By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
In person, with his own wife and a translator at his side, Kurosawa comes off as thoughtful as Cure’s highly intelligent killer, but without the malice. He has a very calming smile. “I consider myself to be an extremely average and ordinary middle-aged person,” he says. He just happens to make deeply disturbing, enigmatic films about ordinary people plunged into a world where rational rules no longer apply.
Known in Japan for the low-budget horror and yakuza films he has churned out since the early 1980s for the country’s voracious straight-to-video market, Kurosawa exploded onto the international stage in 1997 when Cure screened at Toronto and Rotterdam film festivals to sweeping acclaim. Always a prolific filmmaker (as much out of necessity as temperament), he followed Cure’s critical success with three films in 1999 — License To Live, Charisma and Barren Illusions — which went on to premiere, respectively, at the Berlin, Cannes and Venice festivals that same year. He has since been acknowledged as a versatile genre master and a central figure in a Japanese new new wave that includes directors such as Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo), Sogo Ishii (Angel Dust) and Takashi Miike (Audition) (see sidebar).
Despite the doors that Cure has opened for the filmmaker, including European distribution for his subsequent works, Kurosawa is surprised and “a little apprehensive” that it will be the first of his 22 films to be theatrically released in the United States. To understand why is to know what makes Cure such a frightening and thought-provoking film. Cure emerged, he says, after he had reached the limits of genre. Before it, his approach to the yakuza films was to closely mimic the conventions of the American gangster film. A strategy to meet the exigencies of the market, it was also Kurosawa’s way of paying homage to his central influences: Sam Peckinpah, Robert Aldrich and Don Siegel. â
This, at least, is the triumvirate of auteurs that Kurosawa has long cited since his reputation went global — a mantra he recently felt the need to amend. “I’m getting sick of saying those names,” he says, “so I’d like to add a new one, John Cassavetes.” From Cassavetes, he says, “I learned profoundly that when you make a film, you should always start with your immediate surroundings.” It’s a lesson that echoes in the concerns he wrestled with before making Cure. “I’ve always held the conventions of [American] genre films quite dear,” he says. “The problem is that my movies star Japanese people, and they are shot in Tokyo.”
His solution was to strip away Cure’s generic elements until what remain (a rooftop chase here, a confrontation between partners there) are only beats to mark narrative progression. In the spaces between these generic signposts, Kurosawa pushes the film deep into elliptical, metaphysical territory where terror flows from the recognition of the fragile hold we have on our own darkest impulses. For Kurosawa, it was a breakthrough. “I became conscious for the first time,” he says, “that I was making a Japanese film set in Japan, with Japanese-like concerns.”
In that sense, Kurosawa’s casting of Koji Yakusho (Tampopo, Shall We Dance?, Eureka) as Cure’s haunted detective is as significant as the film’s vaporized structure. A popular television and film star, Yakusho holds a special place in Kurosawa’s work (the actor also stars in Charisma, License To Live and Seance). For starters, director and actor are the same age. “That’s why I’ve always been especially aware of him,” says Kurosawa. “Yakusho, aside from being a star, is a completely average guy. So when I cast him, really it’s like casting a part of me. The challenge and the thrill is having him start out as an average man and seeing how far he will have walked away from that — toward being a monster or a devil — by the end of the film.”
Kurosawa himself has come a long way since Cure, which is what makes him so wary about its U.S. theatrical debut. “With Cure and beyond I intentionally chose to diverge from the Hollywood approach to films,” he says. “So I always thought a U.S. release [for Cure] would be impossible.” Ironically, as Kurosawa has walked away from the art of imitation, his influences have become all the more resonant even as his films have become more intensely personal. Which is, of course, the essence of great genre filmmaking in any country.
For the review ofCure, turn to Film Calendar.
Join My Voice Nation for free stuff, film info & more!