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This Japanese Commercial for Eel Is Being Compared to a Sexist Horror Movie

Japanese officials only wanted to promote their high-quality, sustainable eels. Instead they sparked outrage over a creepy depiction of a girl who turns into an eel.

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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 didn’t quite hit the artistic sweet spot they intended. The two-minute commercial, which featured a young girl 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 teenager 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 with 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 girl 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 for the traditional delicacy have been rapidly rising. But showcasing the eel industry in a commercial that was ultimately interpreted as sexist probably wasn’t the right way for Shibushi’s government to encourage consuming sustainably-farmed eel.

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

Photo credit: Screenshot

Kavitha Surana is an editorial fellow at Foreign Policy, where she produces breaking news and original reports with a particular focus on immigration, counterterrorism, and border security policy. Previously, Kavitha worked at New York magazine’s Bedford + Bowery blog, CNNMoney, The Associated Press in Italy, and Fareed Zakaria GPS and has freelanced from Italy and Germany for publications like Quartz, Al Jazeera America, OZY, and GlobalPost/PRI. In 2015, she was awarded a Fulbright trip to Germany, as well as a grant from the Heinrich Böll Foundation to report on migration and integration. She also reported from Rwanda and Senegal. Kavitha studied European history at Columbia University and holds a master’s degree in journalism and European studies from New York University. She has studied in Italy and Peru and speaks Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. @ksurana6

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