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Cure - Criterion Collection
Written and directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997's Cure is set in the director's native Japan and is centered around a detective with the local police department named Kenichi Takabe (Kōji Yakusho). His job is stressful and his home life less than ideal, as his wife (Anna Nakagawa) has some mental health issues.
When a string of murders occurs, each of the victims with a giant letter "X" carved into their neck, he's tasked with trying to find and apprehend the killer. If that weren't enough for him to deal with, the killer seems to be a different person each time, with the presumed murderers caught shortly after each killing, right near the location of each respective murder, each one confessing to the killing but without an obvious motive of explanation. To get to the bottom of this, Takabe teams up with Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki), a psychologist, and they soon come to the conclusion that one man serves as the lynchpin for all of this, eventually figuring it to be a man named Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara) who suffers from short term memory loss, to the point where he never really knows who he is or where he is at any given time.
When Mamiya is brought in for questioning, the cops don't get any real answers out of him, instead only strange questions about Takabe's past, which quickly starts to eat away at the detective's typically calm and cool demeanor, causing him to quickly lose his temper. When Takabe researches Mamiya's past and starts to figure out the truth behind what he's really up to, he is able to tie the current rash of killings to a murder that took place in the 1800's under similar circumstances, but figuring all of this out won't come without its own series of repercussions both professional and personal.
A remarkably tense film filled with existential dread and a palpably dreary atmosphere, Cure is not your typical serial killer movie or cop versus bad guy picture. It's a very unique film with some fantastic twists and turns, the kind that keep you glued to the screen right up until the movie's intentionally ambiguous ending. It's a very suspenseful picture, skillfully directed by Kurosawa and boasting impressive cinematographer from Tokushô Kikumura and an equally strong score from Gary Ashiya. Production values are strong across the board, the locations, some of which are quite eerie in their own right, serving as the perfect backdrop for the story to take place in. While the film isn't short, at close to two hours in length, it never feels like it's dragging and the deliberate pace at which the story unfolds serves to give us proper character development and all us to settle in and better understand the different motivating factors at play in the movie.
The movie also benefits from some genuinely excellent performances. Kōji Yakusho is very good as the lead detective. As he gets more involved in the case and things start to deteriorate with his wife, we really feel for him and completely understand when he starts lashing out. Life throws a lot at him in this movie, and Yakusho is completely believable in the role. Tsuyoshi Ujiki and Anna Nakagawa are also very good in their supporting roles, crafting interesting characters that are quite important to the details of the story. Masato Hagiwara is, as the film's heavy, truly remarkable in this film. He plays the part extremely well and crafts a chilling and memorable screen villain that really stands out against the countless other serial killer movie villains we've seen over the years.
Cure gets a Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection on a 50GB region A locked disc in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen, the film's proper theatrical aspect ratio and taken from a new 4K digital restoration that was supervised by cinematographer Tokusho Kikumura. Picture quality is quite good, with accurate looking color reproduction and nice detail. Black levels are strong throughout and skin tones look lifelike and natural. There's virtually no print damage here at all, though the film's grain remains intact, as it should. Compression artifacts are a non-issue and the image shows no noticeable noise reduction or edge enhancement.
The only audio option provided is a Japanese language 24-bit LPCM 2.0 track with removable subtitles provided in English only. Sound quality on this release is very good. The movie's atmospheric mix is replicated really nicely and the score has good range and power behind it. Levels are balanced properly throughout and there are no issues with any hiss or distortion to note.
Extras start off with a new conversation between director Kiyoshi Kurosawa and filmmaker Ryusuke Hamaguchi that runs for thirty-six minutes. Hamaguchi was a former student of Kurosawa so they have a good chemistry here as they talk about the origins of the film, how Kurosawa came to direct the picture, the specifics of certain shots and the film's visual style and what the Japanese genre filmmaking scene was like when the movie was made in the late nineties.
Up next is an interviews with actor Masato Hagiwara that runs twenty minutes. This interview goes over his thoughts on playing the heavy in the film, what it was like working with Kurosawa and how he reacted to his directing style throughout the making of the movie. Actor Koji Yakusho is interviewed next in a fifteen minute piece in which he also talks about his role and about working with Kurosawa.
Criterion has also included an archival interview from 2003 with Kurosawa that runs for twenty minutes. In this piece, the director talks about where some of the ideas for the movie came from, his intentions with making the film and how and why he was going for a very specific tone in the film.
Finishing up the extras on the disc is a teaser and two different trailers for the feature, menus and chapter selection options. Inside the keepcase along with the disc is an insert booklet containing technical notes on the presentation as well as an essay on the film penned by critic Chris Fujiwara.
Cure holds up extremely well. It's a smart, stylish and suspenseful film that is as unique as it is engrossing. The Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection looks and sounds very good and it contains a nice array of extra features as well. Highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.