Lauded by the likes of Martin Scorsese and Bong Joon-ho, cult filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 1997 horror-thriller CURE has steadily built a reputation as one of the best genre flicks of its era - and yet, amazingly, this is the first time the film has been made available on home video in the UK ...

In the opening moments of CURE, businessman Kuwano (Yukijiro Hotaru) meets with a prostitute in a hotel room. He casually retires into the bathroom, saws off a length of pipe and returns to the bedroom to bludgeon her to death. He then takes a shower.

Troubled detective Takabe (Koji Yakusho) turns up on the scene and is baffled as to why Kuwano appears to have fled without his clothes and has even left his ID behind in his jacket pocket. Just as he's leaving the crime scene, Takabe instinctively checks inside a small cupboard in the hotel's hallway ... and finds a naked, tearful Kuwano hiding there.

Back at the police station, Kuwano claims to have no recollection of committing the murder. Takabe and partner, criminal psychologist Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki), are baffled: this is the third case in two months where the perpetrators have admitted intent but claimed to have no memory of their ill deeds. More disconcertingly, each victim has an "X" very clearly carved into their chests - something the police have withheld from the media.

Meanwhile, young school teacher Toru (Masahiro Toda) happens upon a curious fellow claiming to suffer from amnesia while walking on the beach. When the fellow collapses, Toru takes him back to his house in a bid to help. Looking through his houseguest's clothes, it appears the stranger's name is Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara). Their conversation becomes decidedly odd as the befuddled Mamiya begins to fixate on his host's wife.

It soon turns out that Mamiya, for all his failing memory, may have a very powerful and negative influence over whoever he talks to.

In the meantime, Takabe continues to divide his time between caring for his mentally ill wife Fumie (Anna Nakagawa) and desperately trying to make sense of the mounting body count. The next crime scene he's called to is indeed the bloody aftermath of the murder of Toru's wife. Toru is quickly established as being the guilty party. Although he recalls killing his wife, he has no idea why ...

Could it be, like Sakuma continually suggests, that "the devil made (these people) do it"? You'd think, once Mamiya turns up again and winds up in police custody, that the pieces would start to neatly slot together. But, no, the plot is only about to thicken ...

CURE came before the likes of RING and AUDITION but never set the Western world afire in the same way that those two game-changers did. It was critically acclaimed, certainly, but perhaps its hybrid of gritty crime thriller and grisly horror made for a slightly tougher sell. Either way, it's an excellent, atmospheric film for the most part.

Performances are appropriately understated, in keeping with Kurosawa's self-consciously dour aesthetics and the oppressively grimy production design.

There's a sense of dislocation about many scenes, Kurosawa opting to film events from other rooms, peering furtively through open doorways at glimpses of what's going on. It's a voyeuristic move, but also one that imbues proceedings with the vibe of isolation and aloneness. At the same time, this tactic feels somewhat playful in the possibility that the director may be teasing his audience with blink-and-you'll-miss-them clues.

The story starts without delay and keeps a healthy pace throughout, the action engaging from the off. CURE's main problem is that its first hour is seriously intriguing, only for its latter half to falter in terms of logic and storytelling. It's still well worth sticking with, of course, and the ending will satisfy - but there definitely comes a midway juncture where the film loses momentum and starts to feel a little unfocused.

All in all though, CURE is a strong effort from the director of TOKYO SONATA and CREEPY, and earns its reputation as one of the most influential of all modern Asian horror movies.

Eureka! Entertainment are bringing CURE to the UK in a 2-disc blu-ray and DVD dual format edition, as part of their esteemed Masters of Cinema collection. We were sent a copy of the blu-ray disc for review purposes.

The 1080p transfer presents the film in its original 1.85:1 ratio. Framing is accurate and images are very healthy indeed, benefitting from being struck from a clean print. The film is a naturally dark one, so expect a certain level of authentic murkiness to proceedings. But this uncut presentation - 111 minutes and 19 seconds long - also provides lots of healthy colour, sharp imagery, clean detail and deep, solid blacks. Organic fine grain retains that healthy filmic feel from start to finish; a lack of noise reduction aids this in being a very strong, natural transfer.

Japanese audio is brought to us in choices of lossless stereo and a superior, more atmospheric 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. Both offer tantalising, well-balanced playback. Optional English subtitles are well-written and easily readable throughout.

The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene selection option.

Extras begin with a most entertaining 14-minute featurette in with critic and author Kim Newman discusses the movie with energy and insight. He puts the film's late 90s release into historical context, and also assesses its place in Kurosawa's eclectic filmography. There's a fine-looking DVD collection behind Newman during this, but I couldn't make out any of the titles on the spines. Look out though for the strategic placement of Newman's own "Video Dungeon" book!

An archive interview with the director sees Kurosawa explaining how he got the idea for the film some 10 years prior to its inception, when watching TV footage of a convicted murderer's neighbours being interviewed. He also speaks about the reliability of his leading man, how he came to choose the film's title and what era of American cinema inspired him the most. This is an engaging 19-minute chat which is nevertheless not very visually stimulating (the filmmaker sits largely still in front of a black background) other than the occasional clip from CURE. This runs for an enjoyable 19 minutes.

I've no idea how old the above interview is, but it's interesting to contrast it with an all-new 17-minute director interview in which Kurosawa reflects upon CURE and its place within his formidable canon of movies, as well as offering more insight into his career as a whole - tracing it right back to when he started out making short flicks on Super 8mm.

Finally we get the film's original trailer, which clocks in at 1 minute and 40 seconds in length. This is window-boxed and appears to have been sourced from VHS.

Although not available to review, this release also comes with a collectors' booklet containing liner notes by the ever-dependable Tom Mes, and a limited edition O-card slipcase.

You know you want it.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Eureka! Entertainment