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1997 - 4 - 111 Mins.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Producer: Hiroyuki Kato
Written By: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Starring: Koji Yakusho, Masato Hagiwara, Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Sakuma Anna Nakagawa, Yoriko Douguchi
Review by: David Rolston

Not sure he ought to go in there
It is not easy to give yourself over to this film, and the impatient may find it obtuse and slow going at first. Like the unwilling victims' it portrays, it slowly, methodically and almost imperceptibly casts a spell of transportation into uncharted territory far from the comfortable rhythm and conventions of the crime thriller it advertises, appears to be on the surface, and yet is not.

Cure (its native Japanese title being Kyua) offers up austere urban landscapes which in fitful turns are picture postcard beautiful, mundane, and filled with atmosphere and mystery. Much of the story unfolds in master shots, deliberately distancing you from the characters and affording the illusion of safety in a comfortable intellectual detachment which is meticulously stripped away scene by scene.

The plot is deceptively simple; weary Japanese Homicide detective investigates a series of grotesque murders. Each murder seems to follow same ritualistic pattern, yet in each case the culprit turns out to be an otherwise ordinary and previously normal citizen. Easily captured, each appears dazed and unable to offer any reasonable explanation or motive or for their horrific crime.

Nothing seems to connect the murderers to each other, until the Detective picks up the trail of an amnesia afflicted drifter who seems unable to answer even the simplest questions about himself, yet displays a disconcerting ability to reflect any line of questioning back upon the questioner. Time and again he returns to a question at the core of the mystery: "Who are you?"

It seems more and more, as the drifter is passed from detective, to guard, to clinician to pyschiatrist, that this question is far more dangerous than anyone might have guessed.

Cure is a model of subtlety and restraint. Although there's a significant amount of implied violence, some shocking gore and several graphic murder sequences, it never seems gratuitous. Kyua's particular brand of genius can be found in its ability to transform urban Japanese landscapes and even the most common objects from familiar to suspect and eventually sinister: a length of piping, a flashing traffic sign, a blast furnace, the sound of ocean surf at night, a flickering lighter, a dark apartment lined with academic tomes, a puddle of spilled water, the letter X smeared on a wall, a deserted rundown building....

There are few filmmakers with both the imagination and fearless audacity required to venture into the places Kyua wants to take you. Fincher, Lynch and Cronenberg come to mind as those who time and time again have shown their willingness, and perhaps compulsion to return to the unsettling territory of perception, identity, and the (to their way of thinking) paper thin boundary between normalcy and psychosis. In its uniquely Japanese predeliction "Cure" goes a step farther in applying these themes to Society as a whole, perhaps understandably when framed by its relation to the body blow to the Japanese zeitgeist resulting from the shock and publicity of the Tokyo subway gas attacks of 1995. The gas attacks later traced to a cult, was an event for the Japanese which was equally as shocking as what US citizens experienced in the World Trade center attack on September 11. Although in both cases the victims found themselves far more vulnerable than they were willing to admit, for the Japanese, there was no easily identifiable foreign terrorist organization to blame.

With the release and commercial success of The Ring, a handful of recent Asian language films are finding a receptive audience in the Production offices of Hollywood, with film makers and Stars who seem intent at the moment of foisting retooled and westernized remakes on Western audiences, with barely a nod to the Asian storyteller's they're adapting.

On one hand, it's encouraging to find the attention shining a light on some of the exciting work being done in Japan, Hong Kong and Korea. Often however, what is exciting is that these film makers are the ways they are reworking and vamping on traditional western story structures and genres. When you strip the multicultural perspective from a film... what do you actually have left that feels fresh or new?

Cure was released in 1997 but only recently has made it's way to western shores, and a short US distribution by Cowboy Pictures. Fortunately Cure can be seen on cable networks like Sundance and IFC.

The cast includes Koji Yakusho as the detective Takabe. Fans of Japanese cinema will recognize this fine actor from his award winning roles in Shall we Dance and The Eel.

Kyua isn't the type of visceral drama that attempts to seduce you in the first five minutes. If you can put aside your preconceived notions about what a Detective movie should be, and allow it to unfold in its own time, I suspect you will find the questions asked and secrets revealed to be all the more disquieting, problematic and in the end profound.
Movie Guru Rating
An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater. An excellent film.  Among the best in its Genre.  Worth seeing in the Theater.
  4 out of 5 stars

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