Detective Kenichi Takabe (Kôji Yakusho) has been called in to investigate a shocking murder where a young woman's corpse has been discovered in a hotel room. Upon examination, it appears she suffered a head trauma before she died, and what actually killed her was a series of lacerations including a large X carved into her upper chest. Now he and his fellow cops have to find a motive, since there is a good chance there is a serial killer operating in Tokyo given that other bodies have been found similarly mutilated, but there are no clues whatsoever aside from the state of the deceased. What Takabe does not know is that across town someone is planning another death...
Well, he could have guessed that if he believed there was a serial killer about, but what he isn't aware of is his modus operandi which means he doesn't have to so much as lift a kitchen knife in anger: he gets others to do it for him. This was writer and director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's effective breakthrough movie after decades of slogging away in low budget efforts, as while he had been noticed before it was Cure that won him international attention, possibly because if you added an S to that title you would get what was one of the first curse horror movies from Japan that would become a real movement with the Ring movies and Grudge series, both of which lasted longer than this.
Kurosawa remained the connoisseur's J-Horror man, one for the more rarefied tastes, and watching Cure you could understand why since he had developed a restrained, weirdly taciturn style to his work, even in the scenes of violence which held their power for being staged with an unsettling matter-of-fact quality. There was plenty of death and mayhem here, it was simply that it was put across with a flat refusal to make it sensational, as if the executions we were witnessing were everyday occurrences, and you could take them or leave them with regard to how concerned you were about watching, say, a policeman draw his gun and shoot someone in the back of their head.
The point was there was no point, you could be going about your daily business when all of a sudden someone known or unknown to you could turn on you and brutally do you in, and you would never know why because, for one thing, your murderer didn't know it themselves, and for another, the actual reason was so oblique as to be practically non-existent. Our 'tec hero grows inexorably more frustrated with this state of affairs until by the end we don't know if he has been infected by this contagious mind damage, or he is purely reacting to the madness that has become part of his existence, in an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" way, but what we do know for sure by that time is the identity of the apparent amnesiac who kicked off this spree of motiveless bloodshed, at least we think we do for he could be the Devil.
He does use hypnotism to persuade his victims to kill, we can tell that much, but that’s not possible, is it? Setting aside rumours that famous assassins were actually brainwashed stooges who never pulled the triggers that killed their victims, the influence this man has over those puppets whose strings he pulls and manipulates would seem to be Satanic, and there were casual, yet weirdly insistent, scenes indicating the villain had been doing this for some time, except improbably nobody had noticed. Even the notion that we could be so easily led to commit the worst crime imaginable was unsettlingly portrayed with the minimum of fuss, and Cure was one of those horrors that would be far more affecting for those who liked to chew over what they were watching, its implications more affecting if you allowed them to sink in. If you were looking for action, or for that matter a lot of paint the room red gore, you were going to be disappointed, but if you wanted a cold, cool chill and shiver, Kurosawa served that up with blank insistence.
[Eureka have released this on Blu-ray and the disc includes a featurette with horror expert Kim Newman plus two interviews, one vintage and the other more recent, with the director.]