Review: CURE, Hypnotically Haunting
Masterfully directed by Kurosawa Kiyoshi, the intense murder mystery stars Yakusho Kôji and Hagiwara Masato, now on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
What gets under your skin?
The film is available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.
I don't remember any plot details from my first viewing of Cure some 20 years ago at an Asian Film Festival of Dallas screening. What I remember is the entire packed auditorium collectively gasping.
It wasn't because the moment was shockingly bloody or incredibly gross. Rather, the moment caught everyone off-guard. If the preceding moments had not jangled everyone's nerves, that quietly devastating scene put everyone on notice that director Kurosawa Kiyoshi had the goods and wasn't afraid of of doling them out piecemeal, without following a preconceived formula that has been regurgitated ad infinitum.
Though I was personally ignorant of Kurosawa before that night, he had already been a working director for some 20 years by the time I caught up with him. His experience bears fruit in Cure, which he also wrote, because he knows what he wants to do -- unsettle the viewer on a cellular level -- and he knows how to accomplish that.
Rewatching Cure via The Criterion Collection and their splendid new Blu-ray, featuring a 4K digital restoration, is a distinctly unnerving experience, especially during a movie month in which well-worn horror tropes are trotted out for the upteenth time, with their only distinction being increasing buckets of blood and gore. Kurosawa chooses a different path, which is much quieter and more deceptively off-target, while still including gruesome, bloody moments.
The film's narrative is somewhat familiar: dogged police detective Takabe (Yakusho Kôji) investigates horrifying murders, teamed with skeptical psychiatrist Sakuma (Ujiki Tsuyoshi). Sakuma throws water on Takabe's suggestion that the crimes must be somehow related, despite each being committed by someone different, all of whom readily admit their guilt, without being able to explain why they committed the heinous act.
By the time a mysterious amnesiac (Hagiwara Masato), is finally identified as psych student/college drop-out Mamiya, the film has made a sizable dent in serial-killer movie expectations because director Kurosawa has fleshed out Takabe's home life with the introduction of his wife Fumie (Nakagawa Annie), who has some pre existing problems of her own, which initially appear to be tangential to the primary plot.
Cinematographer Kikumura Tokusho brilliantly captures the shadows in everyday life within each and every scene, cloaking the investigation in darkness that begins to suffocate the characters. The 4K digital restoration pays off with increased clarity in the gloomy surroundings, and the uncompressed stereo soundtrack adds to the discomfort and anxiety induced by watching the movie.
To buttress the movie itself, the disc, sporting a new cover by Michael Bolan, also features "No Boundaries," recorded in May 2022, a 35-minute conversation between director Kurosawa Kiyoshi and filmmaker Hamaguchi Ryusuke (Drive My Car), his former student. Kiyoshi talks about his early career and the time he spent without a job, during which he dreamed up films he wanted to make, including this one, then talking about how the film came to be after he made a string of V-Cinema movies (direct to video genre flicks). Hamaguichi shares his genuine enthusiasm about the film, and the conversation is warm and engaging.
Interviews with actors Yakusho Koji (14 min) and Hagiwara Masato (20 min.), both recorded in September 2020, allows the actors to speak at length about the film and their experiences working with Kurosawa for the first time. They also speak to the director's script and how he dealt with the actors on set. Both interviews are conversations with an interviewer who asks very good questions, offering her own insight on the movie, though the camera is fixed on the actors.
An interview from 2003, recorded in Toronto, with Kurosawa (20 min.), is broken down into distinct segments which are completely fascinating, as Kurosawa talks about the film, how it came to be, his intentions, and also his goals for future films, as well as the period of film history that was most influential upon him as an individual and a filmmaker.
The disc also features the original theatrical trailer, the 4k re-release trailer with critical reactions quoted, and the 40-second original release teaser. A printed essay by critic Chris Fujiwara, full of his usual sharp critical insights and observations, rounds out the package, going extremely deep on the film itself, and relating it to many other aspects that I never considered while watching it; the essay is brilliant and profound.
As Hamaguchi Ryusuke says in his conversation with Kurosawa, Cure needs to be seen more than once to fully appreciate the director's mastery of the subject matter and the subtle contours he brought to shaping his material through the excellent performances of the actors and his own visual instincts. It's a masterful film.
- Kiyoshi Kurosawa
- Kiyoshi Kurosawa
- Masato Hagiwara
- Kôji Yakusho
- Tsuyoshi Ujiki