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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of the joys of seeing "foreign" films is catching a glimpse into other cultures. What do other people consider funny? Ordinary? Terrifying? "Cure" puts a Japanese spin on an idea that several American directors have touched on: that evil is something that can afflict perfectly ordinary people. David Lynch's "Twin Peaks" television series explored a similar idea to Kurosawa's: ordinary people afflicted with evil, rather than evil people, as such. The difference between Lynch and Kurosawa is that Lynch saw evil as some sort of independent force, whereas Kurosawa sees evil more as an idea. "Cure" presents us with a world in which words and ideas are a kind of virus that passes from person to person, leaving destruction in its wake. A carrier who doesn't fall ill himself, but who infects others with murderous instincts. For this reason, some of the comments here surprised me. Frequent complaints about how elliptical the film is, and how the characters need to be better defined. In particular, several complaints that the film never explained who the drifter was or where he came from. Surprising, because that, to me, was the point: he was nobody special. He didn't come from anywhere special. Viewers brought up on a diet of American cinema will find "Cure" frustrating: American thrillers always explain who the killer is, why he kills, and, most importantly, why he is different from you and me. This last point is to comfort the audience, to let them know that they could never be like the killer, that they are outside the drama, watching. Kurosawa presses the opposite point: this could be you; there is nothing special about these men. You should not be convinced that you are different from them. I will admit that if you dislike slowly-paced cinema, a la Tarkovsky, or if you don't buy the hypnotism "mumbo-jumbo" on which the film is based, then you will probably find "Cure" tiresome. I enjoy Tarkovsky, and I found that it wasn't a lot of work to suspend disbelief on the point of hypnotism. Finally, this film is an intellectual thriller; it's more frightening for its implications than for what actually goes on. The point is not to scare you and then wrap it all up neatly at the end (like most American thrillers), but instead to show you a possible world and then scare you after you leave the cinema with thoughts of what might follow. Check out the interview at http://www.reel.com/reel.asp?node=features/interviews/kurosawa as well.
The only time I can recall being as spooked by a film was when my parents
took me to see "Hangover Square" - a gothic Jack the Ripper thriller - when
I was 8 years old. I guess they couldn't find a baby-sitter. That took me
about a year to get over, a low-key, all-too-realistic chiller about the
banality of insanity.
"Cure" is such a perfect depiction of madness that just about every shot could be framed & hung in a gallery. You can't analyze this one, it doesn't follow a cartesian line of logic; nor does it blast you with halloweenish surprises in the style of Elm Street & its knock-offs. This has far deeper & subtler impact. I found as I relaxed into this film that images of recurring dreams & nightmares I've had since childhood arose & blended into what I was watching. Can't get much creepier than that.
That said, the images & emotions that this film evokes are on a very high level of poetic art. One of the most impressive elements of "Cure" is the director's ability to convey the magnetic manipulative appeal of Mamiya - surely one of the scariest things in real life & very difficult to convincingly convey on screen.
This movie has a simple premise and a simple story that is nevertheless
explored in an incredibly delicate and talented way. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
is an extremely talented individual and perhaps the only
writer/director who is able to simultaneously scare and mentally
challenge me at the same time (note that very few are capable of doing
one or the other). Although the writing is very good (story and
dialogue), Kurosawa's real strength is his ability to represent
visually the progressive denouement of his story. He rather subtly show
you and let your imagination and intellect figure it out for you than
to spell out bluntly what the straightforward storyline should be. It
does not, however, get to the point of chaotic untidiness or
pointlessness, for he is able to guide you slowly along the way (I
would then say that he is slightly easier to follow than David Lynch
is, but then again who is not). He uses here a strikingly effective
technique where he shows you a room from one angle and later lets you
discover that room more and more as the movie advances. His camera
shots are always well planned and he is thus able to draw you in the
movie bit by bit-quite an eerie sensation.
The acting is generally good and believable. The camera-work is a stand out.
There are many scenes where you will be able to appreciate this superior artistic and technical quality. The music is good and tenseful, but it is sparse and what is used instead is a contrast of minimalist and grossly amplified everyday sounds that vibrate through the movie. When there is no sound, you often find yourself holding your breath. This is not used strictly as a ploy, but rather creates a mood and further pulls you in the general atmosphere of the movie. Most of all, again, the directing is top notch. The pace which is slow enough for you to have the time to both think and be afraid is not slow enough that it gets boring, although you should not expect a North American expeditious run through the film. Everything is there, but it comes to you in slow, meticulously chosen dosage. Only, at the end can you truly see the masterpiece that has been drawn stroke by stroke in front of you.
One of the reason this movie actually works is that it is designed to play with your mind and trigger fear and reaction based not only on emotion, but on reason. People are dying, but everything is calm, rational. The tone and story are pretty much realistic and, at the end of the experience, you may feel beyond your volitional control that you are actually convinced of the "strange" things in the movie. Hopefully this feeling will subside...
