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Cure (Kurosawa Kiyoshi 1997)



Genre: Quasi-supernatural Psychological Suspense

review in one breath

Cure is the first theatrical film directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, who later went on to direct many popular thriller/horror films including "Hebi no Michi" (Serpent's Path, 1997), Charisma (1999), Kourei (Seance, 1999) and "Kairo" (2001).

Many of Kurosawa's films are characterized by the fluid and evolving identity of his characters as they are impacted by personalities and powers beyond themselves. Cure follows Detective Takabe (Koji Yakusho) as he becomes increasingly involved in a series of grisly murders whose perpetrators are seemingly unrelated yet whose methods are identical. Eventually Takabe encounters the only common thread amongst the cases, Mamiya, a extremely amnesiatic medical student whose dissertation studies were of the personality and theories of the 18th century occultist, Mesmer. Everyone coming into close contact with Mamiya is eventually convinced that he may wield a darkly sinister power responsible for the murders being investigated.

Though Takabe believes he has enough evidence to convict Mamiya, such as his fingerprints at the various locations, others have clearly committed these crimes, and Mamiya himself is declared amnesiac by Sakuma, the lead psychiatrist brought in by the police. Mamiya seems utterly unable to answer any questions, as he fails to remember even the questions he was asked moments ago. Instead, he persistently asks "Who are you?" and "Tell me more about yourself." Those who are willing to divulge their personal information inevitably seem to commit an otherwise irrational murder characterized by a large "X" cut across the victim's throat.

Although this modus operandi becomes clear to the viewer and to Takabe very early on in the film, what remains elusive throughout the film is the reason WHY this is happening. Why is the wildly amnesiatic Mamiya hell-bent on causing this murderous chaos and to what degree is Takabe's own investigation and perception being manipulated through his various confrontations with Mamiya? It is through this primary tension of the mystery behind Mamiya and the possible corruption of the main character, that director Kurosawa creates the environment of supernatural thriller.

In an interview accompanying the US DVD release, Kurosawa confesses that he is fascinated with the fluid and elusive nature of an individual's "identity". Unlike Western films, in which Kurosawa finds characters with static, defined "identities" from which the character's future actions are determined, his notion of human nature requires a moment-by-moment evolution whereby we are all changed by the circumstances and acquaintances encountered. Thus Cure, and other Kurosawa films (especially Kourei and Charisma) do not focus on the characters' triumph over difficult circumstances, but rather on the manner and degree to which the character is changed by the circumstance, perhaps resulting in actions which would have been totally out of character at an earlier stage, but which in the end seem inevitable.

In this sense, the title Cure refers to the state of release accomplished by Takabe following his encounter with Mamiya. Kurosawa intends to show viewers how Takabe's identity is furthered established, "cured" of its prior conflicts of conscience, through the bizarre and morally ambiguous environment created by Mamiya's mischief. Neither the Cure nor Takabe's ultimate stance of resolution could be deemed a moral high road, but this is precisely Kurosawa's point. We are children of our environment, shaped by forces around us, rather than static creatures always striving for a similarly static "morality".

This was a very interesting and thought-provoking film. None of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's films have been disappointing, and here he lays down some of the ground rules whereby he will construct his later work. Cure is now available in a USA DVD release with very good (accurate) subtitles. The release also provides an interesting 2003 subtitled interview with Kurosawa himself specifically regarding Cure.

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The first theatrical release by director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, an undeniably rising star in Japan's horror/thriller genre. Since this is basically a crime thriller involving murders via a strange ritual of slicing a deep "X" across victims' jugglers, you should be prepared to see several graphic shots of a deep "X" sliced through victims' jugglers. By the way, one victim is a freeze dried monkey. Don't you hate when the film's only naked babe is the first to die off? Kurosawa excels in studies of character development (and de-evolution) utilizing bizarre supernatural themes.

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