(Originally posted on 1/14/04)
Kyoshi Kurosawa's Cure, made in 1997 but released in the US in 2001, is -- with the possible exception of Takashi Miike's chilling Audition -- the single best horror film I've seen this century. Kurosawa (who's not related to that other Japanese filmmaker), is a genre specialist, and he instills Cure's serial killer story with a suffocating sense of modern dislocation and insidious psychological and emotional instability that's far removed from the jolting scares of American frightfests. The film begins ominously, as a man clubs a naked woman in his bed to death and then carves an "x" in her throat for no discernable reason. When identical motive-less crimes begin cropping up, detective Takabe (Shall We Dance's Koji Yakusho) pins the blame on a mysterious stranger with amnesia who responds to interrogation with more questions. Takabe eventually comes to believe the man (whose name appears to be Mamiya) is using hypnotic powers to force people to kill their colleagues and loved ones, but Mamiya's repeated query, "Who are you?" hints at the film's subtext about identity crisis and spiritual alienation. What begins as a standard-issue serial killer thriller soon evolves into a collage of tenuously tethered moments and images that defy easy explanation, and part of the fun is struggling to decipher what the film's second half is telling us about its characters, Japanese society, and human nature. Kurosawa's eerily deliberate master shots give the film its brooding, omnipresent terror, and his provocative staging of the film's shocking final scene -- which is sure to have many viewers reaching for their remote's rewind button -- is grounds enough to label him a master of terror.