I'd admired the craft of The Guard from Underground (1992), a stylishly shot, restrained, and atmospheric Japanese "office slasher" film that happened to be the first of his films I stumbled across, but I found the story so drearily by-the-book as to wonder why the horror community was making such a big deal about him.
I was utterly stunned by the next film I saw by him, however, which demonstrated his abilities in spades: Kairo (2001), also known as Pulse, is one of those Japanese horror films that has served as the basis for a Hollywood adaptation, but I assume the remake has nothing on the original. It starts as what seems a more-or-less conventional, but extremely creepy ghost story, revolving around a suicide, then gets increasingly surreal, philosophically-minded and ambitious, audaciously wandering away from its apparent initial genre story to become a meditation on loneliness, isolation and alienation - a condition which it connects with computer technology and life in cities, which are gradually shown to be deserted, as more and more people become mere virtual ghosts, unreal to each other and even to themselves. The film is quite insidious in making its point, and one feels so unsettled by it at times -- I even found myself literally shivering at certain images, and I'm a hardcore horror film fan from way back -- that it must be onto something. Though it's not perfect - there are moments when it is a little too overt in articulating its theme, and the transition from ghost story to philosophical apocalypse film has more than a few "what the fuck is he doing now?" moments - it's one of the most ambitious, most serious-minded, and most disturbing horror films I've seen from any country, and perhaps my favourite Japanese horror film (unless we call Battle Royale a horror film; I'm very fond of that movie, though it's a very different animal indeed from Kairo). (A more detailed review of the film can be read here).
Convinced I'd found proof that Kurosawa - Kiyoshi, not Akira; there's no relation - was a major figure in Japanese cinema, I rushed out to find the next film of his I could get my hands on; it turned out to be 2003's Doppleganger, an incoherent SF/comedy - I think - involving a scientist, his double, a woman, a robotic chair, and a roadtrip. My feeling at the time was that it was an empty mess of a film of no interest to any serious cinephile; I have no desire to revisit it to elaborate further on that judgment. I didn't make it through 1999's Charisma, my next attempt to take on Kurosawa's cinema - another apocalyptic SF film, I'm told, revolving around a symbolically significant tree - but, though it wasn't to my taste, it seemed at least far richer in its ideas and more coherent than Doppleganger. (Presumably the fact that the tree has symbolic weight is why some dumbfuck mentioned on Wikipedia compares Kiyoshi Kurosawa to Tarkovsky, thinking, I guess, of The Sacrifice; this is by far the stupidest Tarkovsky comparison I've seen -- and there are some doozies out there. Kurosawa's films, while carefully lit and shot and often featuring very striking compositions, look like nothing so much as very good mainstream commercial Japanese cinema, tho' we gather he cites American cinema of the 1970's as an influence). I resolved to hold back on exploring the rest of Kurosawa's films unless I had some assurance, on a film-by-film basis, that they were worth watching.
Good news for me, then (and for y'all, too): I've been told that of his horror films, 1997's Cure, like Kairo, is one to see, and there will be 11PM screenings of that film at the Vancity on Friday and Saturday, and one at 8:45 PM Saturday. The program guide, City Reels, says the subtext of the film is the Aum Shinrikyo nerve gas attacks on the Tokyo subways, and given that - and the fact that, like Kairo, it's one of the films his reputation among horror buffs is founded on - it's likely to be a very interesting film indeed (and wow, the Vancity scored a 35mm print for us to see - for a mere three screenings! There's some generosity of spirit at hand here). It's kind of odd that it's likened in City Reels to both Seven and The X-Files - reference points I find rather dissimilar; I wonder how it yokes them together? (This review, with a few spoilers, appears to suggest the answer, but I don't want to read it too carefully).