Cure ★★★★★

This is my second Kiyoshi Kurosawa film, and I’m just now getting to know and really appreciate his visual language. Kurosawa is a master at capturing the state of total emotional detachment on film. The Japanese term for minimalism (“shibui”) may be the best way to describe it as suggested by Bordwell. The frames are meticulously constructed, slow-moving and static, often with a wide or faraway focus—building his entire narrative in this way, Cure perfecta creating a sense of dread and consistent unease. Kurosawa’s framing actually provides all the narrative information at any given moment, but rarely does he highlights its relative importance. Doing so allows the viewer to place their own importance in seemingly straightforward scenes, injecting horror in the otherwise commonplace. It’s really the hallmark of any top-tier psychological film—to let the viewer create a nightmare for themselves (in addition to what’s shown on screen). Comparing this to Kurosawa’s later work Pulse, which is much more so an actual horror film, Cure’s mis-en-scene is set up in such away that seems to consistently iterate “this is not a horror film”. And yet, with its brilliant but intentionally constrained camera work, sparse background score, and darkly blunt dialogue, Cure deftly instills a constant slow-burning paranoia throughout its entire runtime.

Kurosawa cites The X-Files as well as David Fincher’s masterpiece Se7en as influences for writing the screenplay for Cure, and thinking about the latter film now, I realize the parallels are so strong between the two. There is a fundamental difference though—in Fincher’s work, the killer (played by the previously-revered Kevin Spacey) is sort of a one-off. His murder spree becomes solely a means towards reaching the detectives (played by Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman) and destroying their moral fiber at its very core.

However, Kurosawa’s work is unarguably more sadistic and critical of society as a whole. His killer (incredibly portrayed by Masato Hagiwara) targets the inherent hatred within everyone and puts it on display in a vicious cycle. Cure’s fatalist thesis is perhaps it’s most terrifying element. The narrative firmly exposes the dangers of voyeurism, of obsession, and of subconscious rage. The naturalistic settings, paired with flat lighting, sparse musical score, unstylized acting, and semiwide-angle framing are all elements which underpin the film’s central focus on futility. As the psychiatrist character foreshadows early on in the film, the phenomenon is practically unexplainable.

There really is no Cure for it, and that’s as scary as it gets, folks. 

I can’t recommend this film enough; everyone should see it at least once. I’m extremely eager to see more Kurosawa and to re-visit Pulse sometime soon.