In the late 1990s, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (known to American audiences for such films as Pulse, Retribution, Bright Future, and Tokyo Sonata) was offered a chance to shoot two video films in two weeks. Aside from the time constraint, he had a modest budget and one cast of actors for both films.
This year Third Window Films has made Eyes of the Spider and Serpent's Path
available for the first time on DVD outside of Japan. Whether you're a
fan of Kurosawa's mysteries, thrillers, and horror, or just interested
in low-budget, creative filmmaking, I think you will find these films
Aikawa stars in both movies, and his characters, both named Nijima,
provide each story with a moral and emotional center. In Eyes of the Spider,
Nijima is a man whose young daughter has been brutally murdered. He
seeks revenge but it provides no peace of mind. When he runs into an old
classmate, he is lured deeper into a life of crime as the most
intelligent member of an eccentric hit squad.
In Serpent's Path,
Nijima is a teacher who helps a friend, Miyashita, in a relentless
search for the man who killed Miyashita's daughter. Together they trap a
guy who formerly served as a low-level yakuza member, and begin to
exact revenge. Soon enough the guy implicates another man, and Nijima
and Miyashita continue their mission, wherever it leads.
Ordinarily I'm not a big fan of films about yakuza or mafia or any other business-oriented criminal society. Eyes of the Spider and Serpent's Path
surprised me. The storytelling is riveting. The technical quality is
superb. Best of all, both films are character-driven. Every step of the
way, the action is grounded in recognizable psychology and believable
emotions. Nothing happens purely for effect.
The greatest delight
was the way in which Kurosawa edited his stories. Instead of long,
drawn-out exposition or unlikely commentary, he juxtaposes striking
images to achieve moving (or humorous) and often startling effects. The
result is fresh, timeless, with an emphasis on the humanity of the
characters and a real sense of lives playing out to unpredictable yet
plausible conclusions. Highly recommended.