The serial killer movie has by now been done to death (so to speak), so
especially rewarding to see this assured film that takes a truly ingenious
approach. Kurosawa's protagonist is a seemingly dazed young man who, in
spite of his aimless demeanor, is a master hypnotist. To reveal any more
what happens would be to give a bit too much away.
The subtlety and fluidity of this film is remarkable. The main character can be charming and simultaneously irritating when he speaks. He turns his speaking partner's question back on the speaker; he answers with vague phrases that nevertheless, over the course of the film, gradually bring out the complexity of his psyche. Pitting him against a cop whose wife seems to suffer from something like the hypnotist's 'brand' of mental wanderings underlines the thematic context of the film: what we know is almost certainly only what we think we know. And what we think we know is almost certainly based on someone else's 'knowledge', derived the same as ours.
That knowledge is a collective phenomenon, a shared and critical feature of the 'hive' is not a novel concept in film. But its presentation here is bold and original. To link that idea with a person who destroys life is a master stroke; it says that what we know vanishes in a suddenly extinguished flame, or a tiny stream of water that appears, runs, and then is seen no more.
This is a film that should definitely be added to the great films of the 90s. Since it was not released in the U.S. until 2001, I vote for it being one of the great films of that year here.
It's not easy to give yourself over to this film, for like the unwilling
victims' it portrays, it rather slowly and methodically casts its spell,
whisking you farther and farther away from the comfortable rhythm and
conventions of the crime thriller it appears to be on the
Kyua's austere landscapes are in fitful turns picture postcard beautiful, mundane and mysterious. Much of the story unfolds in master shots, keeping you at a distance from the characters and affording the illusion of a comfortable intellectual detachment which it meticulously strips away scene by scene.
The plot is deceptively simple; a weary Japanese Homicide detective is investigating a series of grotesque murders. Each murder seems to have the same ritualistic pattern, yet in each case the culprit turns out to be an ordinary individual, dazed and unable to offer any motive for their horrific crime. Nothing seems to connect the murderers to each other, until the Detective picks up the trail of an amnesia afflicted drifter who seems unable to answer even the simplest questions about himself, yet displays a disconcerting ability to reflect any line of questioning about his own identity back upon the questioner. Time and again he returns to a question at the core of the mystery:
"Who are you?"
It seems more and more, as the drifter is passed from detective, to guard, to clinician to pyschiatrist, that this question is far more dangerous than anyone might have guessed.
Kyua is a model of subtlety and restraint. Although there's a significant amount of implied violence and several shocking scenes of murder, these aren't gratuitous. Kyua's particular genius is it's ability to transform it's urban Japanese landscapes and even the most common objects from familiar to suspect and eventually sinister: a length of piping, a flashing traffic sign, a blast furnace, the sound of ocean surf at night, a flickering lighter, a dark apartment lined with academic tomes, a puddle of spilled water, the letter X smeared on a wall, a deserted rundown building.
There are few filmmakers with the audacity and imagination to venture into the places Kyua wants to take you. Fincher, Lynch and Cronenberg come to mind as those who time and time again have shown their willingness, and perhaps compulsion to return to the unsettling territory of perception, identity, and the boundary between normalcy and psychosis. If the director's first name were only David (it's not, his name is Kiyoshi Kurosawa) we'd have the makings of a good conspiracy theory here.
The film was released in 1997 but only recently has made it's way to western shores, and US distribution by Cowboy Pictures, and has wound its way inevitably to cable networks like Sundance. It's cast includes Koji Yakusho as the detective Takabe. Fans of Japanese cinema will recognize this fine actor from his award winning roles in "Shall we Dance" and "The eel".
Kyua isn't the type of visceral immediate drama that the average suspense film provides. If you can put aside your preconceived notions and allow it to unfold in it's own time, I suspect you will find the questions it asks and secrets it reveals to be all the more disquieting, problematic and in the end profound. Many critics have lined up to call this film a masterpiece, and pegged Kurosawa as one of a number of japanese directors worth watching.
In the wake of the sarin-gas attack mounted by the Aum Shinrikyo cult on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, horror films enjoyed a sudden spurt of popularity in Japan. Many of the films focus on hypnosis or media-induced violence, the fragile normalcy of modern life, and grisly deeds committed by seemingly ordinary citizens. This unnerving 1997 thriller, which seems like a direct response to the Aum Shinrikyo incident, offers a glimpse of how our own national cinema may absorb the blow of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. A rash of senseless murders wracks Tokyo; the victims have deep X-shaped gashes across their throats, and the killers (often their loved ones) are found in a daze. The only connection appears to be a mysterious drifter (Masato Hagiwara) who gets into random strangers' heads with a single, oft-repeated question: "Who are you?" What makes this subtle, quiet shocker so unsettling is the idea that everyone has secret resentments that render him or her hypnotically pliable--that everyone harbors some glimmer of murderous rage that can be exploited, whether by a drifter or by religious extremists. The writer-director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, a prolific Japanese filmmaker who's developing a large cult following here, heightens the unease with buzzing soundtrack noise and eerie long takes that leave us consistently unprepared for the violence to come. And the last sequence will leave people arguing--it requires close attention, culminating in an ending even more disturbing in its implications than the conclusion of SEVEN.
