Saturday, February 12, 2011


キュア (Kyua )

Released: 1997

Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Koji Yakusho
Tsuyoshi Ujiki
Anna Nakagawa
Masato Hagiwara

Running time: 110 min.

Reviewed by David Lam

I first came across Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s "Cure" when J-horror was beginning to gain attention. I remember watching it on VCD and having a real hard time making out the shaky subtitles. Overall, I thought the film had an intriguing premise but ultimately failed to deliver. I found its third act to be terribly convoluted and the ending infuriatingly ambiguous. I admired the film for its esoteric nature but I wasn’t convinced that it was the masterpiece everyone was claiming it to be (I know, it’s blasphemous). I eventually got rid of the crappy VCD but did not dismiss Kurosawa as a director. "Bright Future" and "Tokyo Sonata" further proved that Kurosawa is a master at his craft and I began to think that maybe it was worthwhile to take another look at "Cure".

Upon re-visiting the film, I was still taken aback by the violence, particularly by how it was depicted. The early hotel scene of a man bludgeoning a call girl to death with a drainpipe, was startling, not because it was graphic, but because of its matter-of-fact manner. The man’s calm demeanour offered no hint as to what was fuelling the violence. This unsettling sense of ambivalence was present whenever violence was shown in the film. In Kurosawa’s world, violence is devoid of meaning; violence is a senseless ritual that we can’t stop perpetuating.

The first time watching "Cure", the film struck me as being sombrely quiet. Kurosawa occasionally used music to punctuate key scenes but for the most part, "Cure" unfolded quietly. Characters talked but rarely to each other, and when they did speak, it was almost always in an elliptical manner. When experiencing the film for the second time, I was able to pick up on the nuisances of the sound design. The scenes between Takabe (Koji Yakusho) and his wife (Anna Nakagawa) were often drenched in noise that made their disconnection that much more apparent. The silence between the two was often filled with the tumbling sound of the washing machine or the hum of the microwave. In many scenes, noise was a harbinger of violence. For instance, the crashing sound of waves could be heard the night before the school teacher killed his high-school sweetheart. Similarly, the crackling sound of the wind was the only thing present on the soundtrack as Takabe made his way to the abandoned barn towards the end of the film.

For many viewers, the fascination of the film comes from trying to figure out who or what Mamiya (Hagiwara Masato) represents. I was looking forward to being able to gather a little more insight on Mamiya’s character and what makes him tick but instead, I found Mamiya to be even more enigmatic after the second viewing. He’s a nomadic presence that drifts in and out of the film. He personifies the ambiguity that each character struggles with. He’s the murkiness that undulates beneath the surface of every character. He appears, each time, soft-spoken and befuddled by his surroundings. There’s a sense of bewilderment in his eyes that’s makes him appear unassuming. He commands your attention and you don’t know why. He uses fire to ignite your impulses and water to permeate your thoughts. He leaves a mark on you, a mark you can only get rid of by carving it on to someone else.

"Cure" is a hard film to wrap your head around and an even harder film to write about. The film is a chock full of ideas that can lead you onto many paths. As soon as you’re convinced of something in the film, you’ll immediately see something new the next time around to contradict it. Takabe is able to escape Mamiya’s influence by killing him. But, by killing him, he inevitably becomes him. Takabe is able to rid himself of the burden of his ailing wife but also loses the one thing in the world that grounds him emotionally. The very last time we encounter Takabe, he’s noticeably different. He’s still eating alone in the same diner, but gone is the wrinkled raincoat and dishevelled hair. He’s in a suit and talking on his cell phone. He’s well composed and relaxed. He’s able to finish his food this time. The plate and cutlery are neatly placed on a tray for the waitress to pick up. Chaos reigns, but Takabe has figured out a way to control it and use it to his advantage. He no longer reacts; he just silently watches while the cycle of violence begins all over again.

Read more by David Lam at his blog

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