• Cure (Eureka/Masters of Cinema) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Eureka/Masters of Cinema
    Release date: April 23, 2018
    Directed by: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
    Cast: Kôji Yakusho, Masato Hagiwara, Tsuyoshi Ujiki, Anna Nakagawa, Yoriko Dôguchi, Yukijirô Hotaru, Denden, Ren Osugi, Masahiro Toda, Misayo Haruki, Shun Nakayama
    Year: 1997

    Cure - Movie Review:

    One day as he’s walking home, a businessman wrenches a pipe for an exposed water main, takes it back to his hotel room, and bludgeons a prostitute to death with it. When the police arrive on the scene, they find the murdered woman with an X carved into her chest; they also find the killer’s clothes neatly folded in the bathroom, his wallet containing his identity still in one of the pockets. When Detective Kenichi Takabe (Kōji Yakusho) arrives on the scene, he finds the naked man hiding in a duct in the hotel’s hallway. Scared, the man remembers nothing of his actions. Back at headquarters, Takabe reveals that this is just one in a string of murders in which all the victims have had an X carved into them, a fact kept from the press and the public. In every case, the murderer knew his or her victim but can’t remember the details of the crime.

    Soon, a man walking on the beach encounters a young stranger, Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara), who appears to be suffering from amnesia. He takes the young man home, where his wife awaits. There, the young man wants to hear all about his host’s past but reveals nothing of his own. The next day, the host murders his wife and jumps out a window. He survives, but, as with the other killers, remembers little of his crime. Not long after, the amnesiac jumps out a window himself, is basically unharmed, and is taken to a small police kiosk. He becomes engaged in a conversation wherein he asks one of the two officers there many questions but refuses to answer any about himself; the next morning, the officer kills his fellow officer as the two go about their business. Back at the police station, the murdering officer is confronted by Takabe and a police psychiatrist (Tsuyoshi Ujiki). The latter shines a small penlight into the murderer’s eyes, which enrages the murderer and puts the detectives on the path to possibly solving the horrendous crimes plaguing the city.

    Eureka has released Cure through its Masters of Cinema line, a fitting match given what a cinematic masterstroke it is. Kiyoshi Kurosawa had been making films for well over a decade and a half when he wrote and directed this extraordinary psychological thriller about the contagious nature of evil, thus building the foundation on which his reputation has since come to rest. In many ways, Cure is an original work, dealing as it does with a serial killer who may or may not be the devil incarnate (or, possibly, a person possessed by a spirit animated by mesmeric forces beyond man’s control). There are certainly intimations that the normal laws of science are at work, particularly in the fact that Mamiya needs a medium—the elements of fire and water are the two that get expounded on—to perfect his hypnotic suggestions. Yet, he also knows things he otherwise shouldn’t and has an uncanny ability to draw on this information to ensnare his unwary victims, who spread his desire to commit murder for him. In the end, however, much is left unsaid and unrevealed, and as the film powers down to its disturbing finale, audiences are left to their own devices to figure it all out.

    Director Kurosawa (no relation to the great Akira) spent time in the early and mid-90s studying film in the United States. He took some of what he learned back to Japan with him, crafting a film that, while uniquely Japanese in its story, draws on some of the style of its American predecessors, Twin Peaks (1990-91) and Se7en (1995). Kurosawa fashions an industrial nightmare perfectly suited to the seedy underbelly of a sprawling Tokyo, though it never falls prey to David Lynch’s tendency toward outrageousness. One never doubts that there’s a solution to Kurosawa’s tale; but what it is exactly, each viewer must discern on his or her own from repeated viewings.

    Performances are excellent, especially Masato Hagiwara as Mamiya and Kōji Yakusho as Detective Takabe. Hagiwara’s questioning villain and Yakusho’s doubting hero are perfect foils, and each actor hands in a performance worthy of Japan Academy Prizes (Yakusho for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role; Hagiwara for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role). Takabe’s reaction to the possible death of his wife is one of those ‘wow’ moments that are so powerful, they happen in only one out of every couple hundred films.

