Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The success of Ringu sparked an international interest in new Japanese horror films and
inspired the belated American release of this frighteningly intelligent horror film. Director Kiyoshi
Kurosawa's deceptively simple premise doesn't rely on the supernatural for its effect,
but it certainly blurs the line between a psychological thriller and one of spiritual possession.
Detective Kenichi Takabe (Koji Yakusho) desperately tries to solve a series of killings
where previously benign people kill in the exact same horrible way, carving large 'X's across
the throats and chests of their victims. None has a clue as to why they did what they did. With
the help of psychiatrist Makoto Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki), Takabe finally apprehends meek amnesiac
Kunio Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara), a blank-slate drifter who appears to have instigated the killings
second-hand, through hypnotic suggestion. The problem that nobody seems to grasp is that anyone who
gets near Mamiya easily falls under his deadly influence.
There's a point in conspiracy movies when you know the battle is lost, when the schemers have
murdered all the witnesses or destroyed all the evidence, as in The Bad Sleep Well and
The Parallax View. In paranoid Sci-Fi
pictures like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, it's the moment when we find out that too many
people have been possessed, that the invaders have won. Cure maintains the uneasy feeling of this
moment throughout most of its scenes, never completely crushing the hope that the hero
can defeat an almost indefinable menace, one that police and doctors can't define until
it's too late.
Told in a crisp and uncluttered style that reduces many scenes to splendidly designed single takes,
Cure makes us feel as if we're eavesdroppers on events
that can't be explained in words. Many scenes are observed from the next room or at a discreet
distance, yet we're fully engaged in every detail as we follow Detective Takabe's search for the
answers to horrible crimes. The amnesiac Mamiya is outwardly harmless-looking. He has the
potential of being a Japanese Hannibal Lecter, a powerful mind bent on committing his atrocities
indirectly through other people. Mamiya describes himself as empty and is such a sponge for the
feelings of others that he often appears telepathic. Like Hannibal Lecter, he develops a unique relationship
with our hero, one that we fear can have only one outcome.
The picture has a couple of brief but startling gore moments but relies mostly on a sense of creeping dread,
for what might happen if this epidemic of mass murder gets out of control. Working from his own novel and
script, director Kurosawa brings in elements of ghostly influence and the hint of supernatural involvement,
using an engaging method. After a certain point, learning more about Mamiya becomes near impossible,
because anyone in contact with the mind-warping Svengali begins to experience hallucinations and other
adverse effects. One certainly walks away from this macabre thriller with a sense of unease.
HVe and The American Cinematheque's DVD of Cure is an admirable job with an enhanced image that
gives us a rich picture to contemplate. The good encoding is not super-sharp, but with Kurosawa's
clean images we hardly notice. The music score starts with a couple of engaging melodies and stays
an active part of the soundscape even after boiling down to some sparse tones and presences.
The disc comes with an interview with the director (in subtitled Japanese) in which he talks about
Japanese 'V-movies', the equivalent of our straight-to-video shows and the details of his career (he
loves to shoot in dilapidated buildings). He derived his formative notion for Cure from the idea
that our personal identities are neither rigid nor unchanging, that we're influenced by whom we live
with and love. His 'villain' may use hypnosis, brainwashing, or possession to impose his warped psychosis
on others, but for all practical purposes the process seen here is simply one's identity being influenced
by the personality of another. Kurosawa stresses that an individual, personal identity isn't a traditional
Japanese concept, which gives the movie an interesting cultural context. He also identifies his generation
as 'in between' the older WW2 generation with its set ideas, and the new younger one that seems to believe
in their hobbies and interests as ends in themselves. He's an interesting guy.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Movie: Very Good
Video: Very Good
Supplements: Trailer, Director interview
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 16, 2003
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2004 Glenn Erickson
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