SLASHER MONTH: Cure (1997)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. A member of the Society of Authors, she currently works as a ghostwriter of personal memoirs for Story Terrace London and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics.

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Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure is a magnificent film. A film so layered with meaning I wrote my MA dissertation in part on its elemental symbolism. Ordinary upstanding Tokyo citizens are committing random acts of murder. The only connection between each case is that all the victims have an “X” carved into them. Each killer admits to their crime but remembers nothing with regard to motive.

Detective Takabe (played by Koji Yakusho), who spends most of his time caring for his mentally ill wife (Anna Nakagawa) becomes obsessed with solving a recent outbreak of murders committed by seemingly upstanding citizens who have each carved an “X” into the necks of their victims. Bizarrely, none of the perpetrators have denied responsibility and were all very calm during the act, although they cannot recall what triggered them to kill. 

It turns out that a trigger is exactly what caused them to kill. A young man named Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara) is arrested near the scene of the latest murder and the police soon discover he is employing hypnotic suggestion to manipulate people to kill. 

Takabe’s friend, the Psychiatrist, Dr. Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) tells Takabe that it is only possible for such a thing to transpire if the person already possesses the capacity deep within themselves. This appears to be the dominant theme that Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa wanted to explore. 

Mamiya is a student of Psychology and, in particular, the works of 19th Century hypnotist cum occultist “Mesmer.” After years of sequestered study and animal experimentation, Mamiya has finally unraveled the secret of Mesmer. Every time Mamiya hypnotizes someone using either earth, air, fire or water, he asks them, “Who are you?” He’s like the ultimate therapist forcing people to touch the suppressed part of their psyche in order to “cure” them. The result is the breakdown of society as apparently there are many people who possess the natural predilection to kill. Is Kurosawa saying that repression is a good thing? Perhaps. That’s what makes Cure a modern masterpiece. It forces the viewer to think on a level much deeper than the run-of-the-mill thriller. That most of the hypnotic triggers involve the natural elements of fire or water is another rich detail designed to illustrate the true nature of humankind.

When Takabe is finally allowed to be alone with Mamiya the two bond in a strange sort of way. It’s clear that Mamiya has used his hypnotic abilities on Takabe, but instead of making him kill, Mamiya chooses for him a purpose to be revealed only in the final scene of the film. Why does he choose Takabe? Is it because Mrs. Takabe suffers from an ailment similar to Mamiya’s? Maybe. It’s more likely because Takabe reacts to him differently. When Mamiya first asks “Who are you?” Takabe doesn’t shut down in a veil of denial like all the others before him. Instead, he opens up to the psychopath and admits that his wife is a burden and his life full of frustration and the paths of the two men become parallel.

In the meantime, Dr. Sakuma has discovered a videotape which contains very old footage of a woman being hypnotized by an unknown (seeing a pattern here?) man who makes the sign of the “X” to her. Is it Mesmer or one of his disciples? Yet another question to ponder long after the credits are over. There are a lot of those in Cure. 

The fates of Dr. Sakuma, Detective Takabe and the mysterious Mr. Mamiya are all best left revealed by the film, suffice it to say, they all discover their true selves and are “cured.”

Aside from all the wonderful elements touched on here, there’s also a lot of good acting, great visuals, and an incredibly creepy soundtrack. It’s a good entry for newbies into Kyoshi Kurasawa’s oeuvre, which goes off into even weirder and wonderful territory with films like Bright Future and the award-winning Tokyo Sonata, which also both feature the wonderful Koji Yakusho. 

4 thoughts on “SLASHER MONTH: Cure (1997)

  1. Yes. lt is magnificent. I checked this out from the public library several times. I’d rather watch a great flick over-and-again, then watch five mediocre, forgettable ones.


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