Despite his status as one of Japan’s most talented and consistently interesting directors, a great many of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s films have yet to see an English-language release. Most of the neglected titles come from before the release of Cure, the 1997 psycho-thriller that made the director a key figure on the international film scene. Like many of his contemporaries, the young Kurosawa started out directing erotic films for Nikkatsu’s well-established ‘Roman Porno’ (romantic pornography) line, before branching out into other areas, including an effects-driven haunted house movie (Sweet Home, 1989), a superior slasher movie (The Guard from the Underground, 1992) and a number of made-for-TV horror films, comedies and yakuza thrillers.
Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider were both filmed in 1997, shortly after Cure was completed. Although not sequels in the traditional sense, the two films are linked by central concepts and casting, with both films starring Shō Aikawa, at the time a major star of the V-cinema or direct-to-video scene. Many of Kurosawa’s early films, including Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider, were V-cinema movies, and he credits his time working in the field with providing valuable experience and affording an opportunity to experiment with a variety of different film genres. Serpent’s Path is one of these experiments; following its completion Kurosawa reworked the script, shifted the focus of the piece and turned it into Eyes of the Spider.
Written by Ring scriptwriter Hiroshi Takahashi, Serpent’s Path begins with two men – Nijima, a schoolteacher (Shō Aikawa) and Miyashita (Teruyuki Kagawa), an ex-yakuza – kidnapping a third (former comedian Yūrei Yanagi) and chaining him to a wall in an abandoned factory. Miyashita explains the reason for the kidnapping: he believes their hostage is responsible for the abduction and murder of his 8-year-old daughter. Naturally the man protests his innocence, but his protestations are ignored. After being forced to eat off the floor and denied the use of toilet facilities, the hostage eventually says that he knows who really murdered Miyashita’s daughter.
Watch the trailer for Serpent’s Path:
In Eyes of the Spider Shō Aikawa stars as another man called Nijima, although a different character this time. The film starts with him murdering the man who killed his daughter. From this point, Nijima’s life begins to unravel, as his marriage collapses and he ends up working for the yakuza. Throughout all this, the man seems to be almost sleepwalking, as if killing his daughter’s murderer has left him with nothing to live for.
Watch the trailer for Eyes of the Spider:
Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider were both shot in Kurosawa’s typically understated style, using long takes and a minimum of camera movements. Neither of these films are traditional revenge thrillers, and Kurosawa’s purpose here is to explore the differing effects that achieving vengeance can have upon an individual. There are some last minute revelations, but these are not Hollywood-style twists, merely factors designed to shed new light on the events that have taken place. Kurosawa’s interest here is not in complex plots but in characters, something that has been a trademark of many of his films. Devotees of the director’s work will find these two films an interesting insight into Kurosawa’s early career, another glimpse into the background of a unique filmmaker. Those unfamiliar with Kurosawa’s films are probably better off starting with either Cure or the terrifying Pulse (2001), before investigating Serpent’s Path and Eyes of the Spider, although there is still plenty to enjoy here.