Friday, July 25, 2008

KIYOSHI KUROSAWA BLOGATHON—Cure: Confusion and Sophistication

This entry is a transcription (with interpretative commentary) taken from a video interview conducted in Toronto in 2003 included on the DVD release of Cure.

Ordinary Demons

Kurosawa sourced his inspiration for Cure to nearly a decade ago while watching television reportage of a captured murderer. Neighbors were interviewed and they all commented upon how surprised they were by the murders, that the murderer had always been such a "normal" person and that they were at a loss to understand how he could have committed these horrific acts. The reporter explained that this dangerous murderer had been "hiding" within the persona of an ordinary, normal person, that he was "pretending" to be normal, but Kurosawa was skeptical of this interpretation. He thought: what if this dangerous murderer had actually been an ordinary, normal person who—somehow triggered—had become dangerous? What could trigger such a criminal potential within an individual?

Self & Other

Although the term "identity" has become a part of Japanese vernacular, Kurosawa isn't sure of its true meaning. He wonders if identity, as we have come to think of it, even exists? He concedes that a person should have an identity, but remains skeptical if anyone truly has an established identity. Can an individual say he is this one single being, which nothing will alter, no matter what? The main character of Cure, for example, is a police detective. But is he the same person at home that he is at work? When he goes home from work and is a good husband to his wife, is he the same person he was at work? Physically he is, of course. And so is his soul. But Kurosawa doesn't think he's exactly the same person, and this slight discrepancy he considers natural in the human being. When something happens to us, Kurosawa explains, we change little by little. We also change a little depending upon who we are with. Without realizing it, for example, as time passes, you'll be a slightly different person tomorrow compared to today. At each point in time you believe that person is who you are, your identity. But there's an inconsistency when you compare who this person is at different points in time. You would see many different aspects of yourself that you weren't aware of. Nevertheless, you consider all of them as one person. We all live that way, Kurosawa ventures, that's what society is. This explains why the characters in Cure, including the main character, display different personas as situations change. He suggests his characters are unlike the characters usually seen in other films because they don’t have clear-cut identities or easily-discernible personalities. From his point of view, however, this is more indicative and natural of human beings.

From a Jungian perspective, this rings true. Jungian theorist James Hillman has made a point of specifying that the deific forces that lie repressed within us emerge as contemporary pathologies. The god or goddess we ignore becomes our disease. Further, Hillman has emphasized that we are not talking about one deity, one god or goddess, but several. What occurs within the psyche is inter-actional, one might say intra-actional, pantheonic. The fixation on a specific identity then borders on the pathological, whereas the comprehension that our persona is formed by a complex inter-action/intra-action of informing forces would be more biological, more natural. The monotheism endorsed by our American president, one might say, borders on sheer madness.

Within the context of Cure it is the notion of association altering identity—one might say guilt by association—that is brilliantly endeavored and achieved through the metaphor of mesmerism; with the main association being specifically that between the detective and the mesmerist.

Another way that the identity-altering aspect of association is depicted in Kurosawa's films is through the institution of marriage. In Cure the detective and his wife represent this association, but, the theme is often portrayed in Kurosawa's other films. This is because a human being doesn't live all by himself in the world. As we live, we enter into relationships with others. And as the most basic and simple unit to show this relationality with others, and as the most easily comprehensible unit, Kurosawa often uses a married couple in his films.

A married couple lives together. They try to be with each other as much as possible. They try to understand each other. And they are in love. But it's impossible to understand each other completely. One day—although they believe they're sharing the same space and time—something might happen to upset that belief. One suddenly thinks the other is someone who is completely unknowable, a stranger. Kurosawa believes there are definitely moments when such thoughts can occur even though in the next moment that may change and you deny everything you've just thought. He thinks we live with such shifting thoughts. A married couple represents the simplest form of such relationships. Because they love each other, that kind of tension exists. In Cure he tried to show this shifting anxiety in its most typical sense.

Again, from a Jungian perspective, this is the contrasexual aspect of anima/animus projection. What Jung called the slipping of the mask. We project onto our partners. We think them to be who we want them to be. We are attracted and drawn to them because of who we think they are. And suddenly something happens to alter that perception, the mask they are wearing slips just a little, and we perceive another person underneath who we are not familiar with, a real person, with whom we have to learn how to interact and live with. Kurosawa, although stylistically different, is as strong as Ingmar Bergman in depicting these persona shifts. Bergman's Persona and Scenes from a Marriage spring to mind to confirm the theorem.

Outside the Frame

Regarding how he deals with space in film, Kurosawa feels this applies as much to Cure as to his other films: In a movie a director fits space into a rectangular frame and the audience only sees the space the director has captured. But, of course, space exists outside of that frame as well. This is obvious. So when Kurosawa captures space in a frame of film, he always tries to convey a sense that space continues outside the frame. In other words, what's visible is definite but the invisible part of space outside the frame should have some effect on the visible part captured in the frame. It may be very subtle or very strong; it can vary. But the invisible part of space outside the frame must be affecting the visible part in some way. Kurosawa always has that in mind when he clips space to fit into a frame.

