I had no idea what to expect when I popped The Hypnotist into my DVD player. Would it be gross out new wave Japanese splatter, a large scale crime drama, or supernatural demon-inspired antics? The answer was yes!
The Hypnotist is a fantastic film that draws inspiration from a novel of the same name by Keisuke Matsuoka and begins with three very unusual suicides, a groom at his wedding reception strangles himself with his tie, a seventy year old retired man leaps to his death, and a college runner literally runs until her body crumbles.
The unusual nature of these three suicides prompts the Tokyo PD to assign homicide detective Sakurai and his assistant Mitsui to determine the circumstances of these weird deaths. Teamed with Saga, a psychoanalyst who specializes in dissociative (multiple personality) disorder and hypnotherapy, the three must race against time to find the cause of and solution too a growing rash of bizarre deaths.
Each victim is heard referencing “green monkeys” before they die.
Suspicion falls on famous television hypnotist Jissoji who’s been making the rounds with seemingly unbalanced Yuka Irie a woman alternating between delusions of green monkey rape and channeling an alien from another dimension and totally under the hypnotic control of Jissoji.
As Sakurai, Mitsui, and Saga close in on the truth behind the deaths The Hypnotist twists and turns from a groovy police drama to a supernatural roller coaster as the extent of the mysterious hypnotist’s power is slowly revealed, and no one, not even the police, are safe.
Ochiai’s masterful direction of the script he co-wrote with Yasushi Fukuda succeeds so adeptly because it never sinks to the level of parody, which given the subject matter wouldn’t be too hard. The sweeping crane shots of downtown Tokyo or the low angled scenes in Yuka’s geometrically complicated apartment will keep the audience’s eyes glued to the screen. Complimenting the great camera work is a tight script allows the actors to exist in the scene without reams of expository dialogue. For example, we cut to Mitsui vomiting in the foreground while Sakurai stands in the background holding an aluminum baseball bat. Jump cut to a tight shot of Sakurai as Mitsui jogs towards him and apologizes for losing her composure. Cut to a long shot of Sakurai and Mitsui on one side of the screen and another man, on his knees, on the other side. Jump back to Sakurai and Mitsui. Sakurai asks, “ever seen anyone catch a baseball with their face?” Mitsui shakes her head. Jump to another long shot as Sakurai, demonstrating his frustration, bats one of the nearby baseballs, then drops the bat and storms off as medical examiners rush past. The camera tracks them until the man kneeling before the batting cage slides into the foreground turned 45 degrees away from the camera so you can only see his shoulders and half of his head, the camera lingers there for a few seconds, then the embedded baseball drops out of a crater in his skull.
The Hypnotist is chock full of sequences like that. I am not the sort of moviegoer who generally likes police procedurals (Hannibal or Seven for example) but The Hypnotist slides so easily through the cop stuff and into the overall weirdness of the script I was never bored or restless.
The acting is universally excellent from a cast led by veteran actor Ken Utsui who displays equal fear, composure, frustration, and profound regret with aplomb. The real star of the show though is Goro Inagaki as Saga. Inagaki’s screen presence is absolutely magnetic and his understated, almost clinical portrayal of a hypnotherapist betrays a paper thin veneer of passion and horror that most of the better American actors simply could not match. Miho Kanno’s psychologically scrambled Yuka is another great performance that could have easily slipped into caricature but she manages to keep Yuka’s mystery alive while cycling through four distinct personalities.
The special effects rival anything Hollywood offers, and for my money, are presented in a much more visually interesting manner than most western films. Ochiai isn’t afraid to let the camera linger on the gore, and while this may turn some of the audience away (I covered my eyes now and then) it never overshadows the acting in the gore heavy scenes.
With the popularity of Americanized remakes of Japanese New Wave, such as Ringu/The Ring, I wouldn’t be surprised if The Hypnotist ended up optioned by some hack in Hollywood and remade. I wouldn’t be surprised, but I’d be disappointed. The Hypnotist, as it is now, is so accessible to western audiences that it should have and could have made a successful theatrical run here when it was first released in Japan in 1999.
ADV offers The Hypnotist on DVD with virtually no extras save the trailer, in Japanese language with English subtitles only, and widescreen.