Straight off the bat, Cure seeks to unsettle, unnerve and disturb. It stands out as an important film for Japanese cinema because it is the film that brought the West Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) who has, since 1997, the year of Cure's release, cultivated a very quiet reputation as a genre filmmaker, perhaps best known for his 2001 film Pulse, which alongside Ringu, Ju-On and Dark Water remains one of the four pillars of modern Japanese horror cinema.
Cure focusses on a police investigation into a series of bizarre murders all with same M.O, a large X carved on their bodies. However, the perpetrators are all different people who have nothing in common, except that while they do remember committing the crime and regretting it after they don't know why they killed their victim other than it felt like a good idea at the time. Detective Kenichi Takabe leads the investigation and finally finds the one thing that ties the crimes together - Mamiya - a man with seemingly extreme short-term memory loss who always seems to talk to the murderer before they commit their crime. Detective Takabe, thanks to pressures at home and at work, slowly unravels as he tries to work out the motives behind this string of murders.
Cure is a film that you need to see all the way through. It is not overtly violent. There are moments, the worst kind, those bits you see out of the corner of your eye and so briefly you are not really sure if you saw it at all. It is not scary in the traditional Hollywood sense with things going bump in the night and loud jump scares. It is in the tone of the film where the true horror lies. From the very start of the film you are nearly smothered by a very unsettling atmosphere, almost everything feels sinister and not quite right. If you have not been properly primed for the film then Cure may seem boring, cheap and lazy, or funny, yet I promise that while it may be a less obvious type of fear, it is one that will stay with you long after the film is done. This comes from the matter of fact way that the first murder is committed and the use of long takes and long shots allowing audiences, like in It Follows, to build an oppressive sense of anticipation as we are made aware very quickly just how this film works.
Similarly, the world feels real and yet separate, almost as if we are looking at the world through some sort of grimy window. Despite Tokyo being a very modern clean city, Kurosawa and his cinematographer, Tokushô Kikumura, find these decaying mouldy buildings, like the hospital or the prison or the fluorescent nightmare that is Takabe's apartment. It seems to reflect the rotting subconscious of Japan and allows the film to combine elements of film noir into the narrative and visuals. Yet it is also a world that is so close to our own, we could know the people that commit the murders and perhaps more terrifyingly we could be made to do the same.
This is compounded by the great central performance of our lead, Kôji Yakusho, who is perhaps best known for his roles in Tampopo, 13 Assassins and more recently The Third Murder. Yakusho lends a level of reality and stability, at least at the start, that is vaguely comforting, yes he has issues but he is the detective and he will solve the case. However, as the film progresses and he slowly unravels in an entirely horrifying and relatable way we see that even rocks like Takabe can crumble in the face of the insurmountable unknown. Yakusho's grounded performance mixes wonderfully with Masato Hagiwara's otherworldly Mamiya. The two play off each other so well, that it creates a compelling cat and mouse detective game.
Another strength of the film is it’s ambiguity, especially the last scene (which perfectly ends the film) leaves those questions that eat away at you unanswered. Kurosawa is a master of this type of horror, his recent film Creepy (a title that may have been a little on the nose), does exactly the same thing and it has stayed with me since I saw it at the Bath Film Festival almost a year and a half ago.
Eureka! Entertainment are in charge of this release as part of their Masters of Cinema series. Their 1080p presentation perfectly encapsulates the Fincher-esque cinematography and their handling of the visual transfer, including the uncompressed LPCM original Japanese audio track, lacks any mistakes or digital errors in the film playback. Due to the film’s language track Eureka! has provided some easy to read subtitles that don't distract from the action on screen, and menus that are suitably straightforward to navigate. To compliment the film Eureka! has included an interview with Kim Newman who provides expert opinion and an introduction to Kurosawa and this, his fifth film as well as the first to give him international notoriety. Additionally, there is a collector's booklet with an essay by Tom Mes and an archive interview - as well as a newer one - with the director himself, who talks at length about his process, allowing viewers insight into the creation of such unsettling stories.
Cure is a film that will appeal to horror fans and art house cinema fans due to the name helming it. Kiyoshi Kurosawa bridges the gap between these two audiences unlike any other filmmaker currently working. And there is no one currently working like Kurosawa; his unnerving almost supernatural tale has a deeply routed uncanniness that will haunt you way past the end credits. With Eureka! providing a great way to get this film into your home and enough extras to compliment and expand on the film, you have no excuse but to track it down because it is truly mesmerising.