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Cure (Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 1997)


    It’s taken me a while to warm to Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s movies (and I’m not all the way there yet), but that’s at least partially because of the consistency of their negative worldview. The relentlessly dour mood is off-putting, but after a few movies it starts to grow in power, or at least it becomes more understandable as a distinct point of view. In order to fully appreciate how pervasive it is in Kurosawa’s vision of modern horror, one probably should look at his body of work, instead of just individual films. In each of his movies the horror elements are a manifestation of a larger brand of discontent, plainly on view. Essentially, he makes the subtext in these movies the text itself, which ironically leads to an experience that is more intellectual than emotional. The approach is a definite change of pace for the sensationalistic horror genre, but it’s not without its caveats. Using societal malaise as a universal excuse for his genre exercises comes off as a bland, almost obligatory front at the same time it provides the viewer a gateway into his films’ deeper meanings. Kurosawa’s movies are distinctive to me, but are generally too turgid to be truly enjoyable (much less frightening!). His muffled style becomes less frustrating if one gets to the point where it becomes fully expected, but that’s hardly an excuse for it. In Cure, generally regarded as his best film, the same problems exist for me as in his less roundly respected works.


    The story of a Japanese philosophy student turned serial killer who emerges from chronic amnesia to spurn people to commit murder, Cure boldly suggests that we are only separated from our inner impulses to kill by societal coding. Because the story is told primarily through the perspective of Takabe (Koji Yakusho), an investigating homicide detective, there’s much hand wringing over the motives for the killings. Takabe’s partner repeatedly suggests that the “devil made them do it”, making it obvious how often such impulses aren’t explicable using the lexicon society provides (and alluding to the fact that they are, indeed, suppressed). The horror that Kurosawa comes up with suggests that the will to kill is lurking just under our surfaces, and it’s at least ostensibly more frightening than any more mundane explanation (the last shot is chilling, for certain). Even the fallback rationalization that the killer is manipulating these people into acting out his will is shot down with the disturbing reminder that hypnotism can’t force someone to act against their own morality. It’s a great setup, raising themes such as violence’s ability to be spread like a virus, the possibility that ritual and habit have superceded morality, and the way that communication serves as an invitation for corruption. Unfortunately, it’s ultimately more interesting in theory than execution.


    Much to its detriment, Cure is so high-minded that it ceases to be a whodunit about halfway though its runtime. Once the instigator of the crimes is apprehended, it turns into a protracted interrogation with unknowable evil (which naturally resides in all of us), and the plot comes to a standstill. The languidly paced movie begins to wallow in its philosophical concerns, which is a lamentable thing, since the first half of the story raised those questions without betraying the genre. Though there’s a memorable final confrontation in the protagonist’s mind, and a heck of a closing, most of the film’s second half isn’t nearly moody enough. When it falls on Kurosawa to demonstrate the way that his villain can pull people in with his hypnosis, he doesn’t succeed. Werner Herzog and Lars Von Trier have managed to make hypnosis a convincingly cinematic phenomenon, but here, there’s just a lot of somnambulistic speaking and a deadly pace. Kurosawa seemingly doesn’t have the formal chops to match his grand ambitions, and it’s a shame. As a result, the bulk of the movie, in which the ideas stampede over the genre and style, is a lot less intriguing than the more conventional aspects, even if once can discern a deepening themes. Essentially, like each of Kurosawa’s movies to date Cure isn’t quite able to overcome the problems that ail it.



Jeremy Heilman