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Cure (January 29/05)

Though it's been compared to Silence of the Lambs and Se7en, Cure doesn't even begin to approach those films in terms of quality or creepiness - primarily because the killer is a complete and utter bore (especially when compared to Buffalo Bill or John Doe). There's no denying that director Kiyoshi Kurosawa does a good job in establishing a distinct sense of mood, but it's just not enough to disguise the less-than-enthralling storyline and distinct lack of intriguing characters.

The film stars Kôji Yakusho as Kenichi Takabe, a grizzled detective whose latest case involves a series of murders in which the victims died the same way (their throats were slashed in the shape of an "x"). Though Takabe is initially perplexed by the fact that the killer is a different person each time, he soon begins to suspect that someone may be leading these people into committing the murders. The investigation eventually draws Takabe to Kunio Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara), a former grad student with amnesia and an unusual obsession with fire.

As has become de rigeur with Japanese suspense films, Cure moves at an almost intolerably slow pace - with Kurosawa clearly in no hurry to tell this admittedly simple story. But despite the deliberateness with which the film's events unfold, the characters remain frustratingly vague - something that's true even of Takabe. Though we do learn that Takabe has a wife with mental problems, that's about the extent of it; he's essentially the same kind of hard-nosed, short-tempered detective that one expects out of a movie like this.

But Takabe is the least of Cure's problems, as Mamiya is an infuriatingly underdeveloped villain; using only a lighter, Mamiya is able to send his victims into a subjective stupor within seconds (what is this, an episode of The Flintstones?) One would imagine that Franz Mesmer himself would be hard-pressed to hypnotize a subject using only an open flame, let alone this sleepy amnesiac. And though cinematic psychopaths generally possess one or two similarly eccentric quirks, accepting Mamiya's "gift" requires too great a leap of faith - one the film never comes close to earning.

out of

About the DVD: Cure arrives on DVD courtesy of Home Vision Entertainment, and while the extras may not be plentiful, the superb transfer more than makes up for it. The most notable bonus feature is a 20-minute interview with writer/director Kurosawa, wherein he discusses the film and the context in which it should be placed (he does not, however, shed any light on the overly ambiguous ending). The disc also includes Kurosawa's filmography and liner notes by Tom Mes.