Tag Archives: Kiyoshi Kurosawa



Format: DVD + Blu-ray (R1)

Release date: 18 November 2014

Distributor: Music Box Films

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Based on the novel by: Kanae Minato

Cast: Masaaki Akahori, Manatsu Kimura, Kyôko Koizumi

Original title: Shokuzai

Japan 2012

300 mins

Like Tetsuya Nakashima’s Confessions (2010) and Yoshihiro Nakamura’s The Snow White Murder Case (2014), Penance is based on a novel by bestselling crime writer Kanae Minato. Unlike those works, it was originally shown as a TV miniseries before being released to film festivals as a five-hour feature film, and now on Region 1 DVD and Blu-ray. Many of Minato’s works recount the circumstances around a murder, as experienced by the perpetrators, the victims, the witnesses, and those around them. Although the various adaptations of her novels have that much in common, they take very different approaches to the material.

As the film opens we are introduced to Emili Adachi, a new girl at a country school in Ueda. She makes friends with a group of girls impressed by her lovely home and her glamorous mother Asako (Kyôko Koizumi). The five girls are playing after school when they are approached by a man, who asks one of them to help him with his work. While the others wait nervously, Emili is taken into the school gym and murdered. They find her body on the gym floor and alert the police, but are too traumatized or scared to provide any helpful information. Angered by their silence, Asako tells the four girls that they must pay a penance for their part in Emili’s death and their failure to help catch the killer, but only she can release them from that penance.

From there we move to 15 years later, with each of the girls grown up but manifesting their trauma in different ways. Sae (Yū Aoi) has become intensely scared of men and adult sexuality, shutting down her body’s transition into maturity. Now a teacher, Maki (Eiko Koike, 2LDK) is a strict disciplinarian spurred on by well-concealed rage. Akiko (Sakura Ando) has escaped into a world of childish make-believe, supported by her patronizing and enabling family. The last of the four is Yuka (Chizuru Ikewaki), the only one who rejected Asako’s conditions, saying that she would do as she pleased. She believes that her sexual manipulation and callous brutality are indicators of strength and independence, but in reality she’s as psychically and spiritually broken as her friends. Each of the four girls is given their own episode, with the fifth and final hour dedicated to Asako’s pursuit of the killer.

At first glance it might seem that Kiyoshi Kurosawa is not the most likely candidate to handle a miniseries adaptation of a bestselling crime novel, but there are precedents in his output. Over the years Kurosawa has produced work for television on a number of occasions, most notably with Séance (Kōrei, 2000), his reworking of Bryan Forbes’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964). Several of his films demonstrate a familiarity with the formal mechanics of thrillers and crime dramas, including his international breakthrough Cure (1997) and the twin revenge movies Serpent’s Path (Hebi no michi) and Eyes of the Spider (Kumo no hitomi), both released in 1998.

By the end of the first hour, it has become apparent that Kurosawa’s gloomy, minimalist style suits the material perfectly. The same sense of impending dread that helped to make Pulse (Kairo, 2001) one of the most effective Japanese horror films of its time follows the five women in Penance and makes it impossible to look away until each arc reaches its conclusion. This is no vague, metaphysical dread, but a real, tangible one that reflects the inescapable fates of the characters as all of the girls’ lives descend into violence and horror.

There may be no real ghosts in Penance, but throughout the stories Asako lingers on the edges of the girls’ lives, saying little but watching until the end, her black clothes and high heels as distinctive as the kimonos and traditional hairstyles worn by the yūrei (vengeful spirits) of the traditional Japanese kaidan (ghost stories). She’s not there to exact vengeance, but serves as a constant reminder of the way in which the girls’ fates are bound up with Emili’s, and the karmic retribution that awaits them.

In the final hour Asako changes from ever-present phantom to victim, detective and guilty party, as her role in the events of the past is explored. It’s not much of a criticism to say that this final episode doesn’t match the standards of the earlier chapters, as the necessity of providing solutions to the central mystery takes over and Penance becomes a more traditional crime story. In an era when a two-hour running time can seem increasingly indulgent, Kurosawa has created a five-hour film that doesn’t drag for a second, maintaining its momentum throughout. It can also be viewed as a five-part miniseries, but it’s to the director’s credit that Penance remains perfectly accessible in its full-length format.

Jim Harper

Eyes of the Spider / Serpent’s Path

Eyes of the Spider1
Eyes of the Spider

Format: DVD

Release date: 9 September 2013

Distributor: Third Window Films

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Title: Eyes of the Spider (Kumo no Hitomi)

Writers: Kiyoshi Kurosawa Yoichi Nishiyama

Cast: Sh&#333 Aikawa, Dankan Ren Ohsugi, Shun Sugeta

Title: Serpent’s Path (Hebi no Michi)

Writer: Hiroshi Takahashi

Cast: Sh&#333 Aikawa, Teruyuki Kagawa, Y&#363rei Yanagi

Japan 1998

83 & 85 mins

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 Sh&#333 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 (Sh&#333 Aikawa) and Miyashita (Teruyuki Kagawa), an ex-yakuza – kidnapping a third (former comedian Y&#363rei 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 Sh&#333 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.

Jim Harper