Cure was released in its native Japan in 1997, yet took four years to make it to American art theatres. Out of Kurosawa's many films, it is the only one to even be released here (even though he's already made half a dozen since), and while the director is perplexed as to why this film was chosen as his "breakout", the choice to release it commercially in the US is no surprise when you consider that the film belongs in the same category as sick thrillers like Silence of the Lambs and Seven - except that it's slower, not quite as sensationalistic, and much more complex. So complex, in fact, that I didn't quite understand half of it.
The setup: in contemporary Tokyo, a police detective (the ubiquitous Koji Yakusho, from Shall We Dance, The Eel, and Eureka) is trying to find why a number of law-abiding citizens, none of whom know each other, are all suddenly committing identical murders that culminate in an "X" sliced into their victims' throats. Gradually a connection is established in the form of a mysterious young drifter who seems to be suffering from severe short-term memory loss (remember, this was years before Memento) but has a wicked talent for hypnosis.
I'm not giving much away; Cure is not so much a "whodunnit" as it is a "whydunnit" - Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) explores themes of the dark side of human nature, the possibility that we all have a murderous impulse inside us, a burgeoning culture of violence and disintegration of community in Japan, and questions of the supernatural that are not, and indeed can never be, answered. It's also a good introduction to the director's filmic style, consisting of long takes, darkened rooms and sinister industrial noises gurgling in the background.
The ending provokes a "Huh?" but there is a sense that Kurosawa knows what he's talking about, even if we don't. Not as brilliant a film as some critics are raving, and not as meaningful as his later drama License to Live (fat chance of that getting a US release), but it will definitely give you a good case of the shivers, and maybe that's enough. If that final image in The Blair Witch Project still disturbs you, then imagine two hours of that, and you've got Cure.