Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Koji Yakusho, Masato Hagiwara, Anna Nakagawa
Written by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, based on his own novel
Directed by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Japanese with English subtitles
Running Time: 111
Date: 11/06/1997
IMDB

Cure (1997)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Miracle 'Cure'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

While Hong Kong action movies struggle for respectability with releases like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it seems that Japanese cinema longs to be taken less seriously. For the last several years filmmakers Takashi Miike and Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) have quickly churned out genre movie after genre movie to the complete and utter ignorance of us Americans -- until now. In three weeks we've seen releases of three of these slam-bang Japanese B-movies.

If you saw and loved Miike's Dead or Alive and Audition, your next challenge is Kurosawa's Cure, his fifteenth feature film and his first to be released here. "Cure" plays more like the first half of Audition than the first half of Dead or Alive -- slow and calculated.

It stars the compelling Koji Yakusho, who has graced our shores here in a number of recent outstanding performances: Masayuki Suo's Shall We Dance?, Shohei Imamura's The Eel, Kon Ichikawa's Dora-heita, and Shinji Aoyama's Eureka. Made in 1997, Cure is only the first of five films that Yakusho and Kurosawa have made together, which is already slightly reminiscent of that other Kurosawa and his favorite actor Toshiro Mifune. With luck their other four films will eventually find their way here. They make a great team.

In Cure, Yakusho plays a police detective named Takabe investigating a series of grisly murders in which the prime suspect is always loaded with evidence and easy to catch. The problem is that, though the murders themselves follow the same pattern (an "X" carved in the victims' necks), the supposed "killers" have nothing to do with one another except that they don't remember why or how they killed. Takabe realizes that one man using some kind of mind-control or hypnosis must be behind all these murders.

The actual killer, a creepy young man named Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara) with his hair hanging in his eyes, eventually allows Takabe to catch up with him and, in the film's second half, the two men begin to play cat and mouse with each other. Takabe's questions meet with more questions, and he begins to lose control. And Takabe is not the most stable guy to begin with -- he suffers hallucinations, such as seeing his wife (Anna Nakagawa) hanging from a noose in their kitchen. (In his waking life, Takabe's wife grows increasingly disturbed, keeping their empty clothes dryer running full-time and serving Takabe a raw steak.)

The story itself provides nothing new and asks for a little much in the way of suspending our disbelief. But Kurosawa's extraordinary direction drizzles a bit of psychological acid on everything, making it seem breath-stoppingly fresh. His camera stays very still throughout many shots, such as in one that rests on the side of a building for a long moment, and if we blink, we miss a man falling through the frame on his way to a messy death below.

Kurosawa also takes the high road as far as plot construction is concerned. He's not really concerned with solving the crime or making the criminal pay. Instead he leaves us with an unsettling and potentially confusing ending that avoids both clever twists and easy categorizing. It's a mesmerizing film.

DVD Details: Home Vision's Cure DVD is another prime example of the excellent work that company routinely does. The disc comes with a superb transfer and clear optional subtitles, an interview with director Kurosawa (in Japanese with subtitles) and a filmography of this prolific and elusive director's work.