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American Cinematographer Magazine

Cure (1997)
Dolby Digital 2.0
Home Vision Entertainment, $29.95

Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa understands that the most disturbing horror movies are those that ponder the demons within all of us. Cure, often regarded as the director's most representative work, begins as a wave of inexplicable homicides is spreading through Japan. Homicide detective Takabe (Koji Yakusho) is puzzled to find that each of the murderers appears to be an otherwise normal individual who was suddenly compelled to kill because "it felt like the natural thing to do." His investigation leads to a mysterious, amnesiac drifter named Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara), who was encountered by all of the murderers before they committed their crimes. In each instance, Mamiya peppered the individuals with variations of the same question: "Who are you?" As Takabe interrogates Mamiya, he begins to understand the subversive implications of the question - that within even himself (and, by extension, the audience) lies an irrational, destructive alter ego waiting to be unleashed.

The outstanding stylistic achievement of Cure is the unnerving atmosphere of silent dread that hangs over nearly every frame of the film. Tokusho Kikumura's cinematography is moody, naturalistic and beautifully subtle. When Takabe hunts down Mamiya in the dark environs of a dilapidated building, for example, the only visible element is the burning end of Mamiya's cigarette. Many scenes play out in rigorously composed master shots, a strategy that leaves the viewer unprepared for the occasional jarring cut. The eerie score is kept to a minimum, but the film's distinctive sound design recalls the perceptive ear of David Lynch. The monotonous hum of a laundry machine or the flick of a cigarette lighter have never sounded more ominous.

Although Home Vision Entertainment should be lauded for releasing Cure on DVD, this transfer leaves much to be desired. The picture suffers from excessive digital noise, washed-out colors (though it must be noted that Kurosawa intentionally set much of the action in drab, industrial neighborhoods of Tokyo), and jittery, unstable highlights. On the plus side, however, the DVD includes a rewarding 20-minute interview with Kurosawa (subtitled in English). The thoughtful filmmaker expounds on his inspiration for making Cure: "I was watching television coverage of what a murderer's neighbors were saying about him, [statements like] 'He was just a normal person.' The news commentator said that under the guise of this normal, ordinary person, a dangerous murderer had been hiding in the neighborhood. But I thought maybe that wasn't the case. Maybe he was a nice, normal person to begin with, but something got triggered in him and he committed murder." Regarding Cure's notions of the arbitrary nature of identity, he muses, "Can a person say that he is this one, single being, and nothing will alter that, no matter what? We change little by little. You're a slightly different person tomorrow as compared to today. That's why people we see in Cure, including the main character [Takabe], display different personas as situations change. They're not like the characters usually seen in films. They don't have clear-cut identities or easily discernible personalities. But from my point of view, that's more natural for a human being."

Of most interest to AC readers is Kurosawa's explanation of the odd use of space in his compositions, which are such an important element of his films' tense atmospheres. "In a movie, we fit space into a rectangular frame, and the audience only sees the space we capture. But when I capture space in a frame of film, I always try to convey a sense that space continues outside the frame. The invisible part of space outside the frame should have some effect on the visible part captured in the frame, [be it] subtle or strong." This explains why, when you watch a Kurosawa film, you get the overwhelming feeling that something unspeakable lies just around the corner.

- Chris Pizzello

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