Reviewed By Robert Flaxman
Posted 06/21/05 04:43:31

"A good philosophical debate spoiled."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

If it’s true that films tend to reflect the cultural climates in which they were made, it’s amazing that films from Japan ever play in America. The two cultures are so astonishingly different – exposed near-perfectly by Sofia Coppola in Lost in Translation – that it’s a virtual miracle that, for example, the films of Akira Kurosawa translate so well. The same cannot be said of Cure, the 1997 film by Akira’s namesake Kiyoshi Kurosawa, which takes its cues not just from a different culture but from an entirely different belief system.

Obviously it is not a fault of Kurosawa’s film that it was made in Japan, in particular at a time (in the wake of the sarin gas attacks by the Aum Shinrikyo cult in the Tokyo subway) when the national mindset was weighed upon by the question of what would drive someone to commit a seemingly senseless act of murder. Surely, however, not all of the film’s questionable aspects can be explained away by the cultural divide.

Cure is all about senseless acts of murder. Its main character is Takabe, a detective investigating a rash of apparently unrelated murders across Tokyo. In every case, the murderer could not explain why he committed the crime except that it made sense at the time; furthermore, in every case the murderer carved an X into the victim’s throat – but always postmortem.

It soon becomes obvious that there is a connection between all the murders – the presence of Mamiya, an amnesiac who may be inciting people to kill somehow. As Takabe attempts to understand what Mamiya may be doing and how he is doing it, he appears to possibly be undergoing a change himself.

The pace Kurosawa sets in Cure is almost agonizingly slow, especially considering how little information there is to dole out. Much of the film’s first half is a series of scenes in which we see, a little more each time, just what Mamiya’s role is in affecting the eventual murderers. By the end we are left with no answers; not only is a lot of the plot difficult to understand as it goes by, but Kurosawa’s only real explanation for what’s happening is unsatisfyingly mystical. The last scene in particular, which has been lauded in some quarters as the stuff of water-cooler lore, is so jarringly metaphysical as to be almost ridiculous.

It is for this reason that I add the cultural caveat. We all see movies with our own set of prejudices. Based on mine, I believe that Kurosawa could have done something much more interesting and daring with the message of Cure, but he chose instead the easy way out, letting the blame for a murder spree slip away from human involvement and stick instead to something much more ethereal.

Though many have made the connection to Aum Shinrikyo, Cure itself seems uninterested in truly exploring it. The question of how one person could talk another into committing murder cannot seriously be addressed when the process is only completed due to supernatural effects. If a Western filmmaker, trying to explore how Al Qaeda was able to recruit so many suicide bombers, made a film in which Osama bin Laden convinced his followers to kill by exerting control over the weather, it would be hard to take his position seriously. Cure’s problem is the same; its resolution has little to do with human nature and everything to do with mysticism.

The other, perhaps even more problematic statement in Cure is Kurosawa’s apparent belief that any human being can be incited to murder without a whole lot in the way of provocation. To call this a pessimistic view of the world would be putting it mildly. Kurosawa is certainly entitled to his own opinion, but it’s hard to like what the film is doing unless you agree with this thesis – and it’s a pretty hard thesis to agree with. Maybe it’s just me.

Ultimately, it’s doubtful that the cultural divide can be blamed exclusively for the film’s problems. Plodding its way through two hours of virtual misanthropy, Cure is a low-concept supernatural graveyard for high-concept philosophy. Its attempt to answer one of the most enduring questions of human nature is so divorced from modern reality that the film doesn’t even deserve points for trying.

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