Review © Mandi Apple, 2002.

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 111 min, starring Koji Yakusho, Masato Hagiwara, Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Anna Nakagawa, Yoriko Douguchi, Yukijiro Hotaru, Denden and Ren Osugi.

Right from the outset, I feel it necessary to point out that Cure, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's major breakthrough hit, is not your average bog-standard horror flick. In fact, it barely even qualifies as a horror movie at all; it's more like a psychological thriller with vague semi-supernatural overtones, as shown in its tagline, 'The Power of Suggestion'. But as in the director's later films, such as Korei (aka Seance), and his complete masterpiece, Kairo (aka Pulse), Cure is willing and able to be three different movies in one - it completely breaks through the genre boundaries of the 'serial-killer' movie and becomes something entirely different, mystical and troubling, full of unanswered questions, an almost unbearable atmosphere of tension, and more dark chills than most out-and-out horror films.

There are other elements which would later influence the making of Kairo (in which, interestingly, Kurosawa gave Cure's star, Koji Yakusho, a cameo role); for instance, Cure is also shot in an almost-identical style favouring dark, murky, grubby locations, transparent plastic sheeting, long-distance sequences and muted, washed-out colours. Kurosawa of course went on to make a partial follow-up to Cure, 1999's Charisma (aka Karisuma), with Yakusho reprising his rôle from the original film.

The soundtracks are also very similar: there is no huge dramatic background music featured in either film; instead, you get very little music (one strangely effective, out-of-place and somewhat chirpy instrumental at the beginning of the film) but lots of ambient atmospherics - vague rumblings and dead air, quickly contrasted with intercuts of loud machinery or clanking metal. The soundtrack's minimalism (even omitting any kind of outro music over the end titles, preferring to use instead evening street-sounds with cars and birdsong) really helps to build up an organic and very realistic feel to the movie - as if it was almost a documentary.

Synopsis

"Who are you?"

On the face of it, Cure tells a fairly straightforward story. There is a wave of serial killings taking place throughout Tokyo, in which each victim is murdered by having an X cut across their neck, so as to sever both the carotid artery and jugular vein. In itself, that wouldn't be such a strange thing, except it turns out that it's not just one serial killer at work: in every case, there was a different perpetrator, generally waiting close by the crime scene, ready to confess to the killing, and yet with no idea or explanation why they committed the murder.

The police officer in charge of the case, Detective Takabe (played absolutely outstandingly by Koji Yakusho), is of course completely baffled by these weird cases, and through his investigation, interrogating the totally confused suspects along with his friend and colleague Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki), a clinical and forensic psychologist, he realizes that there must be one person connected to all the separate murderers. But how on earth could there be, when all the perpetrators are random and totally unconnected to each other? The only thing they all have in common is the method of murder, and that they have no recollection of why they did it in the first place.

So, after some consideration, Takabe decides that it must be the work of one person who is somehow hypnotizing the others into committing the same style of murder. He comes to this deduction by dint of the fact that his wife, Fumie (played excellently by Anna Nakagawa), has a terrible mental illness which causes her to go blank (in a kind of 'fugue' or trance state), and although she receives out-patient care at a psychiatric hospital, Takabe is her main carer; he has, of course, done a bit of layman's psychology from books, trying to fully understand his wife's condition. Along with Sakuma, he tries to build up a psychological profile of the killer hypnotist who is behind the serial murders.

However, on a secluded beach on the other side of the city, an elementary teacher comes into contact with a mysterious young man who clearly shows all the symptoms of amnesia (a totally brilliant performance by Masato Hagiwara). In fact, his memory loss is so complete that he cannot remember his own name, and keeps on asking the same questions over and over, even though the answers have just been given to him mere seconds beforehand. Fearing for the man's safety, the teacher takes him back to the house he shares with his wife, with the idea in mind of calling in the authorities. He discovers the mysterious man’s name by accident, from a label stuck inside his coat: 'Mamiya' - but when Mamiya pulls out a lighter and asks him a question he repeats constantly throughout the film, "Who are you?", the teacher does not call the authorities - in fact, he remembers nothing until the police pick him up after murdering his wife and jumping out of the window.

