Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Screenplay: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Based on a Novel by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring: Kôji Yakusho, Masato Hagiwara, Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Anna Nakagawa
Running Time: 111 min
BBFC Certificate: 15
Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a Japanese director who’s been steadily working since the mid-70s. He found great critical acclaim in 2008 with his family drama Tokyo Sonata, which took home the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes. This was part of a small selection of dramas the director made around the time, but before that, and again in recent years with films like Creepy, his work lied largely in dark genre movies – mostly horror and crime. Many of his films are not well known in the West, but probably the first to get any sort of attention across the globe was his 1997 thriller Cure. Despite sharing some similarities to Ring, the film that kick-started the J-horror trend, yet pre-dating it by a year and collecting positive reviews at festivals, Cure managed to somehow never get released on home video in the UK. Thankfully, Eureka, who have long been championing the work of Kurosawa, have finally brought the film to our shores, in the shape of a fine Masters of Cinema dual-format Blu-Ray and DVD release. I jumped at the chance to review it after loving Creepy when I saw it early last year.
Cure follows detective Kenichi Takabe (Kôji Yakusho), who’s assigned the difficult case of a rash of murders happening around the city. The perpetrators are always clear so caught straight away, but they never seem to have good reason to carry out the murders and can recollect little about them, acting in some sort of emotionless trance. Also providing a clear connection between the acts is the fact that all victims were killed or at least marked by a deeply cut cross etched into their necks/upper chests. Other than that, Takabe and his criminal psychologist partner Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) can’t find anything linking the murders. So they’re at a loose end until they find that a mysterious young man was recently seen with two of the murderers. This man is Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara), a cryptic and emotionless amnesiac who infuriates Takabe as his questioning is constantly sent round in circles.
As we learn that Mamiya is a master hypnotist, willing random people to kill, there’s a worry that his techniques might be getting to Takabe. The detective is already at the end of his tether due to struggles with his mentally unbalanced wife Fumie (Anna Nakagawa), and Mamiya’s needling seems to be having the desired effect.
Like Creepy, or the first half of it at least, Cure thrives on mystery and uncertainty. With little on-screen violence or gore (considering the subject matter), other than in short, shocking moments, Kurosawa is more concerned with creeping dread than bombastic thrills and scares. In the first half, we’re fed drips of information and scenes are often cut short before we discover exactly what happened. Then, in the second half once matters are clearer, tension is drawn through not knowing who to trust, as anyone, including our ‘hero’, could have been affected by Mamiya’s powers of persuasion and nobody knows how to prove his guilt or put an end to his reign of terror.
Kurosawa also crafts a disturbing worldview through the use of dilapidated sets and locations that have a grimy air of death and decay about them. They’re dimly lit too and shot with icy precision. There’s little light or hope in this bleak tale where even Takabe’s homelife is messed up.
Another way Kurosawa manipulates the audience is through sound design. With very little music used, the film instead relies on subtle sonic atmospherics to imbue scenes with the appropriate mood. Going back to Takabe’s homelife as an example, the constant thrum of his tumble dryer, which his troubled wife constantly switches on without filling, creates an oppressive atmosphere which presses on the audience as it does our protagonist.
All in all, it’s a superb thriller that quietly gets under your skin with its eerie presentation and simple, but powerful concept. With a frightening and dark finale it’ll stay in your mind long after the credits have rolled too.
Cure is out on 23rd April on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema series. The audio and picture quality are solid.
Extra features include:
– Kiyoshi Kurosawa on Cure (17 mins) a new video interview with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa - A new video interview with critic & author Kim Newman - An archival interview with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa - Original theatrical trailer - A collector’s booklet featuring an essay by Tom Mes
It’s a decent collection of interviews which will help better appreciate the background and influence of the film. Newman’s piece is particularly entertaining as he chuckles away whilst musing over Kurosawa’s distinct style.