Cure (1997) – An unsettling psychological horror film from Kiyoshi Kurosawa

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(The following review is free of spoilers.)

Not a lot of names come to mind when somebody asks me to list the best horror films I’ve seen that managed to be both horribly unsettling and intellectually stimulating at the same time. Some of them maybe formulaic and derivative and yet only few succeed in being impressively original. Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s (not a relation of the other Kurosawa) Cure is one of them. At times reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s early work, the film begins with a murder scene set to a playful tune that belongs in a cartoon or a comedy and has no place in a psychological thriller or a horror film, for that matter.

A man casually walks over to the half naked prostitute he had just slept with and batters her to death with a drain pipe that he had picked up on the way from work. The lead investigating detective Kenichi Takabe, upon examining the apartment, finds the suspect hiding inside a cabinet, visibly shaken. On being questioned, he seems to have no recollection of what transpired before the murder. He just knows that it was he who killed this woman and for no apparent reason.

Takabe is puzzled and soon comes across several other murders of a similar nature. Each victim either has an “X” carved into their neck. And just as in the first murder, a suspect is found who admits to the murder yet having no clue of what motivated them to murder. Takabe, along with his psychologist come to the conclusion that someone is making them commit these horrendous acts. An amnesiac man named Mamiya is seen walking around town and he is soon brought in for questioning. Every question he is asked is answered with another question and this frustrates Takabe as well as everyone involved in the investigation.

Mamiya doesn’t even make personal contact with any of the murder victims. He just hypnotizes the individuals that he comes into contact with, and makes them kill whoever is around them. It’s a scary premise. He moves around like an apparition and at times makes you wonder if he is indeed an apparition or whether he is from an alien planet. Mamiya is one of the creepiest characters I’ve seen in cinema and would get along very well with The Joker from The Dark Knight. In fact, several of his exchanges with Takabe is reminiscent of the interrogation scene from The Dark Knight.

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What Mamiya actually does is he gets people to talk about themselves and tries to bring out their dark side from within them and toys with it. He uses two elements – fire and water – to hypnotize these strangers and there is a brilliant scene where Takabe uses Mamiya’s own method against him – using a lighter – but for some odd reason, it starts raining outside at that precise moment and the water comes dripping through the leaky roof and extinguishes the fire from the lighter and this water is then used against Takabe.

The terror unfolds slowly as Takabe is being asked several questions regarding his own personal life. Mamiya learns that Takabe is married to a mentally unstable woman and that she is currently undergoing treatment. Mamiya takes this and tries to use it against Takabe. There are some thought-provoking discussions about hypnotic suggestion and “mesmerism” thrown around and the ambiguous final shot will get you thinking for a while. This is my first Kiyoshi film and I’ve read that just like how the other Kurosawa had worked with Toshiro Mifune on several films, Kiyoshi has worked with the lead actor Koji Yakusho on more than two films. Cure has definitely impressed me and I’m now going to check out Kiyoshi’s other films.

 

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