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  • Benjamin May

Eyes of the Spider (1998) Review

Six years ago, the daughter of accountant Naomi Niijima was brutally murdered. Time has not tempered his grief, and his lust for vengeance is strong. After disposing of his daughter's killer, Niijima falls down a rabbit hole of violence and criminality from which he may never be able to escape. Quitting his job and taking up employment with an old friend, Niijima is soon a member of the Yakuza. With the police tempting him to turn states evidence on one side, and the Yakuza drawing him further into the criminal underworld on the other, will Niijima survive; or succumb completely to the darkness around him?

Written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 'Eyes of the Spider' is a low budget effort that is off-beat and interesting. A companion piece to 'Serpent's Path,' the film is an atmospheric, nihilistic exploration of the grieving process. Though there are many moments featuring Kurosawa's bizarre sense of humor- and there are a few violent set pieces- it is primarily a somber, psychological drama that packs quite a punch. The narrative is deceptively simple and- though the story lags in places- complex themes are examined in a mature, thoughtful way throughout.

Niijima's embrace of violence is his only remaining outlet for the pain of losing a child, which- for whatever reason- he cannot express in conventional terms. Whereas in 'Serpent's Path' the narrative is forwarded through action and reaction, 'Eyes of the Spider' is more of a cerebral experience, with considerably less voluble displays of emotion. It forces the viewer to think; to put oneself in Niijima's shoes. The grief is killing him as it forces him to kill. How would we react in such a situation? Like Niijima, would we go down the violent path? Would revenge satiate our overwhelming sense of loss? 'Eyes of the Spider' asks interesting questions, inspiring rumination on behalf of the viewer.

Loss has turned Niijima's world into a cold, colorless one, which Kurosawa shows through his muted aesthetical approach. Masaki Tamura's cinematography is frequently static, with many scenes playing out in real time. This lends proceedings an atmosphere of stark realism, which heightens the tone of silent despair that runs throughout 'Eyes of the Spider.' Absorbing and visually striking, Tamura's work lingers in the mind long after the credits have rolled. Additionally, Kan Suzuki's tight editing establishes for the film a deliberate pace that contributes to the overall narrative impact and aforementioned tone.

'Eyes of the Spider' finds Show Aikawa starring as Niijima, delivering a restrained performance of great emotional resonance. A most versatile performer, Aikawa creates a compelling and idiosyncratic character in Niijima, one whose greatest strength lies in his quietness. Like Charles Bronson, Aikawa carries with him an aura both menacing and mournful, which makes the role all the more intriguing- and his stillness all the more deadly.

Dankan co-stars as the old friend who draws Niijima into the Yakuza, bringing an intensity and charm to the role that should endear him to audiences immediately. Bizarre and unpredictable, he is a force of nature like a whirlwind; fine from a distance and incredibly dangerous up close. Also worth mentioning is the late, great Ren Ôsugi, playing the manipulative policeman Yoda. Ôsugi steals every scene he's in with his ease of performance and depth of character; one will certainly remember his work fondly.

Quiet, odd and engaging, 'Eyes of the Spider' is a simple, affecting film containing entertainment value of the intellectual and emotional variety. Powerfully acted and featuring stunning, stylish cinematography from Masaki Tamura, the film is an achievement on every level. To cut a long story short: Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 'Eyes of the Spider' is a strong film containing vengeful violence and gargantuan grief that is well worth watching.


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