Regarding his set designer on Cure, Maruo, he recalls that his first meeting with Maruo was purely accidental. The first time Kurosawa worked with Maruo, it was not on a film project, but for what the Japanese call a V-cinema. V-cinemas are very similar to movies but they're not shown in movie theaters. They are only released on video. They're very low-budget gangster movies. So Kurosawa met Maruo through a producer on a V-cinema project. At that time Kurosawa considered Maruo brilliant for the following reasons: first, in Japan, when you're making a movie, it's very hard to build a set, given film budgets. So a filmmaker has to use existing buildings. Small inventive changes are made to them to make something out of them that is closer to the filmmaker's vision. This is where the skill of art direction comes into play. When you're shooting in Tokyo, it's very hard to find a good location for filming. Everything looks superficial. Everything seems somewhat new. If you choose to use a brand-new building, then that can work as it is. But slightly dilapidated buildings, older buildings everyone's forgotten about, are what Kurosawa wants for his film projects. Maruo happens to like those kinds of buildings himself. Buildings that might be torn down unless they're caught on film right now. Buildings that have fallen into ruin. Maruo knew of many such buildings and told Kurosawa where they were within the vicinity of Tokyo. Since Kurosawa loves these kinds of buildings, being able to shoot in such places was really fun for both of them. They made many gangster movies together and then later—after they had made eight such movies—the opportunity arose to work together on Cure. They carried over their preference for older buildings to Cure. In these older buildings that may end up torn down or in ruins, Maruo would make small changes such as placing beds and chairs in such a way that these slight alterations would transform a room into a hospital room or someone's bedroom. Kurosawa was always impressed with Maruo's accomplished skill in art direction. Although they were filming a fictional story, Maruo would come to the shoot with set design ideas as though they were filming a documentary about the location. Kurosawa admires this in Maruo's work.


By chance Kôji Yakusho, the detective in Cure, is the same age as Kurosawa. When Kurosawa talks with Yakusho, he feels they are of the same generation. The generation before them is called the "Zenkyoto" generation. They have very clear ideas about their political views and their position in society. At least, Kurosawa quips, they had definite ideas when they were young. The generation younger than Kurosawa and Yakusho aren't interested in political matters but have very definite ideas about their hobbies and preferences. They're very protective of what they like and they have faith in that. The generation he and Yakusho belong to is sandwiched inbetween these two.

His generation's position in society and their political stances and points of view are vague, unclear, as are their hobbies and preferences. Everything about his generation, Kurosawa feels, is uncertain and indefinite. So when he talks with Yakusho, Kurosawa notes they have similar views on things. That's why when Kurosawa has a story in mind and if its main character is somewhat like him or is a strong reflection of himself, he tends to ask Yakusho to play the part. Such a character has an ambiguous sense of values and is an ordinary man. He tries to live quietly and without drawing attention to himself. Such a main character is a reflection of Kurosawa himself. For such a character, Yakusho is the first actor that Kurosawa usually thinks of to play the role. Yakusho understands that's how human beings basically are. They are ambiguous and resigned to accept everything. Although they are hesitant, they manage to live according to the environment they're in. When Kurosawa has a main character with these characteristics, he doesn't need to explain it to Yakusho. Yakusho understands such characters without much direction.

Kurosawa decided on Cure as the title for the movie after filming had been completed. He decided on it after lengthy consideration. Cure wasn't the movie's original title. Kurosawa considered what the film's main character, played by Yakusho, had gone through in the course of the film. The detective undergoes a very harrowing experience. But when you think of what that experience means for him in the end, he finds real peace of mind. But in exchange for that peace, he probably becomes a criminal, perhaps even a social outcast. Though causing trouble for society, he gains peace of mind. So he finds solace through his harrowing experience. If seen that way, we could say the detective has been "cured."

Perhaps due to his age, or his generation, Kurosawa first found himself being most obsessed with movies just before he became interested in making films. He saw any and every movie he could. This was around the first half towards the middle of the 1970s, his highschool and college years. At that time in Japan, American entertainment movies were the most popular films. Back then, American entertainment movies were right after what the Japanese called the New American Cinema Movement and just before Steven Spielberg directed Jaws. Right inbetween. So, in a way, Kurosawa doesn't consider himself that knowledgable about American films because the films he was watching were essentially an inbetween period for American cinema; but that just happened to be the period when Kurosawa saw the most movies. Even when he sees the same films now, he thinks many of the films of that period are wonderful; films by such famous directors as Sam Peckinpah, Robert Aldrich, Richard Fleischer, and Don Siegel. But Kurosawa specifies that these American directors didn't begin their film careers during that period, they had actually begun making films long before in the 1950s. They were veteran filmmakers who were making films within specific genres. In the period after the end of the New American Cinema and before Spielberg's arrival, in a time of confusion when Hollywood didn't know what movies it should make, various subjects and stories were explored. They were made by using very orthodox and sophisticated film techniques from the 1950s or before. Kurosawa opines this is what happened in that period and that this is why these movies have such complex themes and characters. They can't be described in a single word. The stories told in these movies are quite different from those typically found in genre films. But style-wise they are splendid westerns or wonderful cop movies, and so forth. So there was this mixture of confusion and sophistication in the American films of that period. Since Kurosawa was young when he viewed these movies, they influenced him greatly. Even now when he sees these movies, he still firmly believes that many great American films were made during this period. They're not easy to emulate, but Kurosawa would like to make films in which confusion and sophistication exist and acknowledges this desire as a direct influence of those old films.

Cross-published on Twitch.

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