Cure ★★★★½

As I mentioned with Pulse, one of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's best traits as a filmmaker is that his presentation of material has a lack of an emphatic expression to it. The shibui nature of his filmic style, as Bordwell suggests, offers us all the narrative information in the frame necessary, but rarely highlights its relative importance. The rigorousness of this formula thus puts an indelible amount of faith in the spectator to become involved in the narrative, finding horror in commonplace frames that don't tell us to find horror.

Cure's one mistake comes in its initial moments, a murder that happens indifferent to the frame involving a blunt object, ironically scored to kitschy music that feels like something out of the Von Trier/Haneke playbook, which is to say it tells you what to expect. But Kurosawa is in full control otherwise, linking every aesthetic idea to the same idea as his protagonist: an unknowable quantity who turns every investigation into his motivations or origins back on the basic premise of who is investigating him. While the film is told in long takes, these takes are given a mundane design. The initial scene at the beach is one of the most frightening moments in the film without anything in the frame to suggest that this moment is frightening. Characters are relaxedly placed in the frame, not tightly ordered, and the way that the antagonist controls his doomed subjects is through commonplace lighters and glasses of water. Kurosawa emphasizes their importance the first time in the frame, but then allows them to stand as far back in the frame as possible otherwise, letting our own paranoid spectatorship create the fear than letting the camera do it. Cure's mise-en-scene does everything possible to tell you "this is not a horror movie," in the same way that the hypnotized have no understanding of the atrocities they are forced to commit.

Cure gives us a thesis early on when the psychiatrist explains how most murders are inexplainable, and the constant refrain that the killer must have read this in a book or a movie reminds us to think differently about how this film operates. "No one understands." Kurosawa emphasizes that throughout his plain use of naturalistic locations, garishly plain lighting, a sparse unobtrusive score, unstylized acting* (especially by the phenomenal Masato Hagiwara, who looks bored in every scene), and simply shot choices that never tell us how to interpret the information. It is telling that the silent film we see features the hypnotist in the place of the cameraman—the killer is both director and spectator. This spectatorial involvement turns neatly back onto the protagonist himself, whose obvious traits as a cliche of the genre suddenly turn inside out where his own personality is just as externalized as everything else in the film. Along with Zodiac (Kurosawa mentions Se7en as an influence), it is the ultimate film about obsession with the unknowable, providing just enough clues to string us to a literally blank face. This is a mystery that we can stare directly at, but never truly understand.

*I usually have trouble knowing how to judge or examine non-English language performances, but I was struck at the plainness of the delivery of dialogue throughout the film, in which actors rarely break out of any mold of unnatural delivery beyond some of the more frustrated antics and screams of the protagonist.