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Cure

Provides horror in a subversive manner, playing with the viewer’s very self-conception, with ominous murder mystery…

A lot has been said about the hypnotic nature of film. Both hypnosis and film were born around the end of the 19th century, and many say both utilize the same phenomenon. As the understanding of hypnotism grew, so did the immersive nature of films. Film scholars say that directors like George Melies, Robert Weine, and Leni Riefenstahl, all were very familiar with the study of hypnosis, which translated heavily into their works. Early directors such as Melies and D.W. Griffiths were deeply inspired by the carnival style of stage hypnosis. In a far more terrifying form, Leni Reifensthal abused the power of suggestion through propaganda, most prominently in her chilling opus Triumph of the Will. The film was a form of mass hypnotism which cloaked itself under the guise of truth, mesmerizing full theatres across Germany. The goal of her method was to subvert one’s fragile understanding of their identity amongst the masses.

It is precisely this sort of hypnosis that Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Tokyo Sonata, Real, Penance) features in his chilling masterwork Cure. Although his films have been called “existential poems”, Kurosawa humbly claims to work exclusively within genre archetypes. Cure, simply put, is a murder mystery. We follow around Detective Takabe, played by Japan’s acting treasure Koji Yakusho (Tampopo, Shall We Dance?, 13 Assasins), as he investigates a truly unnerving series of murders. In the opening sequence, a man referred to only as Kuwano is shown first bludgeoning a prostitute, then slicing two deep cuts from her chest to her neck in the form of a prominent “x”. This was the third body discovered in two months; all of which had clear suspects, the same “x” wound, and the same accounts of the murder. The suspects hated or desired to kill the victims, but did not recall committing the crime. They describe being “stunned”, sometimes even “totally aware”, yet unable to control themselves. Takabe assumes that Kuwano is the true killer, and that the case can finally be put to rest, but soon more bodies show up.

Meanwhile, we meet the antagonist, Mamiya. He is first seen standing on a beach, in a long coat and thick sweater, looking very out of place. He would seem like a young scruffy student, were it not for his squinted gaze, and semi-lucid movements. He conversates with a man sketching the ocean, saying “who am I?”, “who are you?”, or “I remember nothing” cyclically. The audience understands this as an amnesiac at first, but they soon realize that this constant questioning is the very character himself. An embodiment of angst, existential estrangement, and primordial chaos. When interacting, he doesn’t allow anything tangible to be understood, he reveals nothing of himself always claiming not to know, always returning the questions. Even if you tell him his name, he still wants to know “who is Mamiya?”. A challenge no one can meet, an existential abyss he insists on making you stare into.

The convoluting of dialogue is simply Mamiya’s modus operandi. In hypnosis there is a process known as induction, it is the initial stage where one’s ego is subverted by a slow submersion into a state of trance, a point in which the subconscious is most vulnerable and thus most malleable. This is done mostly by misdirecting the surface thoughts into being occupied by a narrative, while in truth certain key phrases are being emitted directly into one’s unconscious awareness. Through Mamiya’s initial proposition of “who are you/who am I?”, one understands “what should I call you?” or “what role do you play in society?”. Mamiya will then ask, “but who is Toru?”, “What is a hospital?” “what is a police officer” the repetition of the question redefines the meaning entirely. He wants an absolute, a foundational essence, an indivisible; An impossible and unknowable answer. Be it the teacher, nurse, or cop, all which fill a role that is to a certain degree, be it by necessity or advancement, invented. The conception of that fact can beget anxious and disillusioned thoughts. Mamiya then continues, and at this point, he will ask you to tell him about your life, as you suddenly are forced to answer the original “who are you?”, but this “who are you?” acts as the narrative of induction, he already has you in his grip. What is his goal? an agenda too morbid to rationally grasp, all we see is the hopeless victims and their cryptically marked corpses.

It is in this methodology, motivation, and movement that Mamiya is one of the most horrifying entities ever to grace a screen. While you watch him you simply don’t know what he is doing, and who he is doing it to. The method is clearer than the motive; hypnosis is his tool, but his reasoning and terminology are all veiled in a disarming personality and behaviour. As if a softly spoken stranger could capture and manipulate you in several slurred phrases; not with devilish charm, or obvious macabre, but in a subdued conventional manner. He represents a fear wholly un-paranormal, and not even considered psychotic. As Takabe’s partner described, “he shows no sign of psychological problems other than amnesia”.

As “Mamiya” continues to infect minds and create murders, Takabe has come to the conclusion that the murderers are being somehow manipulated. As he gets closer and closer to “Mamiya” one finds a sense of hope in Takabe. His abrupt and reckless behaviour act as the antithesis to the tranquillity of his villain. When they meet, Takabe is barking questions throwing chairs and constantly attacking Mamiya. When Mamiya begins, “Who are you?” he yells, “I ask the questions!”. The harder Mamiya tries to dig, the more furniture Takabe throws, the more Takabe yells. Hypnotists will use much more subtle methods to gradually break a trance, raising their voices slightly, or snapping their fingers lightly. In the same way, Takabe consistently disrupts the flow of Mamiya’s words but with cataclysmic noise. Finally, the audience has found its hero, though unusual in his form, it makes incredible sense. It’s in law enforcement’s very nature to disrupt regressive or detrimental trains of thought. When medicine, education, and psychology attempts to utilize suggestive capabilities, the law simply snaps its fingers stopping the motion in its tracks.

All in all, Cure is one of the more deeply haunting experiences that film has to offer; the locations utterly unique, the cast enchanting in their roles. Koji Yashubo portrays the precipice of his character’s willpower, and Masato Hagiwara terrifies to unforgettable degrees. Watch Cure with intense vigilance because Kiyoshi Kurosawa weaves an intensely complex narrative. In the film, subtle details abound. Cure is the kind of film after which you wonder how the filmmaker ever made a film again. Those who see its brilliant construction, will find themselves left with a sort of ominous mental residue, resulting in one reflective quandary after the next. Those who don’t look too deeply will think they are simply watching a murder mystery, but this may be when Cure is most effective of all.

Cure is released on UK Dual format Blu-ray and DVD on 23 April 2018 by Masters Of Cinema, featuring a Limited Edition O-card (first 2000 copies only).

About the author

Yonah SichrovskyYonah Sichrovsky Yonah Sichrovsky
A student living in NYC, specializing in philosophy. He is an amateur filmmaker, who continues to be an avid cinephile. He has entered the blogging world, with a great passion for Asian film, and the philosophical prose to help express it. More »
Read all posts by Yonah Sichrovsky

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