Japanese film-maker Kiyoshi Kurosawa is best known for his unsettling films with metaphysical plot structures. His movies have a bleak austerity, and the characters remain alienated. “Cure” (1997) was one of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s best movies, which highly concentrates on atmosphere rather than the central mystery. Although the movie comes under the ‘Serial-killer’ genre, it doesn’t possess the great cat-and-mouse game, we saw in Hollywood movies like “Seven” or “Silence of the Lambs”. Its plot structure is quite different and finishes at a point without giving us neatly packaged answers. “Cure” is Kurosawa’s take on ‘identity’ in an inhibited society. The film’s details are placed in an intricate manner and might baffle the passive viewers.
The movie beings in a well-lit hospital room and a woman sit astride, reading the story of ‘Bluebeard’. In the next sequence, a prostitute is clubbed to death in a hotel. Detective Takabe (Koji Yakusho) and psychologist Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) investigate the crime scene and confirm the fact that it is another homicide, where the victims have a massive ‘X’ carved into their torso/neck. However, the perpetrators are caught in every case, and they don’t remember the gruesome act of murder. In fact, Takabe finds the killer of prostitute in an air-shaft, cowering naked. All the perpetrators seem to be ordinary citizens, who fall suddenly under the grip of some weird compulsion.
The crimes also don’t have any motive. Detective Takabe bears the pressure of solving these strings of senseless murders. Takabe is married to a woman, who is mentally unstable and tries hard to keep up with her. A wandering, enigmatic, and amnesiac man (Masato Hagiwara) in the beach asks a guy, ‘where is he’? The guy tells the name of the place, but the drifter forgets everything within 30 seconds. The good-natured guy, a teacher who married his high-school sweet-heart, takes him to his house, and finds out from the jacket that the drifter’s name is ‘Mamiya’. The drifter flicks up his lighter and starts asking the good-natured guy some questions. The next day, the wife of the guy lays dead with an ‘X’ carved on her stomach and her husband tries to commit suicide. The drifter is nowhere to be found.
Takabe investigates the teacher and the guy says that he remembers killing his wife, but doesn’t know why and totally forgets about the strange drifter. Soon, similar types of gruesome crimes happen at a faster rate (a police man kills his colleague; a general practitioner tears out a guy’s face using surgeon’s wife). Eventually, all these crimes are linked to the presence of a ‘strange hypnotist’. Takabe finds out that the stranger might be a former medical student, obsessed with mesmerism and hypnotism. However, the strange guy throws off all forms of verbal communication by persistently asking series of irritating questions. Takabe wants to find the answers to the mystery, and may be in those answers he could find the ‘cure’ for his distressed personal and professional life.
“Cure” isn’t a thriller that travels from point A to B, by marvelously positioning a mystery and neatly answering it the end. If watched attentively, the film will stalk, creep and will submerge inside us, asking many puzzling questions. The film starts off like a usual police-procedural fashion, where the detective and his side-kick psychiatrist ponder over the crimes’ patterns. However, we come across the killer, very earlier, and we pretty much know how he does it. The only question remains at that point is ‘why’, which is what takes us through a psychological maze, leaving us stranded in the middle. Even in the end we don’t have answers, but we can form our own theories to say that this is what Kurosawa intended. So, the generic elements of thriller are only there to draw us in, and once you are in, the story become ambiguous, where the director doesn’t spell everything out (similar to David Lynch in “Mulholland Drive”).
The triumphant part of Kurosawa’s direction lies in creating the ambient atmosphere, where everything from a gramophone to a humming washing machine sounds eerily. The pacing is very relaxed, but the director imbues certain uneasiness that makes us not to look away or blink our eyes. Although it was filmed on a paltry sum, the images are far better than a generic Hollywood thriller. He creates great impact in the killing scenes by keeping a distanced, dispassionate distance, without making a cut. These shocking scenes increase our dread, whenever ‘Mamiya’ comes across other’s lives asking: “Who are you”?
Kurosawa’s themes and offerings could be considered as bleak and pessimistic. In this film, the themes is that ‘cure’ is possible for human soul only when he removes him from inhibitions and stays ‘free’ to do what he wanted to. Sadly, that cure seems to be gruesome murders – the persons, who keep the perpetrators from staying ‘free’. Mamiya seems to affect everyone in the close vicinity, with his concept of ‘freeing’. Takabe seems to the only who resists Mamiya’s manipulations, except for that scene, when Takabe imagines that his wife has hanged herself.
Kurosawa also likes to ponder over the behavior of Japanese men. Like in Shohei Immamura movies, the protagonist or any men in a Kurosawa film seem to repress their genuine emotions or true thoughts. Most of the men in his films don’t seem to know what their ‘self’ is. Takabe isn’t sure who he really is or doesn’t know what he should cling with – be a talented detective (societal responsibility) or a caring husband (personal responsibility). In another simple scene at the dry-cleaners, while Takabe is standing, an owner mutters angrily in the background, but when he emerges and faces the customers, he interacts as if he is the polite man on earth. These are small intricate details, which don’t help us to solve the mystery, but clears on what Kurosawa intended to give us. The ending leaves us our head scratching, contemplating the various possibilities from then on.
“Cure” (112 minutes) is an ambiguous thriller that chucks out all the conventional story-telling language of this genre. It takes the idea of mind control to a frightening notion, one that has hefty amount of emotional weight.