully, as far as we know, his owner has not yet been accused of false imprisonment.

Campaign Japan

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