    Cure - Blu-ray Review:

    Eureka brings Cure to Blu-ray via an MPEG-4 AVC encode in 1080 high definition. The film itself is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Placed on a BD50 with a relatively high bitrate, Cure features an image containing a considerable amount of detail. External shots show off trees and buildings with their elements amply defined, often sharply so, despite the fact that this looks like an older transfer in other respects. Interior shots show off skin and fabric textures with aplomb. Unfortunately, noise is a little heavy in spots, particularly when Takabe visits Mamiya in his darkened jail cell and at a few other times; grain frequently doesn’t look organic or foundational. Some people may complain about the colors, but they’re exactly what Kurosawa intended. This was never meant to contain the kind of neon dyes one sometimes associated with Takashi Miike; never are reds, greens, or blues bright and rich. Clothing is almost entirely dark blue or black and white with few exceptions, while homes and office are sterile whites, grays, or light browns. Some have compared the look of the sets and costumes to that of Se7en, but Se7en is an extremely dark film, one in which director Fincher has said that he intended Brad Pitt’s head to appear as if it were swimming in a sea of black. That’s not the case with Cure; rather, Kurosawa creates a barren look, sanitary but infertile, in reflection of a villain who lacks empathy and a hero who lacks warmth. As such, the colors as they appear on the Blu-ray are an appropriate reflection of the director’s original intent.

    The disc utilizes Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 for its primary soundtrack. That soundtrack mostly consists of dialogue and sound effects, not music. The film doesn’t contain a score; except for the closing credits, music is pretty much missing in action. Instead, and in keeping with Kurosawa’s industrial approach, there’s an occasional throbbing sound that replaces the standard use of music to stimulate an emotional response in the viewer, typically increasing tension, uncertainty, or fear. All these sounds are appropriately weighted and separated in the 5.1 track. Alternately, a Japanese LPCM 2.0 track is also provided and is a fine way to listen to the film. Thankfully, there’s no English dub, forcing non-Japanese speakers to watch the film as it was intended, in its original language. The result is that the film is never allowed to be altered to its detriment. For English-speaking audiences, there are optional English subtitles provided. There are no audio commentaries.

    “Kim Newman on Cure” (14:16) has the esteemed British film historian turning his ever-sensible critical eye on Kurosawa’s modern-day horror classic. He discusses the film in his trademark textbook style with occasional humorous asides, making relevant points as he does so. Unfortunately, the featurette does not contain subtitles, and Newman is sometimes hard to make out.

    “Ordinary Demons” (19:37) is an archival interview with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa himself. It begins with a quote—“I found myself in the film business. But not because I had a particular story to tell. Fundamentally, what interests me is the nature of the film itself.”—that perfectly illustrates the point of Cure before delving into Kurosawa’s drive to make this film. He discusses how television news coverage of a real-life young murderer stoked an idea about how murderers are generally normal people until incited to commit their crime, and from there, Cure arose. The featurette is divided into sections, each of which is given its own subtitle and covers various aspects of the film and Kurosawa’s career. Kurosawa is obviously highly intelligent, and one longs for a commentary from him. The featurette is in Japanese with optional English subtitles.

    “Kiyoshi Kurosawa on Cure” (16:53) is a recently produced short which features an older Kurosawa discussing the film that helped make his name outside of Japan; he begins by covering his early work in pink films, his relationship with various people in the industry, including Show Aikawa, his post-Cure films, and so much more. The featurette is in Japanese with optional English subtitles.

    Finally, there’s a trailer (1:40) produced for the film’s limited release in the United States by Code Red.

    Eureka’s release comes with a DVD and a booklet.

    Cure - The Final Word:

    Cure is a masterwork, a superb examination of evil that, in the end, allows its audience to come to its own conclusions about what exactly has occurred. Eureka’s Blu-ray release presents the film with a nice amount of detail and in the correct hues, though grain looks a little wonky at times. There are also plenty of solid extras for fans (or film students) to explore.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out in 2019.

    Click on the images below for full sized Cure Blu-ray screen caps!