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In Cure, an atypical, idiosyncratic police procedural/serial killer film from director/Kiyoshi Kurosawa, an emotionally volatile homicide detective, Kenichi Takabe (Kôji Yakusho), in mid-case as the film begins, attempts to uncover the hidden connection between a series of grisly murders. The murderers are seemingly normal individuals, all with stable careers and home lives. None have criminal records. The murders, however, are connected by the incision of a large “X” across the upper chest and throat of the victims.

Cure is roughly divided into two halves, with the first half following Takabe in police procedural mode. The unstable Takabe roughly interrogates the shell-shocked murder victims who claim to have no memory of the murders. During the first half, an important subplot is added into the mix. Takabe is revealed as the caretaker for his wife, who suffers from an unspecified mental illness (but which causes bouts of amnesia). Takabe is worn down, both from his job and from the demands of his marriage. During the first half, however, the audience is in a superior position to the detective, knowledge wise. An aimless drifter, eventually identified as Kunio Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara), encounters a man with a sketchbook on a semi-deserted beach. His eccentric behavior (he claims not to remember his name, and seems unable to retain basic information about his surroundings) leads to the man inviting him home. At his new acquaintance’s house, Mamiya rebuffs all questioning about his identity. With the aid of a gentle voice and a lighter, Mamiya burrows into the man’s mind. Mamiya can hypnotize others into doing his bidding, or rather, as one character later suggests, Mamiya's talent lies in compelling his victims into unburdening themselves of social conventions and expressing their darkest desires.

As Takabe gets closer to the identity of the serial killer, and the killer continues to wreck havoc on those he encounters, Takabe picks up bits and pieces about hypnotic suggestion, a theory he tosses out early in the film, only to be rejected by his psychiatrist friend, Makoto Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki). The trail of dead bodies, however, eventually leads to Mamiya, who’s been taken to a mental hospital, where Takabe discovers him. The second half of the film then covers Takabe’s struggle to understand who Mamiya is and why he’s become a killer-by-proxy. But with his marriage deteriorating (a planned vacation goes nowhere), and Mamiya probing Takabe’s mind for weaknesses during several meetings, Takabe is likely to be Mamiya’s next victim. Takabe, however, does have one advantage that Mamiya’s other victims didn’t: his growing knowledge and understanding of Mamiya’s hidden talents.

Cure takes a decidedly unpredictable turn in the third act, but almost as importantly, becomes an exploration into social and personal identity, alienation, and dislocation, with Mamiya functioning as a subversive force to uncover and release darker, but no less real, impulses buried in the human psyche. Mamiya’s repeated question, “Who are you?” is never answered satisfactorily, least of all by Takebe, who immediately identifies himself by his social roles as detective and husband. For some, Cure might be viewed as a reflection of the contemporary malaise in Japan. Others might see this theme as obvious and banal. Even then, Kurosawa’s film deserves credit for its immaculate visual style and oblique approach to storytelling (narrative and character details are either left unsaid, unseen, or only hinted at).

For the most part, Kurosawa avoids showing violence on screen as it occurs, preferring to either shoot it from a distance (as in the opening scene, shot in silhouette) or to show the brutal effects of the violence inflicted by Mamiya’s proxies. Kurosawa’s approach to shooting violence cascades across the entire film. Kurosawa prefers to film most scenes at a distance, with minimal medium shots, and even fewer close-ups. Instead, he shoots, Ozu-like, through doorways and corridors, often from a low angle (and with only ambient noise on the soundtrack). Kurosawa's film style helps to create a pervasive sense of disorientation in the audience. Rather than being self-indulgent, Kurosawa’s film style is the opposite, a perfect complement to the themes of alienation, the malleability of personal identities, and the conflict between social and personal identities underlying Cure.

© Mel Valentin, 6th February, 2005

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