When a string of seemingly unconnected suicides occur, hard-bitten and deep-sighing detective Sakurai (Ken Utsui) suspects that there is more to it than meets the eye. Of course the mechanism that triggers the deaths is less of a mystery to the viewer, given the movie’s title. Sakurai scathingly rejects the attempts at help from his female sidekick, and brings in psychoanalyst Saga (Goro Inagaki).
What starts out as a dark mystery/suspense story that borrows from SE7EN (particularly when a corpse turns out to be less dead than it appeared) takes a more supernatural twist in the last reel, and ultimately leaves us with a moral message. The shifts in genre are handled well for the most part, however the suggestion that a dual personality disorder is some kind of demonic possession seems both unexpected and outdated. The treatment of the female characters is also rather obsolete, with women appearing mainly as girlish victims or figures of fun. The closing chapter turns this portrayal around too, as the downtrodden assistant solves part of the mystery, and victim becomes aggressor, with even her scream becoming a weapon.
The representation of hypnosis is more accurate than in many cinematic efforts, and it is portrayed in a sympathetic light much of the time, explaining the limitations of control, and stressing its therapeutic uses, although an interesting parallel is also drawn with voodoo. This generally enlightened viewpoint makes the clichéd use of a spinning spiral pattern to suggest induction somewhat surprising. Stage hypnosis is less kindly dealt with, appearing as a degrading spectacle in front of a raucous barely-glimpsed audience, as part of a television show that must have incredible ratings since it seems constantly to be showing on every set in every bar and even in the police station.
The film delivers some stylish touches. The opening close-up of a hypnotised eye is reflected throughout the movie in recurring circular images reminiscent of a sequence in Coppola’s DRACULA. Meanwhile the deaths become increasingly more bizarre and unsettling, most notably the startling image of a man washing his face and hands with flames from his stove, and another character who takes several attempts to impale his forehead on a hook.
While not Earth-shatteringly original, HYPNOSIS is an entertaining ride that maintains its pace and interest well, and provides some highly original suicides. Credit must also be given to any filmmaker who rises to the challenge of building suspense around the imminent chiming of a musical triangle without descending into parody.
Directed by Masayuki Ochiai
Japanese language With Optional English Subtitles
Japan / 1999 / 109 minutes.
SPECIAL DVD FEATURES
An Artsmagic Eastern Cult Cinema DVD release
Region 2. PAL. Dolby Digital Stereo.
HYPNOSIS (aka Saimin)