By Jake Euker
In and around Tokyo, a series of unrelated murders have an eerie common characteristic: the victims, killed by those well-known to them, are each branded by an X carved into their torso just below the throat. The killers are all unknown to one another and the detail has not been publicized. The only characteristic that the killers share, besides an irreconcilable remorse, is a vague confusion about what took place in the moments leading up to the murder.
The killings haunt detective Takabi (Koji Yakusho), not least because he worries about the safety of his wife, a disturbed woman who is prone to become disoriented and lost when out of the home. The first half of the 1997 thriller Cure, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation) and now available stateside on DVD, details the crimes themselves, revealing the true culprit in the killings and showing the ways in which this murderous cipher gets inside his subjects' heads. The second half is about the detective, and about his struggle to keep the villain out of his own head.
Cure, like the two Insomnias and such recent Japanese horror as Takashi Miike's Audition, thus presents a battle being fought both in the streets and within the mind. And like little Regan in The Exorcist, the villain here is no less a threat in captivity than on his own. The film's best scares derive from this latter fact; watching our hero interact with his quarry in a jail cell, we're aware of the peril he faces, and we're conscious of the fact that nothing in society could protect anyone from such a foe. And protection is needed, as evidenced by the ways that the violence he inspires erupts in the film with terrifying spontaneity.
This inside/outside horror has been turning up with some regularity in the increasingly strange world of the Japanese thriller. Kurosawa, who is a fairly prolific director and who moves among various visual styles in his work, presents it here within a clean, plainly-observed cinematic framework that renders his hallucinatory subject matter all the more frightening. But the fact is that the approach is not an especially deep one, and in Cure it's given more deliberation than it can bear. The film is longish, as though length were needed to explore the depth of the theme (it's not), and the psychological complexities we're given to ponder in the second half (the detective's guilty ambivalence toward his bipolar wife, for instance) fall somewhere between thin and not there.
Cure occasionally frightens - and very successfully when it does - but it's ambitious beyond the confines of its genre. Kurosawa gives us something to think about when what we want is something that scares.
Facts and Figures
In Theaters: Thursday 18th October 2007
Box Office Worldwide: $99 thousand
Production compaines: Daiei Studios
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Cast & Crew
Starring: Kōji Yakusho as Kenichi Takabe, Masato Hagiwara as Kunio Mamiya, Tsuyoshi Ujiki as Makoto Sakuma, Anna Nakagawa as Fumie Takabe, Yoriko Dôguchi as Dr. Akiko Miyajima, Yukijirô Hotaru as Ichiro Kuwano, Denden as OIda, Ren Osugi as Fujiwara, Masahiro Toda as Tôru Hanaoka, Misayo Haruki as Tomoko Hanaoka, Shun Nakayama as Kimura, Akira Otaka as Yasukawa, Shôgo Suzuki as Tamura, Toshi Kato as Psychiatrist, Hajime Tanimoto as Takabe no shachô