First things first: Kiyoshi Kurosawa is of no relation to surname-sharing Akira in fact, their cinema (though quite obviously Japanese) has very little in common. If one were to draw a parallel to another director, this Kurosawa most closely resembles shock-auteur Takashi Miike (Visitor Q, Ichi The Killer). Both got their start in the 1980s working in the Japanese direct-to-video film-market (affectionately known as "V-Cinema," it's not the ghetto that its American antecedent is) only to blossom into feature-length filmmakers with bents towards genre pictures. For Kurosawa, the main focus has been horror films, although he's dabbled in comedies and yakuza pictures. And for a horror genre specialist, he's been taken quite seriously: Bright Future (2003) was nominated for Cannes' Golden Palm, and Pulse (2001) may get remade stateside in the wake of The Ring's success. But the director's first taste of niche fame came back in 1997 with Cure, which received American theatrical distribution in 2001 after touring the festival circuit. From the film, it's easy to see why Kurosawa has earned so much attention he works within the familiar tropes of his genre, but he is able to freshen up its most clichéd elements. Cure is a movie about a cop chasing a serial killer, and it's hard to get less original than that premise. But while still using some of the thriller genre's most shopworn elements, Kurosawa's spin takes it in entirely new, and creepy, directions. The film starts with Kenichi Takabe (Kurosawa regular Koji Yakusho) investigating an anomalous group of serial killings in which seemingly normal people murder whomever they're with by carving a red "X" in their chest (and, by doing so, severing their carotid arteries). The killers admit their crime, but they don't know why they've killed their victims, who range from strangers to loved ones. Kenichi figures that another person might be using some sort of hypnotism to convince these people to kill, but the police force's psychologist, Makoto (Tsuyoshi Ujiki), tells him that no person can be hypnotized to do something that is outside of their personal moral code. And while Kenichi tries to find the killer, he's is also burdened by his wife Fumie's (Anna Nakagawa) deteriorating mental condition; she has memory problems that cause her to black out and get lost. The story cross-cuts Kenichi's investigation with a nameless man (Masato Hagiwara) who obviously is hypnotizing people with a cigarette lighter, engaging them to commit these crimes. The stranger is able to get close to his targets by presenting himself as a severe amnesiac, which robs him of his name. After he jumps off a building from no apparent reason, he's taken to a police hut and a doctor's office, where eventually his new victims lead Kenichi. It turns out that the hypnotist sees a strange parallel between cop and killer, and he also sees a parallel between himself and this police officer.
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Cops chasing serial killers has been done to death in the wake of Se7en. And if that's a shame, at least it's a decided pleasure to see a filmmaker who takes a film like Cure in an entirely new direction. With the inclusion of the borderline-supernatural mesmerism, the film posits a fascinating question: Is murder an act that's outside of most "normal" people's moral boundaries, or are most people not killers because they would fear the consequences of their actions? That's only one element of Kurosawa's ingeniously crafted thriller he's a director who understands that, with genre pictures, tone is almost more important than story, and composing Cure with a combination of framing and ambient noise makes it the sort of picture that lingers in memory as does the best of his work (Cure is the director's first film to receive an official DVD release in Region 1, although his other movies are popular gray-market bootlegs). It's not easy to elucidate, but there is something in Cure 's cinematography that's unsettling. The film also benefits from the wonderful Koji Yakusho, who has worked steadily with Kurosawa but probably is best known to American audiences for his appearance in the crossover hit Shall We Dance; he also gave a career-defining performance in Shinji Aoyama's Eureka. His Kenichi carries a grim, world-wearied visage, which adds the right sort of solemnity to this spectacular policier.
Home Vision Entertainment presents Cure in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 Surround audio, and the transfer looks in fine shape. The main supplement is a candid interview with Kiyoshi Kurosawa (20 min.), wherein he talks about the making of the film and his approach to the story's horror elements originally he was intrigued by interviews of people who lived next-door to murderers and often will say "He was such a nice, quiet young man." A filmography for Kurosawa and the film's American trailer also are included, along with liner notes by Tom Mes, author of Agitator: The Cinema of Takashi Miike and co-creator of midnighteye.com, one of the best websites around for keeping up with Japanese cinema. Keep-case.