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What was inside me has all escaped and now I am empty
What was inside me has all escaped and now I am empty
What was inside me has all escaped and now I am empty
What was inside me has all escaped and now I am empty
Reviewed by Mark Vallen - July 2001

KYUA (CURE) is a genre breaking thriller created in 1998 by director Kurosawa Kiyoshi (no relation to director Kurosawa Akira). Based upon Kurosawa's own novel, CURE weaves a story of psychological terror so chilling as to make Ridley Scott's Hannibal look like mere child's play.

I saw an exclusive sneak preview of Kurosawa's brilliant movie on July 13th, 2001, at the famous Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. The director himself showed up to talk with the audience after the screening! Though Kurosawa has directed many a film (Charisma, Seance), CURE is his first U.S. theatrical debut. CURE tells the story of a police detective named Takabe Ken-ichi (played by Yakusho Koji, from Shall we Dance? and Eel), who is trying to solve a series of bizarre, seemingly unrelated murders. The police are baffled by the gruesome string of homicides, especially since at each crime scene, a different murderer is found who is suffering from amnesia. The terrible killings are linked by a single grotesque clue... each victim of foul play has a bloody X carved into their neck and chest region.

Kurosawa cleverly unfolds his tale as two separate narratives, one entailing Detective Takabe's desperate search for a mastermind behind the serial killings, and the second narrative being a slow introduction to the character of Kunio Mamiya, a hapless drifter with a mysterious connection to the manslaughter's. Mamiya (Hagiwara Masato - pictured at right), is an individual suffering from such severe memory loss that people doubt he's cognizant of his surroundings at all. He has no identity of any kind, and cannot even recognize himself in a mirror or in photographs.

Mamiya
Mamiya
Detective Takabe interogates Mamiya
Detective Takabe interogates Mamiya
In his own words the drifter claimed: "What was inside me has all escaped and now I am empty." Mamiya asks the same redundant question of everyone he encounters: "Who are you?" (as if trying to fill the void within himself). When those exposed to the vacant amnesiac attempt an answer, they only stumble upon their uncertainties and into the black hole that is
the enigmatic character of Mamiya.

Several grisly murders take place where the victims were known to have had contact with the odd wanderer, and so Mamiya is eventually picked up for questioning by the police. Being in charge of the investigation, detective Takabe interrogates the strange young man and discovers something profoundly disturbing about him. While the amnesiac is as blank as an unsoiled sheet of paper, he possesses an uncanny ability. Just what that power might be I cannot reveal, since much of the excitement one experiences when watching Kurosawa's film comes from unraveling it's multiple layers of mystery. However, I will say this... the figure of Mamiya and his connection to the murder spree is one of the most inventive and original twists ever
presented in a detective film.

Detective Takabe, played by Yukusho Koji
Detective Takabe, played by Yukusho Koji

What makes CURE such a remarkable thriller is it's unwillingness to provide the audience with a character representing penultimate evil. Instead the viewer is made to examine their own negative impulses, and ponder just what it would take before those impulses leapt to the surface. Kurosawa's premise is that we are all capable of misdeeds, and so his focus is on the "banality of evil." To further throw us into a panic the director plays upon the human frailty of uncertainty concerning self identity, for despite our conspicuous consumption and materialist conceits... we still cannot answer Mamiya's question. We are chilled by the realization that there's a bit of the hapless drifter in every one of us... we are turned inside out by the modern age, we are empty, blank, and living for the moment. Kurosawa is certainly a maverick in presenting this world view.

After the screening Kurosawa took questions from the enthusiastic audience through his excellent translator, who would provide the director's responses to the crowd in English. When asked how he came up with such a startling idea for a detective story, Kurosawa replied that television news reports from murder scenes had provided the inspiration. He noted that such reportage always included interviews with neighbors who would say something inane like: "But he was such a normal fellow." This got the director thinking that perhaps an exploration of 'normalcy' as a mask for depravity might not be such a bad idea for a film. Kurosawa elaborated by saying he could think of few things more genuinely disturbing than people desperately trying to be normal, and he drove home this point by portraying all of the unwitting killers in CURE as upstanding professionals.

Kurosawa also revealed his preference for shooting scenes without having rehearsed them beforehand, stating that this method keeps the actors sharp and reacting to situations realistically. Under his direction, often times a single take is all that's required to finish a scene. Hagiwara Masato, whose brilliant performance brought the Mamiya character to life, was sought out due to his popularity as a television actor. The director wanted him cast as Mamiya in order to "explore the dark side" of an actor who up until this film had always played an open,
friendly, upbeat sort of character.

Detective Takabe makes a grim discovery
Detective Takabe makes a grim discovery
When it came to casting the role of detective Takabe, Kurosawa quipped that he wanted a "famous actor that was my own age." Fortunately he picked the extremely talented Yakusho Koji. A humorous moment in the after screening talk occurred when someone asked Kurosawa why he had chosen an X shaped wound as the fatal link in the serial killings. He replied that his wife had suggested it, and that she had said: "If I was going to kill someone... I'd carve an X into them!" Kurosawa's offbeat film is destined to become a cult favorite at art movie houses, but it deserves a much wider audience.
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