A series of brutal killings, happening seemingly at random and by multiple killers, are connected by strange ‘X’ shapes carved into the victims’ chests. The perpetrators are apparently unmotivated and cannot account for their actions. When detective Takabe (Kōji Yakusho) is called to investigate, all signs point to an unseen spectre directing the murders.
Working within the dual traditions of the police procedural and psychological thriller, prolific director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s tightly controlled direction recalls the sparse visual design of Nordic noir, while its sensational, ripped-from-the-headlines style crimes would later be used to similar effect in David Fincher’s Se7en. Alongside Cure’s noirish structure is a quasi-supernatural premise imbued with a surrealism that frequently edges the film towards horror.
Teaming up with psychologist Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) Takabe learns that the murders are the result of sophisticated hypnosis, orchestrated by the chilling Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara). Clothed in an overcoat and wooly jumper, the slender-bodied Mamiya feigns amnesia with his targets before mesmerising them with the flame of his lighter.
Hagiwara gives the standout performance of the film, investing his hypnotist with a menace that belies his slight physicality. When he is ostensibly cornered at a hearing, he effortlessly badgers the his captors by repeatedly asking the prosecutor ‘who are you’? The question’s unceasing repetition elevates its everyday banality into something unsettlingly metaphysical. Mamiya never directly states that he has amnesia, and he never directly instructs anyone to kill. His power, therefore, is in the space he leaves for others to fill – a motif which is reflected in the film’s elliptical editing. In the nightmarish sequence where Takabe tracks Mamiya down, the scene of his capture is conspicuously absent, suggesting an unseen, sinister confrontation between the pair.
The duality between cops and criminals is a well-established trope, but Kurosawa uses the thematic device to craft psychological depth within the strictures of genre cinema. Through subtle framing and lighting, cinematographer Tokushô Kikumura transforms Mamiya’s cell in to a surreal space shared between Mamiya and Takabe. Dirty water dripping from the ceiling becomes twinkling stars in an impossible, growing sky above Takabe’s head, and questions over who is controlling whom give way to a more profound understanding between the two.
Cure’s methodical pace and stark visuals may appear overly clinical for those more accustomed to the more immediately visceral, sensational thrills of films like the aforementioned Se7en. Yet as the cold, grey tones and steady compositions of the film’s early sequences give way to increasingly surreal psychosis, Cure builds a viscera of its own, rooted in a psychology that is paradoxically real and supernatural, opaque yet revealing.
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Christopher Machell | @Dr_Machell