Friday, 8 April 2011

Personal Favourites: Cure (キュア)

Cure (キュア) 1997

Released in 1997, Cure was director Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s first major international breakthrough piece. Most noted for his cult horror film Pulse and the brilliant Tokyo Sonata, Kurosawa has shown a flexibility in his directing. However, Cure sees the director take the simple premise of a ‘serial killer’ story and turn into a psychologically challenging picture, touching on the themes of hypnosis and memory loss. Kurosawa’s use of sound, and great cinematography create a disturbing atmosphere which many thrillers fail to achieve. Whilst it will leave the audience in a state of shock and confusion, the film is a masterpiece of thriller cinema. 
The story centres around a wave of grizzly murders, in which the victims have an X brutally carved into their chests. However, each body has a different killer, who is usually found near the scene of the crime. They hold no motive and have no recollection of the event that have occurred. Detective Kenichi Takabe (Koji Yakusho), husband to a wife who suffers from short-term memory loss and mental fragility, is struggling to deal with the endlessly frustrating case and his wife’s problems. However after arresting a strange young man, Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara), near a murder scene, he believes he has his man. But now the challenge is connecting him to the deaths, explaining how he kills ‘his’ victims. and finding out WHO THE HELL HE IS?
Cure will inevitable be linked to David Fincher’s Seven (1995). They both have similar basic principles of a 'serial murder' story, as well as the dark/disturbing atmosphere and interesting characters. Kurosawa has a unique grasp and willingness to portray the realistic brutality and unsettling nature of the plot. But he also has the bravery to venture into the difficult themes of psychosis, while challenging the boundary between reality and the imaginary. Evil and villainy are not independent entities or forces in relation to Kurosawa’s portrayal and thinking. Instead, Cure sees them as ‘ideas’ that spread and ‘infect’ the human mind, creating a hesitance to trust anyone, and crafting a society where anyone is a potential ‘killer’.
The ending plays very much towards this ideology, and will confuse many due to its lack of a definite conclusion. But it’s perfectly orchestrated to allow the audience to question, debate and interpret. As explained in my review of Source Code, modern cinema has been meddled with by executives and the ‘heads’ of Hollywood. Instead of twist endings or memorable cliffhangers, directors have been ‘forced’ to formulate happy and conclusive final acts. Therefore it is quite refreshing to go back to the 90s and witness a film in an era of great cinematic endings (Usual Suspects, Sixth Sense) and Cure's is another one to add to that list.
The acting is excellent, believable and does well to support the challenging story. Koji Yakusho, plays the frustrated detective and gives a fantastic performance. The growing intensity of the case, results in a dramatic change in Takabe’s personality and humanity. As Mamiya enters his world, we slowly see his descent into ‘madness’. His imagination merges with his sense of realism, created hallucinations and a breakdown in his mental stability. From the confident and collected detective, his mind slowly decays, eventually leaving him in a state of emotionlessness. Masato Hagiwara also puts in a stunning performance as Mamiya. Whilst initially being quite irritating because of his short-term memory problems, he really comes to life when communicating with the murderers, prior to their crimes. He portrays a calm, soft-toned individual (he reminded me of a Japanese James Franco), who constantly questions the various characters, giving little about his own character. Yet it is through the interactions between Mamiya and Detective Takabe, where both characters are truly crafted. These scenes incorporate the intense and unsettling atmosphere, whilst the acting remains powerful and manages to symbiotically encompass these settings. 
Cinematographically, Kurosawa is very clever in his use of imagery and general direction. He allows his atmosphere and characters to portray his plot rather than bluntly 'force-feeding' it to the audience. Lighting, sound and camera work all play a predominant role without creating a film that solely relies on dark tones and a dreary pallet. He isn’t afraid to use obscure but simple camera techniques to frame his production. Our introduction of Mamiya is one long tracking shot across a beach which though simple, manages to create a sense of mystery towards him. This is helped by Kurosawa’s use of sound which is powerful and contributes superbly to the unease and tension created by the scenes.  While the score is sparse, the film uses amplified everyday sounds, such as a tumble dryer, to create bellowing tones that resonate throughout the film. These also contribute to the psychological and hypnotic atmosphere and themes. Trickling water, to the crashing waves on the beach, it is hard to ignore that Kurosawa focused on turning these noises into a sinister and disturbing ambience. 
Overall, Cure is horrifyingly tense, insane, but immense. Many will be left in a state of confusion after the ending. But with all great thrillers and films in general, this is left to the audience to fully conclude and determine. The psychological aspect to the film is well played out, with the fantastic acting and cinematography contributing heavily to the impressive picture. Cure has been well received by audiences and critics even with the limited release back in 1997 and subsequent lack-lustre DVD release. It’s 'thriller' cinema at its best, and leaves you with a sense of angst towards the human condition, which could turn at any minute. 

Check out my other 'Personal Favourites' in the Features section. 

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