Many would cite 1998’s Ringu as patient zero of the boom in Japanese horror films that hit around the turn of the century. Released a year earlier, Cure is undeniably cut from the same J-horror cloth and arguably ushered in an entire sub-genre of lonely and technologically paranoid films that followed.
In fact, Cure’s director, the Palme d'Or-nominated Kiyoshi Kurosawa who, went on to further add to the J-horror canon, himself, with the far more well-known Pulse (sadly, probably only better known as an indirect result of the universally panned American remake).
Cure is a disturbingly deliberate affair in which a police detective, Kenichi Takabe (Kôji Yakusho), encounters a spate of bizarre murders in which various perpetrators kill without any real motive or being able to explain what made them do it. Each person tops things off by carving an ‘X’ into their victim’s neck, only to all be found close to the scene of the crime, having made no attempts to escape and in an almost fugue state.
Eventually, a man by the name of Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara) is identified as a common link between the murderers, but attempts to find information from him raise more questions than answers after he’s found to be suffering from apparent amnesia, with no ability to lay down new memories or give details of the past.
Cure weaves terror with crime procedural drama and mystery in a way that should be familiar to fans of East Asian horror cinema. Although it’s never particularly gratuitous, there’s a definite bluntness to the killings which Kurosawa directs using ominously long takes, asking the viewer to watch, voyeuristically, from afar. This is all underlined by a notable lack of musical score that makes the film feel all the more matter-of-fact. If there’s one thing that Cure particularly excels at, it’s inexpertly creating a legitimate sense of dread at the drop of a hat.
The trade-off of the film’s tonal mastery is a slow pace that won’t be to everyone’s taste and after a while, the proceedings begin to veer into the realms of the metaphysical, which is where things will fall apart for many viewers. That said, provided that you’re open to a more philosophical attitude introducing itself partway through the film, Cure is an effective gem of Japanese cinema and a must-see for fans of the country’s horror output.
Until now, Cure has been unavailable on home media in the UK and given the film’s obscurity, you could do a lot worse than this release which presents the film beautifully and features both a classic and a newly filmed interview with Kurosawa as well as a retrospective interview in which critic Kim Newman explores its origins and legacy within cinema as a whole.
CURE (1997) / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: KIYOSHI KUROSAWA / STARRING: MASATO HAGIWARA, KÔJI YAKUSHO, TSUYOSHI UJIKI / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW