Cure (1997) Movie Review

The most surprisingly thing about Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure is just how average it is. The film is a crime drama, and like dozens of other Japanese crime dramas I’ve seen in the past, Cure follows the formula to a “˜T.’ The conventions are as follows: a slow, plodding narrative; characters that do the “Japanese thing” and hide their emotions until it explodes; long moments of silence interrupted by sudden bursts of violence; and the whole film is more concern with how it “gets” to the end than actually getting there. That isn’t to say Cure, a 1997 effort by Kairo writer/director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, isn’t a worthy film — it’s just, well, it’s nothing new, and if you’ve ever seen a “typical” Japanese crime film, you’ve seen this one.

Cure opens with the brutal murder of a prostitute by her john; when veteran Detective Takabe (Koji Yakusho) investigates, he discovers that the john has no idea why he killed the prostitute. It seems Takabe has been investing similar acts of murder in the last few weeks, and each time the murderer seems compelled to kill, but doesn’t know why. Meanwhile, an amnesiac name Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara) appears on a beach where he meets a mild-mannered schoolteacher. Mamiya seems to have short-term memory and can barely remember what he said, or what anyone else said, a few seconds after they said it. It isn’t long before Takabe’s investigation leads him to Mamiya, as the other man is leaving a trail of dead bodies in his wake…

After having every hair on the back of my neck stand up during 2001’s Kairo, I was expecting more from this 1997 effort by the same writer/director. To say I was disappointed wouldn’t exactly be correct, because the plodding narrative of Cure is not new to me, and I always expect Japanese films to conform to it (and is surprised only when they don’t). The film is based on a novel by Kurosawa himself, and is a standard Japanese crime drama. It moves from point A to point B and eventually reaches point C. There’s very little surprise in-between, and somehow Kurosawa’s ruminations on person and identity and memory seems lost in the shuffle of bloody bodies and gore. If there was a point to Cure, Kurosawa must have lost it during the translation from print to screen — that is, if there was ever a notable and worthwhile point to begin with.

The result is that Cure never really shifts into gear. It begins slowly and ends the same way. In-between the beginning and end Kurosawa throws some gruesome murders at us, although they’re always after-the-fact murders, which means we don’t see the actual crime being committed, only the gory results. This takes away any potential for thrilling “stalk” scenes. If nothing else, I at least expected (or needed) those scenes, but alas, they were not present.

Another problem with Cure is that the Mamiya character, with his is-he-or-isn’t-he an amnesiac act really got to be annoying after a while. The character essentially stares glassy-eyed into the camera and trudges back and forth, showing no energy at all. Granted, his character is that of a broken-down man with very complex thought patterns and motives, but that doesn’t make watching him sit there and chatter on endlessly any less tiresome.

The movie’s one plus is actor Koji Yakusho (Takabe), whose character’s personal life is actually more interesting than the serial killer case he’s on. Takabe’s wife is ill, and although the movie never elaborates on her illness, we can extrapolate that she’s going through something of an identity crisis, putting a tremendous mental burden on her husband. The wife’s problems of identity and memory tie into the movie’s overall themes of self-realization and self-identity.

Cure is a stylish if slightly uninspired film, and every now and then there are flashes of the brilliance Kurosawa will eventually showcase in Kairo. Like a lot of crime films from Japan, the movie relies on long moments of silence before throwing sudden violence at us. Cure doesn’t always work, mostly because its themes aren’t all that interesting to anyone but a Japanese audience, and its violence is uninvolving. Actually, the movie as a whole is quite uninvolving.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa (director) / Kiyoshi Kurosawa (screenplay)
CAST: Koji Yakusho …. Ken-ichi Takabe
Masato Hagiwara …. Kunio Mamiya
Tsuyoshi Ujiki …. Makoto Sakuma
Anna Nakagawa …. Fumie Takabe
Yoriko Douguchi …. Dr. Miyajima

Buy Cure on DVD