10/40/70 #5: Cure


This column is an experiment in writing about film: what if, instead of freely choosing which parts of the film to address, I select three different, arbitrary time codes (in this case and for future columns, the 10-minute, 40-minute, and 70-minute mark), freeze the frames, and use that as a guide to writing about the film, keeping the commentary as close to possible to the frames themselves? No compromise: the film must be stopped at these time codes. Constraint as a form of freedom. Feel free to pick apart the frames even further in the comments.

Cure (1997, dir. Kiyoshi Kurosawa; related Rumpus interview here)

10 minutes:
A drifter, whose name we later discover is Mamiya (Mosato Hagiwara), wanders up to a man on sitting on the beach. He asks him, “Where is this?” The man replies, “Shirasato Beach.” The drifter Mamiya keeps walking, then stops and returns to the man and asks the same question, phrased slightly differently.

Mamiya: Where is it?
Man: Shirasato Beach.
Mamiya: Where?
Man: Shirasato, in Chiba.
Mamiya: Shirasato? Where’s that?
Man: Where are you going?
Mamiya: Nowhere.

The man gets up and leaves, screen left, walking parallel to the shoreline. The camera gently, slowly tracks left. Mamiya follows him, and the camera continues to track them as they walk across the low dunes.

Man: Yes?
Mamiya: What’s the date?
Man: February 26th.
Mamiya: Where is this?
Man: I just told you!
Mamiya: When was that?
Man: Just over there.

The shot lasts nearly three full minutes with no cut, a good portion of it a gentle tracking shot. The frame itself is divided into three horizontal strips, and it is almost painting-like. Between the figures of the men on the beach is a boat, not far out, at sea. Is that what the man has been gazing at, alone? There is a hard-to-define menace to the composition of this wide-open space. Throughout the film, Kurosawa allows the blankness of blank spaces to achieve a sort of cumulative terror, while the Beckett-like circularity of the dialog is as alienating as the landscape itself. And crucially, in most scenes, there is no music or musical score to help prepare us for what is to come.

40 minutes:
Another long take. Mamiya has just been asked some questions by the doctor, and he has wandered off to the sink. Throughout the film, Mamiya is forever wandering off, moving slowly, as if he has just woken up. He is a complete blank slate, somehow connected to a series of terrible, random murders, but in ways that don’t become clear to us until the latter parts of the film. And even then, we are left with more questions than answers. Just after this frame, he has the following exchange with the doctor.

Mamiya: Doctor, can I tell you something?
Doctor: Certainly.
Mamiya: All the things that used to be inside me, now they’re all outside. So, I can see all of the things inside you, Doctor. But the inside of me is empty.

This is another long take, with enough space between the characters to let our eyes wander. The sterility of the setting is in stark contrast to the very personal and uncomfortable conversation that unfolds between Mamiya and the Doctor. “The inside of me is empty,” he says, and the unsettling weirdness of Hagiwara’s performance confirms this in every frame, as in this one, where the life seems to be draining out of him as literally as the water drips from the faucet he has just opened. As in other scenes, here there is no character with whom to identify; we are strangers to these people in the same way as they are strangers to each other. It is as if the very inner workings of deranged men and deranged women were projected onto the objects of the real world, the familiar beaches and hospital rooms and desks and clocks. And yet we are somehow able to detect something wrong, something askance with this world.

70 minutes:
Detective Kenichi Takabe (Kôji Yakusho) gets out of his car on his way to confront Mamiya, who has been taken to a psychiatric hospital. The consequences of their meeting are shattering, but in ways that will not become clear until the final five seconds of the film. As usual, the establishing shot for this sequence is a long take from a distance, framing Detective Takabe against impersonal environments, just as Mamiya was framed against the ocean at the ten-minute mark. There is a strong current of naturalism that runs throughout Kurosawa’s work, as expectations of supernatural forces (ghosts, hauntings, possessions) are undercut at every turn. As a detective Takabe seeks rational explanations for irrational and random human acts of violence, yet no grand theory or system can account for what transpires.

Long distance shots, like this one, are more than just stylistic choices in Kurosawa’s films. Instead, they give us time (“real-time” time) to contemplate and absorb the environments that trap his characters. In this sense, his films are not so much about psychology and the mysteries of human motivation, but rather about the psychology of nature, the psychology of cities, the psychology of homes and offices and buildings.

If you want an illustration of what I mean, in the dead of night, open your computer in a darkened room to this image, at the 70-minute mark in Cure. You will see that that building is as alive as Detective Takabe.

Nicholas Rombes can be found here. More from this author →