Kurosawa has created a masterpiece here. This film is more than a
horror thriller. It's a look at our modern society, and plays upon our
innate fear that there is a monster hidden inside of us - even worse,
we cannot control it.
It begins as a typical detective story, film noirish in its execution, and like typical film noir, the detective finds more to the story than originally anticipated. But this film, just like its storyline, begins to transcend the genre it purports to be a part of midway through.
More and more, we realize that it is telling the story of people today, boxed in, with our darkest desires oppressed. This theme of containment is heavy throughout, if one pays enough attention. For example, the usage of water as a symbol for the subconscious is useful for understanding many key parts of the film.
Everything is superbly framed and shot, with more than a few very long shots (a testament to the high caliber of the cast). Sound and music are used sparingly but effectively.
This film may not be very accessible to those who are only familiar with Hollywood-style film-making due to its slower pace and subtle conveyance.
I think it is important to distinguish Cure from the avalanche of
white-face-ghost-girl Japanese horror flicks that followed in Ringu's
wake. Purely because it's a different beast and lumping it in a
convenient J-horror niche is doing it a disservice. I won't go into
plot specifics because it's only a skeleton for Kurosawa to hang his
atmospherics. That said, I can understand the complaint many viewers
seem to share ("man, it doesn't make sense") but without having any
claims on solving Cure's riddle, I'm satisfied with letting wash over
me, one watch at a time.
Kurosawa wisely doesn't attempt to explain his plot. He's content to lift the veil just enough for us to sneak a glimpse in before he disorients again. The plot slowly builds through little tokens that are never followed by an orchestral crescento to signal their arrival. They just happen. A small photo in a book, muffled words on a phonogram, an old video, the ramblings of an amnesiac, theories on 18th century Austrian doctors. In the course of the film, everything seems to be coming together only to remain elusive in the end. In that aspect I find Cure to be closer to Last Year at Marienbad than your average Ringu clone. It's not about making sense, it's about pushing limits within which you can. It's about soaking in the impression it makes. When muffled words come through a phonogram, they're more incoherent ramblings than a telegraphed plot solution; but they contribute just as well to the overarching feel. This elliptic mentality is abetted by Kurosawa's choice of a slow, deliberate pace and many long shots, entire scenes covered without any cuts. The gritty and rundown aspect of Tokyo is photographed like a more naturalistic version of David Fincher's work and does the job well.
It's my impression that a surrealist air hovers above and at the heart of Cure, at times reminiscent of a more languid version of Lynch. It is undoubtedly a horror movie so don't be put off by my Resnais comparison, but it's as much bleak as it is subtle and leaves enough to the mind's eye to make you carry it out with you.
WOW!!!! Now THAT was an EXCELLENT ending to a GREAT movie. It stuck with me for several hours after first watching it and the second time was no different. It had slow methodical pacing, but it was never boring. I, for one, appreciated the elliptical editing as it's just a filmmaker doing something different and being creative. Actually, it added to the hypnotic arc of the story. It didn't bother me whatsoever, although it wasn't nearly as effective in Kiyoshi's other great movie, "Kairo." Koji Yakusho was brilliant as troubled Detective Takabe and the mysterious drifter with hypnotic powers was very convincing as well. The use of hypnotism to get others to kill and rendering themselves soulless, was a refreshing take on the serial-killer subgenre, of which I love. Someone commented here that only people who "buy the mumbo jumbo" hypnotism storyline would like this film, and comments like those always bother me. Narrative films are not REAL LIFE, even the ones based on true stories. They are works of art, and try to tell us entertaining, comedic, frightning, and dramatic stories to keep the audience interested. I don't have to believe in the subjects their stories are telling me, nor do I believe they need to solve the world's problems. All I care is that they give me an interesting idea, an interesting story, with well-written dialogue, and if it ends with a bang. These, blended with great acting (now that's an area that needs convincing in film), great camera work, and an engaging score. Those are what make films interesting and "Kyua" aka "Cure" has all those qualities. Highly recommended.
A delicate, yet exceptionally gorey murder mystery from Japan. Truly so
psychological, that I'm still not sure what might have been real and what
might have been a Jungian chase through the house of a man's mind. The
images bleed from the mundane and sterile to the nightmarish with such
subtlety and grace, that I began to question the reality of the simplest
The film is as dreamlike and subliminal as the villain it chases. Not really a thriller, though I had no clue what might happen to who next. Not really suspenseful, though I couldn't look away in fear of missing a detail. It is DELIBERATELY PACED, which might put off the typical murder mystery fan. However, if you just sit back and stare into the light, as do the hapless victims of the film, you will find it to be an unnerving experience.
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