Cure (1997)

Detective Takage (Koji Yakusho) is investigating a mysterious string of murders. Despite the killers having no personal connection to one another, each crime displays an eerie similarity. The murderers all claim personal responsibility, but are unable to answer questioning about the circumstances of the incidents. All cut an X into their victims throat. Takage soon comes face to face with a former psychology student known as Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara) who seems to be hypnotising these individuals into committing murder. Mamiya is unable or unwilling to answer questions, apparently suffering from amnesia, and instead insists on questioning his interrogators. Takage’s wife (Anna Nakagawa) is suffering from a form of dementia and his frustrations with his wife’s illness seem to spill over into anger at Mamiya’s crimes.

“Cure” styles itself as a detective drama with strong horror elements, though never quite gives itself over entirely to the tropes of genre cinema. Writer director Kiyoshi Kurosawa does a fantastic job of creating tension and much of the horror remains psychological, with no clear motivation established for Mamiya’s actions. The settings of decrepit hospital buildings and crumbling city streets help to build the sense that everything is falling apart, mirroring Takage’s mental deterioration. A flickering light in an underpass, abandoned buildings, and suburban decay augment the imperfections of humanity that the film explores. Kurosawa weaves together the story of the killer and the detective in an interesting way, with Takage’s suffering and quest for understanding becoming an unjust mockery when compared to Mamiya’s cold detachment and lack of responsibility. Kurosawa manages to give the audience enough hints to keep the mystery engaging while never fully letting us into its most tempting secrets. In the final scenes of the film this lack of a complete picture makes for a uniquely terrifying experience. Koji Yakusho plays Takage as the world-weary detective, weighed down by personal struggle as well as the seriousness of his professional duty. Masato Hagiwara engenders feelings of hatred and anger, with Mamiya’s lack of social grace, impertinence and dead-eyed psychopathy getting under the skin in a way that is irritating and makes Takage sympathetic. Tsuyoshi Ujiki plays Takage’s psychologist friend Sakuma and is a good balance to Takage’s seriousness. Likewise, Anna Nakagawa’s role is small but pivotal in understanding Takage, and she gives a sympathetic portrayal of a character with their own mental health issues.

The horror of “Cure” is not in the violence of the murders, which are shown as terrifyingly commonplace, nor gory effects, which are used sparingly, but in allowing us to confront our own lack of comprehension when it comes to such things. Detective Takage states early on that he wants to find the words to describe what is happening. His ultimate realisation that some things are inexplicable is more horrifying than a serial killer with a well-documented backstory. The film’s ending leave both Takage and Mamiya’s thoughts and morality ambiguous. The credits, with partially broken and missing names, give a hint that this ambiguity is intentional. Life is imperfect, humanity is imperfect, and attempts to create meaning may be futile. Death and madness are natural, and by contrast rationalising such things may prove to be ironically irrational. Throughout the film explanations for the murders range from demonic possession to hypnotism and psychosis, but the film leaves the audience with this fundamental questions unanswered. We are left to speculate on the causes of crime and the reason for suffering in the world, and led to an increasingly distressing conclusion. “Cure” is a thrilling drama that will appeal to any fans of thought-provoking horror or detective dramas with a psychological twist.

Girls in the Dark (2017)

Five members of the Seibu Catholic Girls School literature club join together for an evening of food and storytelling. The theme of this meeting is to be the death of one of their group, Shiraishi Itsumi. We discover that Itsumi was a popular pupil at their school and all of the girls looked up to her. As each girl steps up to tell her story the blame for Itsumi’s death is shifted as they point fingers at one another. Doubt over the cause and motivation for her murder arises and we also discover that Itsumi may not be all she seems.

Directed by Saiji Yakumo, the film is structured as a series of flashbacks branching off from the framing device of the dinner party. This creates a great pace as each story is relatively short and brings up numerous questions about the other members of the group that makes you want to keep watching. As the revelations and recriminations come forward the relationships of the characters change and we are forced to reassess our understanding of each of the characters. It is similar in this regard to the classic film Rashomon, as we see various events retold through different perspectives. There are elements of gothic horror in design and story. The girls club house is illuminated with a chandelier and decorated like an English Victorian house. As they discuss Agatha Christie, mystery and horror genres, these all seem to influence what kind of story the film appears to be. The story begins to drift towards the fantastical in parts. This is partly explained by the unreliable narrators and the idea that they are simply telling stories about what happens, but it somewhat undermines the finale as it appears more like the whole film is simply a tall tale rather than meant to be taken seriously. All the actresses do a fantastic job with their characters and their shifting loyalties. Marie Iitoyo, Yuna Taira, Tina Tamashiro, Riria Kojima, Nana Seino, and Fumika Shimizu all embody the various personalities perfectly and have good chemistry together on screen, shifting from friends to enemies.

Girls in the Dark is an examination of subjectivity. Their recollections increasingly contradict one another or are coloured by their personalities. It is an interesting take on the genre of the unreliable narrator and the audience is always one step behind the girls as they have knowledge that is hidden from us. It examines the idea of how meaning is created, forcing the viewer to constantly reexamine their own biases and critically evaluate what they are being told. When they lack all the facts it is hard to know who to trust, so they are left with the subjective reminiscences, or even outright falsehoods, to establish a sense of reality. I would recommend this film as a great mystery drama with fantastic performances and a unique way of telling its story.

The Lies She Loved (2018)

After a chance encounter at a railway station, Yukari Kawahara (Masami Nagasawa) falls in love with a young doctor Kippei Koide (Issei Takahashi). However, following his sudden collapse and being taken to hospital in a coma, she is informed by the police that both his name and past is false. His place of work also has no record of him. She hires a detective (Daigo) to investigate who this man was whom she has spent several years in a relationship with. When they discover that instead of working he was visiting a cafe and working on writing a book they use this text to uncover the true identity and past of the man.

The film is directed by Kazuhito Nakae, from a script by Nakae and Nozomi Kondo. The acting is good with humorous moments that do not undercut the genuine emotional scenes. There is a subplot about the detective and his relationship with his ex-wife and daughter that plays well in supporting the themes without distracting too much from the main plot. The enjoyment of the film is conditional in part on how intrigued you are by the central mystery or how satisfied you are by the eventual revelation. This investigation takes up the majority of the film, which leaves less time for the more interesting aspect of Yukari’s reaction to the discovery that he is not who he said he was.

The central idea of the film, a man who has lied about his entire past to his partner, is fascinating and offers an interesting examination of what someone would do in that situation. Themes of deciet and forgiveness are well presented in both plot and subplot. Throughout Yukari remains convinced that her boyfriend is a good person and seems relatively unaffected by the revelation that he has lied about his past. In contrast the detective’s story, in which he mistrusts his wife after an affair, offers a little more in the way of emotional substance. An entertaining film that could have delved a little deeper into the motivations of the characters.