EYES OF THE SPIDER
(KUMO NO KITOMI)
(PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER — JAPANESE)
A Daiei Co. release and production. Produced by Tsutomu Tsuchikawa, Atsuyuki Shimoda.
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Screenplay, Yoichi Nishiyama, Kurosawa. Camera (color), Masaki Tamura; editor, Ken Suzuki; music, Hikaru Yoshida; art director, Tomoyuki Maruo; sound, Makio Ika. Reviewed at Edinburgh Film Festival (Special Events), Aug. 21, 1999. (Also in Toronto Film Festival — Director’s Spotlight.) Running time: 83 MIN.
With: Sho Aikawa, Dankan, Ren Osugi, Shun Sugata, Susumu Terajima.
Made as companion pieces — and shot, incredibly, back to-back, two weeks each — “Serpent’s Path” and “Eyes of the Spider” are required viewing for aficionados of the prolific Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who’s being honored with at least three festival tributes (Edinburgh, Toronto and next year’s Rotterdam) in the space of six months. Shot in 1998, after “Cure” but before “License to Live” and “Charisma,” these creepy, sometimes dryly humorous dramas deal with two very different men’s reactions to identical crimes.
The first, and superior of the pair, “Serpent’s Path,” begins in the helmer’s typically cool, unexplained mode as two men, the emotional Miyashita (Teruyuki Kagawa) and cold-as-ice Niijima (Sho Aikawa), kidnap a yakuza, Otsuki, and chain him to the wall of an abandoned warehouse. Otsuki, it seems, was responsible for the horrific rape and murder of Miyashita’s 8-year-old daughter, Emi, and Miyashita, who obsessively carries around a video of Emi and a copy of the police report, wants revenge. Niijima, a friend, is along, so he says, just for the ride, though he’s clearly no amateur when it comes to kidnapping and gunplay.
As the story proceeds, each character is redefined in the audience’s eyes. Otsuki protests that the man responsible was his colleague, Hiyama, and when the two kidnap and chain him to the wall too, we learn that Miyshita was once in Hiyama’s employ, shipping snuff videos, and was about to sell his boss out. But Hiyama denies he ordered the death of Emi.
Plot turns corkscrew hereon, with Niijima suggesting the captives finger someone to get themselves off the hook — which leads to a ghastly showdown with Hiyama’s gang, now led by a psycho woman dubbed “The Cripple,” and a final twist which reveals Niijima’s true motives in joining Miyashita.
Aside from the cold, elliptical direction, which builds an atmosphere similar to that of his serial-killer drama “Cure,” Kurosawa mixes in a host of unsettling, never fully explained details, such as Niijima, who’s actually some kind of theoretical-math teacher, having a brilliant young pupil who’s the exact double of Emi.
“Eyes of the Spider” picks up soon afterward, with Niijima — for reasons best left unexplained — calmly torturing and killing a man, and then suggesting to his wife it may be time for an extended vacation. Instead, Niijima bumps into Iwamatsu (Dankan, from Hiroshi Shimizu’s “Ikinai”), an old school friend now turned yakuza, who offers him a job literally rubber-stamping business documents and occasionally helping to shoot enemies.
The movie, which till now has been more of a low-key black comedy than a full-fledged psychodrama like “Serpent,” gets into gear when Niijima is secretly ordered by Iwamatsu’s superior (Ren Osugi) to report on him and then get rid of him, raising the same questions of loyalty and friendship that are at the heart of the previous pic.
Though “Spider” has a less dense script, and less complexity, than “Serpent,” it’s still very watchable, thanks again to Aikawa’s terrif performance as Niijima and Kurosawa’s ironic characterizations in which, as in the subsequent “Charisma,” even man’s darkest follies are shown to be nothing in the greater span of the universe. Violence is more hinted at than dwelled upon, and, technically, neither picture shows the speed of its shooting.