The power of suggestion
A series of murders plagues Japan. Average ordinary people, without any past criminal records or homicidal profiles, are suddenly and randomly killing innocent people, only to later claim no knowledge of their deed. The killers are unconnected personally and come from different walks of life, yet each death appears to be linked since all the victims have a massive "X" carved into their neck/torso. Frazzled detective Takabe is placed on the case and the pressure of solving this string of strange, senseless crimes starts to take its toll. The detective has a wife who is mentally unbalanced and the daily struggle of keeping up with her, matched with the gruesome goings-on, is almost too much. When a wandering amnesiac is linked to several of the slayings, it's the first big lead in the case, but the man with memory-loss is a frustrating ambiguity, a (we learn later) former student of psychiatry who may merely be the greatest manipulator of humans of all time or actually in possession of some inherent evil power. There are hints of hypnotism. There are mutterings of black magic. But whatever the reason for the killings, Detective Takabe must find the answer. Only learning the mystery man's connection to the crimes and ultimately solving this case will help him. Only understanding the mind of this murderer will provide for him some manner of Cure.
Cure is like no other "thriller" you have ever seen. In reality, it's more of a "chiller," or a "creeper," the kind of macabre movie that slowly stalks and submerges itself inside of you, ultimately imploding directly into your soul. It is calm in its grim and gloomy tone. It is matter of fact in its grisliness and death. And it is as languid as an unfolding lotus blossom in the way it tells its story. Cure is the view of serial killing from the inside out, from the core notions of despair and inhumanity to the eventual taking of a life. But where Cure changes the rhythm of such films is in its disconnected reaper and the way in which he manifests his hatred toward society. This is the first film in the long lineage of mass murderer movies where the killer is allowed to be an empty void shell of a babbling nothing, more irritating than threatening. And yet, as the narrative moves along cautiously and carefully, as the characters and their circumstances develop in incremental steps, we suddenly experience the icy cold fingers of dread as they begin to tingle down along our spine. Cure understands that the formulaic approach that highlights the unpredictable nature of serial murder allows an audience to detach itself from the visceral events before them. Instead, director Kiyoshi Kurosawa gives us all that framework upfront. We learn quickly who the murderer may be and we witness the proposed manner in which he manipulates others to do his deadly bidding. It's then in the waiting and watching as evil events unfold where fear finds its force.
Cure will remind many film fans of David Lynch and the more sinister aspects of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet. Kurosawa (no relation) is obsessed with images and sound, the juxtaposition between or lack of both to make or break his ambiance. For the first hour of the film, there is no musical underscoring, no mood mandating element or sonic statement. He lets stunning images and peculiar visuals paint weird, eerie, and disorienting pictures. There is also some of William Peter Blatty's detached, protracted vision from The Exorcist III. Though there is no scene matching it in Cure, the horror sequel's classic three-minute hospital hallway nurse decapitation, with its matter of fact abrupt ferocity, is how Kurosawa commands most of this movie. Kurosawa indeed loves to use the uninterrupted long shot, making the onscreen minions microscopic and the sequence seem infinite for the sake of a totally disorienting atmosphere. In some instances, we can barely make out what is happening. Other times, misdirection is the method behind the acute madness (as in the quirky, controversial ending). There is even a hint of Le Cercle Rouge here, a symbolic sense of cops and robbers (or in this case, killers) caught up in a mode of ritualized legal routine (especially in Japan) that borders on religious. Indeed, Kurosawa sprinkles Cure with a great deal of spiritual resonance (the police code, the ancient demonization of modern science) that, along with the visual clues, lift the story out of its by the book reality and into the realm of the supernatural.
Still, it's the shivers that count, and Kurosawa and Cure delivers them in sometimes devastating moments. Our hero (famed Japanese actor Koji Yakusho) has hallucinations that are as heartbreaking as they are stopping. Several of the onscreen killings happen in totally unexpected, random fashion. There is minimal gore, but when it is used, it is usually in concert with something harrowing and haunting, thus giving it that much more impact. Sure, Kurosawa overuses his snail's pacing to play some occasionally frustrating games (Detective Kenichi and his psychiatrist partner didn't need to have so many arguments about the amnesiac) and the way in which the police officer's world is crumbling around him—via his mentally ill and fragile wife—could actually itself make its own, magnificent film. But these minor quibbles aside, Cure offers something unusual, fresh, and inventive in the sick Se7en'd world of the sadist sequential slayer. It circumvents the standard formula cat and mouse mechanics to play a more painful and piercing game of liar versus eager listener. The ending may have you scratching your head, but it won't necessarily be out of confusion. It plays as a classic mindf***k, a "did you see that?" trick of the flick that hints at even more intriguing possibilities. Cure stands for something more ethereal in the realm of the serial killer. It wants to capture banal evil in a film frame and project it across the screen, and it does so in spellbinding fashion.
Home Vision Entertainment treats Cure with a great deal of respect, beginning with the stunning visual and aural presentation. Cure has a very distinct and de-saturated color scheme (reminiscent of David Fincher's cinematic palette) and the transfer here captures that antiseptic sense of psycho squalor perfectly. The 1.85:1 anamorphic image looks like a lost masterwork from a schizophrenic mind. Sonically, the subtle touches Kurosawa uses to juice up the jitters are marvelously portrayed in the Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo mix. This is a quiet film, with many scenes consisting only of ambient sound. The presentation is crisp, clean, and very effective. As for bonus materials, we are forced to settle for a 20-minute interview with Kurosawa, a nice non-Hollywood trailer, and a list-like filmography. The Q&A with Kurosawa is more like a philosophy lecture (and this is meant in a good way). Instead of discussing all the tricks, themes, and hidden moments in Cure (better for the audience to uncover them), the director lays down his motion picture belief system, his own directorial dogma (Kurosawa teaches at The Film School of Tokyo) about what film should and could be. Sometimes he is very effusive and confusing; other times he gets right to the point. Either way, it's intriguing to hear a modern Japanese director discuss his connection to Hollywood and his major influences.
Like the title itself, Cure is an ambiguous film. It wants to be a police drama that doesn't adhere to the standard evidentiary rules. It feels like a backwards murder mystery where we know just about everything concerning the crimes, but very little of how it all fits together. And it silently screams to be a terrifying thriller, except events occur in almost accidental, matter of fact fashion. As it outwits convention, it creates its own film language to sinister systematic killing. If you've tired of the rote reading of the maniacal mind, this movie may just be the Cure you are seeking.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Home Vision Entertainment
• 20-Minute Interview with Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa
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