Year: 1997. Running time: 115 minutes. Color. Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Starring Koji Yakusho. Aspect ratio: 1.85:1. In Japanese with optional English subtitles. Stereo. DVD release by Home Vision Entertainment.

Review by Derek Hill

Ostensibly a crime film, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's breakout film (at least for those of us in the West), Cure (1997), exudes such a heightened level of apocalyptic unease throughout that it easily borders on pure supernatural horror. Sure, Cure's stylistic and thematic antecedents are Silence of the Lambs and Se7en, but Kurosawa's film is in many ways even more disturbing, bleak, and frustrating than either one of these American films. Although Silence and Se7en respectively and effectively deal with the theme of identity and how a powerful and all-consuming will (such as Hannibal Lecter or John Doe) is able to manipulate and control weaker minds, both films are always anchored by moral life preservers and narrative reassurance, regardless of how grim directors Demme and Fincher allow things to get for their battered, troubled heroes. Such cinematic security blankets go thankfully unheeded in Cure.

Tokyo police detective Kenichi Takabe (Koji Yakusho) is investigating a series of troubling and inexplicable murders perpetuated by seemingly normal, sane people for seemingly no reason. But when a mysterious, possibly mentally disturbed young man (Masato Hagiwara) is eventually linked to all of the crimes, detective Takabe's personal and professional identities quickly unravel, spiraling down into a world of unanswerable questions. For a man like Takabe to enter into such a twilight existence where "truth" and "identity" no longer have weight or meaning is tantamount to oblivion. But a chance at freedom and clarity also await the good detective, if he acknowledges their presence, much to our undeniable confusion and dread.

Cure's plot, including its ambiguous resolution, is almost impossible to discuss without ruining its numerous surprises. Much of the film's subtle power and resonance is predicated on its serpentine narrative ambiguities, unanswerable character motivations, and dramatic incidents. This would be understandably maddening in lesser hands, but Kurosawa's direction is always assured and the film's deviousness is always sufficiently grounded by its purposeful storyline and magnificent performances. Although the film will nevertheless drive viewers bonkers who demand straight lines where they don't exist, Cure will be a welcome reward for those adventurous souls who like their lines on the squiggly side.

Before Cure made a splash on the international film circuit, Kurosawa was known primarily only in Japan as a director of pink films (sex films), the Poltergeist-inspired Sweet Home, and a series of direct-to-video Yakuza films. Very little of his work has made it over to these shores. Let's hope that with the availability of this minor masterpiece onto DVD (seven years after its initial premier!), more of Kurosawa's films will quickly follow.

Home Vision Entertainment's disc contains a very informative twenty-minute video interview with the serious-yet-affable director, wherein he discusses (among other things) his particular Japanese spin on identity and how its perception is utilized in the film. The disc also contains the unsettling theatrical trailer and useful liner notes.

Cure is now available on DVD from Home Vision Entertainment in a digital transfer that has been enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Special features: 20-minute interview with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, director filmography, and an original theatrical trailer. Suggested retail price: $29.95. For more information, check out the Home Vision Web site.