31 Days of Hell: The Power of Suggestion: Cure (1997)

"The Japanese say you have three faces. The first face you show to the world. The second face, you show to your friends and family. The third face you never show anyone. It is the truest reflection of who you are."

Cure (1997) is one of those rare films that truly gets under the viewer's skin. It operates on two distinct levels--on the surface it's a police procedural film with psychological horror trappings, but as the narrative slowly peels back that first layer it morphs into a commentary on the ills of society as a whole, in particular the ennui that is threatening to envelop us all.

The film is concerned with a rash of mysterious murders that have been taking place in Tokyo. Each crime has a different individual accountable for the murder but they seem to have no motive for their actions. The only thing that links all the cases together is the large bloody "X" that is carved into the chest of every single victim. Kenichi Takabe (Koji Yakusho) is a detective that is assigned to the case and he spends much of the film trying to piece together the facts behind the mysteriously killings. Takabe is a stoic man who seems to have his life together at work, but at home he has to constantly deal with his mentally ill wife. Thus, he has to compartmentalize his life and separate his work persona from his home persona. This theme of separation and hidden feelings comes to play extensively in Cure.

Eventually Takabe discovers that one man may be behind all the murders, a low-key eccentric fellow named Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara) who seems to have a case of amnesia. He comes off as perpetually confused about himself and his past, choosing instead to softly query his victim on their personal life. "Where am I?" "What is your name?" "Is this a picture of your wife?" "Are you happy together?" Each subsequent question he asks peels back a layer of their defense mechanism until he he exposes their weakness. Once he has found this weakness he uses hypnotic techniques to implant the desire to kill into his prey. They don't remember meeting him afterwards and later they kill someone close to them.

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa takes a clinical and detached approach to the staging of the film. Tokyo looks like it's decaying and the narrative travels through filthy dilapidated buildings and dirty alleyways. In a way the aesthetic mirrors the mindset of all of the characters, as they are people who are trapped in the doldrums of society, too afraid to show their true feelings. This is a common theme in Japanese films as their society puts a lot of emphasis on public politeness and not inconveniencing others. Mamiya represents these repressed feelings trying to spill their way out. His characterization is especially interesting because just like the people he mesmerizes into killing, he too, doesn't have any discernible motive for doing the things he does. He is an agent of chaos. There is nothing more frightening than the randomness of life and the absence of karma.

Cure asks us to examine how society has drifted apart, even in the close quarters of urban living. Even though we encounter many people every single day, how many of them know our true selves? How many of them would be terrified of what they see?

--Michelle Kisner