Cure (1997)

Dread and unease ooze in abundance in this masterful, bar-raising existential psychological mystery about an exasperated detective trying to solve a series of inexplicable murders.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Review #2,547

Dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa
1997 | Japan | Crime/Mystery/Horror | 111 min | 1.85:1 | Japanese
NC16 (passed clean) for some nudity and disturbing scenes

Cast: Koji Yakusho, Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Anna Nakagawa
Plot: A frustrated detective deals with the case of several gruesome murders committed by people who have no recollection of what they’ve done.
Source: Kadokawa Pictures

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Slightly Disturbing – Serial Killer; Memory Loss; Evil
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream

Viewed: Criterion Blu-ray
Spoilers: No

Bong Joon-ho has put this in his list of top ten films of all time, and with the brand-new restoration now made accessible via the Criterion Collection, there is bound to be a renewed appreciation and critical resurgence for this extraordinary Japanese mystery-horror from the late ‘90s, produced a year before the J-horror wave took genre cinema to new heights with the likes of Ringu (1998), Dark Water (2002) and Ju-On (2002). 

Cure isn’t horror in the purest generic sense (though some might argue that it is, cinematically, the purest form of horror); instead, it is a serial killer investigative procedural, no different from, say, Bong’s similarly-influential Memories of Murder (2003), except that it strays into that territory of absolute dread and unease that its settings of everyday normalcy can’t alleviate but only amplify. 

“All the things that used to be inside of me… now they are all outside.”

A detective (an exasperated Koji Yakusho in top form) tries to solve a series of inexplicable random murders where victims are marked by an ‘X’.  As he goes deeper into these cases, he encounters a maddening young amnesiac (a creepy Masato Hagiwara) who may be the key to everything. 

Cure shows us Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s masterful staging of mise-en-scene and sound design—nothing is more frightening in this film than a lighter flicking on, or water flowing out of a toppled glass. 

Interiors have a minimalist, clinical feel, and indeed the film begins in a psychiatrist’s office, and later, we get scenes in a hospital and prison cell.  These are places built on the premise—and promise—of institutional ‘cure’, but Kurosawa asks us to reconsider that. 

In a world where the ordinary can seem threatening and indeterminate, only the subliminal could offer us a way out.  What an existential delight this is, a film that will stick with you for a long time. 

Grade: A



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