Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s arresting international breakthrough established him as one of the leaders of an emerging new wave of Japanese horror while pushing the genre into uncharted realms of philosophical and existential exploration. A string of shocking, seemingly unmotivated murders—each committed by a different person yet all bearing the same grisly hallmarks—leads Detective Takabe (Koji Yakusho) into a labyrinthine investigation to discover what connects them, and into a disturbing game of cat and mouse with an enigmatic amnesiac (Masato Hagiwara) who may be evil incarnate. Awash in hushed, hypnotic dread, Cure is a tour de force of psychological tension and a hallucinatory journey into the darkest recesses of the human mind.
Feeling to be a long time coming The Criterion Collection finally releases Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s genre-defining Cure on Blu-ray. The film is presented on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1.
All previous streams, DVDs and Blu-rays, including Eureka’s region B Masters of Cinema Blu-ray, made use of a very dated, early 2000’s digital master that hasn’t held up particularly well. The film is incredibly dark so the limited range provided by that older master just devastated the shadows, flattening the image and making it murky. Poor compression and even poorer grain rendering then furnished the picture with a noisy, digital look that also delivered an unimpressive level of detail. It just doesn't look good.
So, while it was getting frustrating that Criterion was taking its sweet time releasing the film (it’s a title that has been long rumoured to be coming) it was more than likely for the best because, thanks to their waiting, Criterion is now able to utilize a brand new 4K restoration performed by Kadokawa Pictures for their edition, and the results are astonishing when compared to all previous releases. Where the restoration itself is top notch with no noteworthy damage looking to remain it’s the improvements provided by the new 4K scan and the end digital presentation itself that prove most significant. Grain no longer has that clumpy, video look and it comes out finer and cleaner here with the encode doing a mostly solid job in resolving it; I thought it could look a little buzzy in an early scene on the beach but outside of that I thought it looked strong, even in the blacks. This then of course leads to more fine object detail and crisper edges around objects. The only scene that might look a little off when it comes to the sharpness of the image is a sequence on a bus that looks to be using a green screen to add a background effect. It's not a big concern, though, and is almost certainly baked into the elements.
Contrast and dynamic range also receive a substantial boost and this helps in the film’s many darker sequences. The shadows no longer look flat thanks to that improved range with cleaner gradients, and the blacks come off purer in comparison to previous presentations. This all of course leads to the darker scenes being far easier to see.
It’s a bit absurd for Criterion to not release this in 4K as I can only think that the presentation, with the added benefit of HDR, would look extraordinary on the format. Whatever the reason for not going that route this Blu-ray’s presentation still affords an incredible improvement over all previous presentations, and this edition is worth picking up for that aspect alone.
Criterion includes the film’s original stereo soundtrack presented here in lossless 2-channel PCM. It’s a relatively quiet film but has a couple of nice little jolts when needed and the wide dynamic range helps. Dialogue sounds clear and sharp, as does music, and there is no distortion present.
Criterion’s edition doesn’t pack on a lot of supplemental material and what’s there is made up chiefly of previously produced material. This includes the same 2003 interview with director Kiyoshi Kurosawa that has appeared on just about every DVD and Blu-ray release since, at least that I'm aware of. For 19-minutes the director talks about the inspiration behind the film before discussing particular aspects of the production, from locations to the ending.
Also here are separate interviews with actors Masato Hagiwara and Koji Yakusho, both of whom were filmed in 2020 and running 20 and 14-minutes respectively. Yakusho —who would go on to make more films with the director—recalls his first encounter with Kurosawa and how the script, which he calls “distinct,” struck him. Interestingly, the actor wanted to play the film’s antagonist, Mamiya, only for the director to push him towards the role of the cop, Takabe. Hagiwara—who has so far only made this film with Kurosawa, and the reason why is explained in a new interview with the director on this disc—was a bit more overwhelmed by the script. Though you would never be able to tell based on his performance he did not think he could play the character, but Kurosawa was thankfully able to convince him. Both actors end up discussing the long takes and they each try to recount specific moments that are asked about by the off-screen interviewers, though humorously neither can recall all that much about moments that otherwise stuck out in the film. Sadly that includes scenes like the one where Hagiwara’s character places a finger on the forehead of Yakusho’s, or when Yakusho (apparently in an act of improvisation) yells out about the stress caused by his wife’s ailment. The most surprising thing I got out of the both interviews, though, is the reveal of what film Kurosawa showed both actors to offer up an idea on the tone he wanted. Silence of the Lambs does come up quite a bit in the interviews, but no, that’s not the film Kurosawa showed them. Instead, he showed them Abbas Kiarostami’s And Life Goes On, which makes sense once you stop to think about it for a bit.
New to this edition is a newly recorded 35-minute discussion between Kurosawa and filmmaker Ryusuke Hamaguchi. In his interview found on Criterion’s edition for his film Drive My Car, Hamaguchi talks about the influence Kurosawa’s work had on him, the director even being one of his teachers when he was in film school. Here Hamaguchi (who is obviously incredibly excited to be sitting with Kurosawa) explains what directly inspired him and how his films, specifically Cure, struck him, from his first viewing (which could leave him a little bewildered at what he just saw) through many repeat viewings. This then leads to Kurosawa talking about the film from a more technical perspective and he delves into the film’s use of long takes to build up the ordinary before things go awry, before then going into how the story was constructed. The two discuss themes that come up in the film, which Kurosawa goes along with as though they were planned, but he admits (laughing) that he really wasn’t thinking about such things at the time (he admits they could have been there subconsciously). The interview also benefits from Kurosawa talking a bit more about his background, which includes his work on many straight-to-video (or V-Cinema) Yakuza films before moving to Daiei to make a couple of more when the previous production company went bust. In what would lead to a change in direction for the young filmmaker, Kurosawa also mentioned this other film he was planning to the studio executives, the film being what would become Cure. Daiei ended up being more intrigued by that project and they pushed him to do it over the others he was intending to make. It’s a very loose and fun discussion, all the better because it's another filmmaker asking Kurosawa the questions. Great inclusion.
Criterion’s disc then closes with the film’s original trailer, a teaser (both of which look to be restored) and then a new trailer for the 4K restoration. The included insert then features an essay from Chris Fujiwara, who explores the film’s twisting of police procedural and horror, the social commentary found within, and (briefly) how the film, along with Hideo Nakata’s Ring and Kurosawa’s own Pulse, would setup the “hallmarks” for what would become J-horror at the turn of the millennium. It’s a well written essay but doesn’t really make up for the lack for any other on-disc academic feature, interview or visual essay. I’m sure Japanese film experts along the lines of Tony Rayns, Jasper Sharp or any other number of possible contributors would have had plenty to throw in there.
There could be more meat to the features but the new presentation makes this edition a must following a couple of decades of lackluster home video releases.