On DVD: ‘Cure’
Horror films have long had a way of cutting right to the heart of what afflicts their culture. In American cinema you can see it in the incisive critiques of mindless consumerism in Romero’s zombie films, or in a more recent and insistent example, in the Grand Guignol moral slaughter of Se7en, a film that sympathetically considers the need for punishment brought on by modern hyperindividualism in the Western world, even if it scoffs at the righteous methodology of its onscreen monster. A diagnosis of societal ill also lies at the heart of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Cure, but the cultural contrast is startling. While films like Se7en shake their heads at a distinctly American glut of the self, Cure casts a critical eye at Japan’s pervasive collectivism, a communal suppression of the individual that the film posits has created a seething couldron of barely restrained violence waiting just under the surface, ready to explode at the slightest nudge.
A spree of brutal murders has taken place in Tokyo, with the victims killed via blood loss after a ‘X’ is carved into their throats. Stranger still, is the murders are all committed by different killers with no connection to each other and no prior knowledge of the other murders’ M.O. They are normal people with casual or intimate relations to the deceased, all found close to the crime scene with no recollection of what they have done. The film is a serial killer flick in tone but has little interest in the whodunnit conventions of the genre. We know who is causing these murders early on; a amnesiac loner who appears able to push people to kill through a calm method of suggestive hypnosis. The film is more concerned with how such a creature fits into Japan’s cultural landscape, and how the suggestion of violence to a seemingly calm person on the emotional edge can become a plague, an infectious psychological transmission of bloodshed. Kurosawa seems to believe Japan is ripe for such a collective bout of psychosis, and much like in Se7en, he considers his monster as an evil person needing of destruction, but whose nature and motives might be edging close to disturbing truth and even necessity. This soft-spoken hypnotist brings the individual to the forefront, and since the individual is so downplayed in relation to the needs of the collective, that bringing forth is catastrophic. And perhaps the infectious nature of violence is enhanced by a society too interconnected for its own good.
These are some heady ideas for a film like this, and Kurosawa isn’t quite up to answering all of them effectively. The film also has a measured pace that will hard for some to endure, especially those enamored with the more traditional trappings of the serial killer genre. But its a worthy long walk in a world still quite alien to American sensibilities, a country still trying to find its bearings after a particularly pervasive and particularly violent collectivism brought on its destruction 65 years ago. This is a horror film with a lot on its mind, and the foreign nature of some of its concerns makes it all the more fascinating.