Produced two years after members of the Aum Shinrikyo religious cult carried out a sarin-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in 1995, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's unsettling and deeply enigmatic Cure tries to account for the unaccountable. Though ostensibly a high-concept serial-killer movie, Cure abandons the standard whodunit elements early on, instead asking more troubling questions about a senseless epidemic of violent slayings in the city. Like the gas attack, the murders are perpetrated by likeminded but separate individuals, in this case acting out the will of Masato Hagiwara, an amnesiac loner who appears to have hypnotic powers. What could lead seemingly ordinary citizens to commit such terrible crimes? Where does the impulse to kill originate? Does it pass through the culture like a contagion, or can it be curtailed? Kurosawa is deliberately coy about the answers, which seem to get further and further from reach, right up to an astonishing final shot guaranteed to fill coffeehouses with chatter. Koji Yakusho, the subtle and intensely reserved star of Shall We Dance? and the epic Eureka (which shares themes with Cure), plays the detective assigned to investigate a bizarre rash of interconnected murders. The common link in each case is an "X" slashed across the victim's neck. Otherwise, the acts are performed by different killers, usually discovered near the crime scene with hollow expressions and no recollection of their actions. When Yakusho finally detains Hagiwara for his connection to the culprits, he's drawn into the young man's peculiar spell, and Yakusho's relationship with his mentally ill wife (Anna Nakagawa) begins to follow an eerie course. Kurosawa, a prolific genre stylist who specializes in low-key thrillers and horror films, undercuts the lurid material by keeping a chilly, almost clinical distance from the events and unfolding the story in elliptical pieces. Cure delves ever further into abstraction as it goes along, casting its own hypnotic spell and inviting as many interpretations as a Rorschach inkblot. Kurosawa approaches the story—and, in effect, his country's existential crisis—as a mystery to be pursued but not resolved, at least in any conventional sense. It may take several viewings to come to terms with Cure's loose ends and psychological intrigue, but the film is seductive enough to warrant them.
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