But Mamiya is not an invulnerable villain as in most Hollywood thrillers: in fact, his amnesia disallows him from making conscious moves to protect his identity, and therefore he leaves a pretty straightforward trail leading directly to himself, which Takabe picks up on, whilst interrogating a police officer named Oida (played by Denden). Oida previously brought in a mysterious stranger named Mamiya to his police box, made a police report of the man's name and details, and later killed his colleague in cold blood.

During this interview, a very beautiful and eerie scene is played out which totally gives Mamiya away. He can't protect himself because he can't remember to do so, or where he's been, or what he's done. But at the same time, this ensures that he is completely protected, as he doesn't know that he's been doing it - or does he?

So OK, it’s no great surprise that Mamiya is behind the mass mesmerism. That part of the film is totally Scooby-Doo-simple to work out. In fact, it doesn’t even really count as a spoiler, because you understand who the 'murderer' is and how he's doing it within the first fifteen minutes of the film, but not why.

And this is where things get really interesting, because the real meat of the film is the battle of wills between Takabe and Mamiya, attempting to outpsyche and destroy each other. The two characters are strangely polarized: Takabe, with two entirely distinct and separate 'personae', that of the detective and the husband/carer; and Mamiya, with no persona whatsoever, void of character and personality.

Mamiya's character is so totally paradoxical that the film leaves you with many, many questions that Kurosawa wants his audience to answer for themselves, which is the sign of a really classy and intelligent filmmaker - not one that wants to shove his own theories down the audience's throat. The tension and dynamic of the film is absolutely agonizing - in fact, one scene, where Takabe breaks down completely in terrible grief, is utterly harrowing, and Yakusho's performance is top-notch throughout. And equally great is Hagiwara, because IMHO he attempts and totally succeeds in the most difficult rôle of all, because how on earth do you play someone with no personality or awareness, someone devoid of every human emotion, an empty man? Someone for whom no good nor evil, no joy or hate, is comprehensible?

All in all, Cure is a groundbreaking film, made quite some time before the New Wave of Japanese cinema took off, and its influence on many of the later films is tangible. If you enjoy deep, dark, traumatic, thoughtful psychological drama at its most heavy, tense and serious, I guarantee you will love this film. Cure knocks SE7EN shades of poop out of some similarly-styled Hollywood movies ;-)

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 9/10
Sex: 0/10
Violence: 5/10
Chance of Headache: fair to middling
Chill Factor: 11/10
Depression Factor: Prozac sales will rocket
Litres of tomato ketchup: about 3 bottles, or 6 large beef tomatoes thickly sliced
***Highly Recommended!***

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Cure Wallpaper

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2002

Snowblood Apple Filmographies:
Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Koji Yakusho
Masato Hagiwara
Anna Nakagawa
Tsuyoshi Ujiki
Yoriko Douguchi

Links
http://www.cowboypictures.com/cure/ - the official Cure site, replete with downloadable trailer, wonderful design and lots of info about the movie and cast
http://www.filmref.com/directors/dirpages/kiyoshikurosawa.html
- nice page all about Kiyoshi Kurosawa, with reviews of Cure and Charisma
http://www.projecta.net/kurosawa.html - great article about Kurosawa's work by Tom Mes (of Midnight Eye)
http://www.theblackmoon.com/Deadmoon/cure.htm
- The Black Moon has a great Cure review too
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/Cure-1109442/
- some great soundbite-reviews here, with a short synopsis and cast filmographies
http://hollywoodbitchslap.com/hbs.cgi
- Cure gets bitchslapped - leave your own thoughts on the film here for all to see
http://www.movieforum.com/features/festivals/tiff00/reviews/seance.shtml
- Seance (aka Korei) review
http://members.fortunecity.com/roogulator/horror/korei.htm - another Seance review
http://www.indiewire.com/film/interviews/int_Kurosawa_Kiyosh_010801.html - Kiyoshi Kurosawa interview
http://www.pymmik.com/ - Pymmik's great site dedicated to Koji Yakusho and his work, including loads of images, a complete filmography, reviews and synopses and everything you could hope to find out about this amazing actor!
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/kojiyakushomovies/ - ... and join up to Pym's Yahoogroup to chat and exchange news and views about Koji Yakusho!
http://yakusho.nifty.com/- Koji Yakusho's official site [Japanese only]

 

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