If by chance anyone who eventually reads this also takes a look at my site from time to time, you may be aware of the fact that I’m a severe fan of the Japanese horror film Kairo. I use the word severe by no slip of the tongue, I can often get quite annoying with my endless recommendations for the film. Sadly, it hasn’t really had widespread popularity over here in the states just yet and hasn’t been given a region one DVD release, but I’m sure that day is coming. Such isn’t the case for this earlier film from the same director, Mr. Kiyoshi Kurosawa. The name no doubt is going to bring up images of samurai and village peasants for those not initiated, but there is no connection between Kiyoshi and the legendary Akira Kurosawa. I hate to even bother going over this fact, because when I read reviews for his films I hate seeing the same warning myself (and generally resent the writer for pointing out the obvious, in my book at least), but apparently since so many do it there must be a select few out there who would try and make the connection. Anyway, if there was any way to connect the two directors, I can only imagine it would be in the fact that both are absolutely brilliant masters of their respected genres. Akira, best known for his samurai films (and yes, that wasn’t all he made, but it is what he is best know for) and Kiyoshi has become, although only in the dawning of his peak, a master of telling horror stories. Though Cure probably isn’t a horror film by the strictest of standards, the same way David Fincher’s Se7en isn’t, it still is in some primitive form. Eli Roth, director of the not-quite-as-brilliant Cabin Fever.once made a point that it seems the nineties killed the horror genre by fragmenting it, and taking films that would have likely been considered ‘horror’ in a previous decade and giving them the rather redundant title of ‘thriller’. You can take his opinion or leave it, but for my money, Cure definitely leans more towards horror fiction than it ever will a plain Jane thriller. Just because there’s no supernatural elements doesn’t reduce the horrifying nature of the story, or if we stuck to those standards the whole slasher subgenre would probably take a completely different face altogether.
So, hopefully by this point your interest is piqued and you’re wondering just what Cure is all about. If you’re not, well, I guess I just suck at my job – but that won’t come as much of a shock either. The basic summary for Cure that is used everywhere takes up nearly thirty or forty minutes of the film, and if the story wasn’t so in depth and crafted, these basic plot elements would probably be considered spoilers elsewhere. I’ll try to keep the review as spoiler free as possible, but with a film such as this – all you want to do is talk to those who have also experienced it. The story kicks off with Detective Takabe (played remarkably by Koji Yakusho) wandering onto the scene of yet another murder in Tokyo that seems connected with several others that have popped up recently. The victims all have two slashes that start at the top of their necks, and come down to their chest bones. Slicing all the right arteries with almost surgical precision. The only other direct connection is with the killers themselves, who apparently never remember their crime nor have any true motive to commit the heinous act. Takabe is at the end of his leash, and has brought in a psychologist friend Makoto Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) to help get inside the mind of these inexplicably random murders. His answers only frustrate Takabe more, as he cannot bring himself to believe there are no true answers as to why someone would commit such a crime, and his instincts pay off. Somewhere on a small deserted beach a young man sits admiring the view of the ocean, when all of a sudden another young man, though dazed and seemingly sleepwalking through life, stumbles upon him. He asks where he is and what the date is… and moments later, asks the very same questions. It quickly becomes apparent that this stranger has a severe case of short term memory loss. The young man takes him home to his wife, where conversations only seem to get worse and fall back and forth until the stranger pulls out his lighter. Shortly after this visit, the young man kills his wife and tries to commit suicide. Takabe only finds out about the stranger until much later, and eventually by luck brings him in for questioning – but the conversations are as frustrating as ever and he finds himself unable to get inside the young man’s mind. Something worse is at play as well, and the young man appears to be playing a game, a game that he is in control of. Between the insanity of his work life and the growing dependency his wife is having to have on him for her dissipating memory: Takabe only hopes for happiness, he only looks for a cure.
Not to get all dramatic or anything, but that last line sums up the whole of the film and if I could give any key bit of advice to understanding the story – it would be that one line. The film is about the progression of this one character, and as you may can expect from the rather dark story, the conclusion may very well be equally as bleak. The great thing about Kurosawa is how unpredictable he is, Kairo is probably the only film that has ever truly frightened me since first viewing The Excorcist when I was a little kid; and the reason it was so terrifying was simply because I didn’t know what to truly expect. Looking at the plot was like looking through a fogged glass, you could see bits and pieces, make out a few shadows – but the real story was hidden from your eyes, and although logic clears the glass up a little bit with Cure, it’s still very much the same. The natural and supernatural are always at odds, and there’s really no way to tell really whether the film is about the supernatural or not. There’s a lot that is hidden in the background, but it’s not so ambiguous that you need a map to find your way through (as might be the case with Kairo, if you ask certain people). It’s one of the most intelligent scripts you’ll probably ever see and it’s pulled off with equal amazement. It’s frankly one of the most impressive films I’ve had the pleasure of watching in a long while, and leaves you with a book worth of thoughts you’ll most likely want to share with anyone willing to listen. If you’re the slightest bit a fan of mind-warps, track this film down immediately. You’ll never look at a spilled glass of water the same way in your life.