Cure (Kurosawa Kyoshi, 1997)

Took a look at Kurosawa Kyoshi's Kyua (Cure, 1997) again, and apparently kids six and up can follow and appreciate this kind of horror--even enjoy it a good deal (they enjoyed Kairo (Pulse, 2001), too).

Several things stand out--Kyoshi just loves long takes, meandering ones that snake in and out of rooms, and frame and reframe actors according to the demands of the scene and what he wants emphasized, or not. The long takes allow him to create several effects: first, any shock or surprise depends on the actors' timing, and not the usual one of editing (as is found in most horror/suspense/action films nowadays). Second, with the action usually framed in medium shot there are no closeups telegraphing what to look for or where to look for it--again standard issue film language for any thriller/shocker. As a result, any gesture, however innocuous (a hand coming out of a pocket, a man bending over a bag) can hide a knife, a club, a gun ready to stab, swing or fire.

Third is the appearance of unity. Kyoshi's films will sometimes have different characters, seeming lapses in plot logic, or even disparate stories, and the only thing that sometimes connects them, the only thing that assures us he's in control or hasn't completely taken leave of his senses, are these snakelike shots. He'll have long expositions happen in these shots, sometimes throw in a plot twist or two, then record how the characters respond to them; or he'll have something happen completely out of the blue, and if we don't throw up our hands and give up on him that's because the shot hasn't ended, and we can hope for some kind of resolution or explanation (which may or may not be given).

Interesting to learn from an interview that he's always concerned with offscreen space--that he insist on that unseen space having some effect on the space onscreen. Those shots may also be his way of trying to relate one space to another to another, not all of them visible, tying all together in one visually intricate Gordian knot.

Interesting too to learn that Kyoshi considers Koji Yakusho, the actor who plays Detective Takabe, his alter-ego, because he's of the same age, and the same generational point of view. Koji's performance here's atypical of many (but not all) of Kyoshi's films--more the kind of macho-posturing, hot-tempered police officer than his usual passive protagonist. It's a delight to see his intense smouldering played against the background of Kyoshi's impassive storytelling style--like he's beating back at the limits set by the film itself, trying to find a way to break out.

Finally there's Kyoshi's influences: in terms of American films a narrow range, from what he calls the end of the "New American Cinema" (for Japan, this seems to be the films of the late '60s) to the advent of Spielberg with "Jaws" in 1975 (actually Spielberg was hardly new, but that was the film that put him on the map). But Kyoshi doesn't cite the usual suspects (Scorsese, Coppola, Altman); his idols are Peckinpah, Aldrich, Fleischer, Seigel--filmmakers who started out in the '50s and, as he puts it, in these uncertain times asks exploratory questions with ambivalent intentions using classic, complex techniques. He sums his style up as something similar, both confused and sophisticated at the same time.

If he hadn't pointed it out, I probably wouldn't have noticed it, but yes, there's something anachronistic about his love for long shots and carefully composed images, as opposed to the current fashion of shock cuts and wildly swaying handheld footage. I wouldn't say I've figured him out completely, but some things have been brought out in the light.

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