Kiyoshi Kurosawa (not related as far as I know) received some appreciation in the West as one of the earliest representatives of the Asian suspense wave. It branded him a horror filmer, which isn't completely fair considering his body of work. I'd go even further and say that his best work is not horror related at all. Enter Eyes of the Spider [Kumo no Hitomi], by far one of his best films I've seen to date.
Eyes of the Spider is part of a double bill. It's the companion piece of Serpent's Path, also directed by Kurosawa. Both films share some common ground. For one, the premise of the films is the same, the storylines are quite similar and most of the actors feature in the two films. Both films were shot back-to-back and were realized with a very limited budget. Still, stylistically they are nothing alike.
While watching Eyes of the Spider I couldn't help but be reminded of Kitano's style (Sonatine/Hana-bi period). Of course there's the fact that both Terajima and Osugi (Kitano regulars) are featured in the film, but the similarities go beyond. The editing in particular reaches for a similar effect, cutting quickly to and from violent scenes, mixing them with slow and uneventful sequences. It makes that it sometimes feels like you're watching the reel that was cut from the original film, rather than the film itself.
Kurosawa gives his audience little time to adjust to the film. The opening scene sees Aikawa beating up a guy who allegedly murdered his little daughter. 10 minutes later he's dead and buried, the audience still unsure about what the hell is going on. Some old classmate picks up about Aikawa's rather dubious actions and invites him to join his little band of almost amateurish criminals. Aikawa shows promise and is quick in working his way up to the top.
These older Kurosawa films are never much to look at and Eyes of the Spider forms no exception. Apart from the unfashionably harsh editing there is little to woo the eyes. There are some nice scenes hidden away, one in particular standing out (Aikawa being followed by Osugi on the pavement), but the overall use of colors is extremely bland and so are most shots, creating a very poor/realistic feel. The lack of budget really shows, and even though I would've appreciated nicer visuals, it does somehow add to the "cut-the-bullshit" approach Kurosawa takes with this film.
The soundtrack is solid and works well with the film, and is in some ways not quite unlike the work of Hisaishi. There's also time for some quick comedy interludes, which just strengthens the link with Kitano's films. Still, Kurosawa makes this film his own by making bolder direction choices and really cutting up the story like a hardened butcher. This leaves little in the way of emotional involvement, but Kurosawa doesn't seem to be aiming in that direction anyway.
Performances are strong, with an always charismatic Aikawa and a solid supporting cast. Visually the film could've been better, but the soundtrack is nice, the rhythm of the film is pretty unique and the bold approach to cutting up the story line is a refreshing change. Kurosawa proves himself an interesting director and shows more promise with this film than with all of his horror efforts combined.