by Del Harvey
Strange, intriguing Japanese thriller crawls into your ear and holds your mind hostage.
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Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has crafted a unique and disturbing crime film that departs from other contemporary films in some significant ways. It has been compared to Memento, undoubtedly due to its ability to play with key plot elements and structure in subtle ways that are disconcerting, yet still allow the viewer to follow the storyline. However, unlike Memento, which was at its core a reworking of the timing of a simple crime, Cure messes with our minds, causing us to doubt the known as much as we fear the unknown. That is a lot to burden any film with, but in the case of Cure, the vitally manipulative story really does play with those concepts and thought processes which we have come to accept as fundamental.
Combining elements of mesmer, or hypnosis, and psychotic behavior, Cure is the story of an mysterious transient who seems to have the ability to cause complete strangers to commit brutal acts of murder. Once they have completed the crime, they remain in the vicinity of the scene, unable to recall why they committed such heinous acts. The police are completely baffled and totally frustrated by these murders. The murderers obviously have committed the crimes, and admit to having done so, but cannot offer a single, rational motivation for having committed them at all. Each of these murderers has never committed a crime like this before, if they’ve committed any crimes at all.
A break seems to come when the lead investigator, Inspector Takabe (Koji Yakusho), theorizes that hypnosis may have been involved in these crimes. His ability to think “outside the box” is really boosted by the fact that his wife, Fumie (Anna Nakagawa), suffers from her own mental ailment which seems to be related to Alzheimer’s. She follows routine patterns on a daily basis as best she can. Then will suddenly break the pattern for no apparent reason. At other times she seems driven by audio and visual patterns, and any break in the rhythm is quickly misread as an opportunity to start the cycle over again.
The very offbeat Mr. Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara), the psychotic hypnotist, is frightening in his ability to manipulate and control. His mind seems to operate on a set of twisted gears devoid of morality or kindness. Yet he appears as an amnesiac wayfarer when we are first introduced to him, and his truly despicable nature is not revealed until nearly halfway through the film, even though we suspect him from the beginning. It is this guile and deceit which is so alarming in a subtly disturbing way.
Kurosawa - no relation to Akira Kurosawa - wrote and directed Cure. The film played to critical success at film festivals around the world in 1998. In 1999 he made a semi-sequel called Charisma, although it does not feature the same characters. Kurosawa remains a very prolific director whose work is continually pushing limits, which may or may not have created a loyal following. Cure appears to be his most universally popular film to date. It is certainly a masterpiece.
Like the recently released American version of Insomnia, I hope that one of the big motion picture companies decides that Cure is worth reworking, because it is worth the effort to present such an unusual story to an American audience.
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Southern California and is a former Disneyite, a former Lucasfilmian, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College for giggles.
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