Hypnosis (aka The Hypnotist, 1999) Movie Review

Hypnotism has a long history of being used as a plot device in cinema. Recently it was featured in several Asian “I see ghosts”-type films as a cheap explanation for supernatural occurrences. However, there aren’t all that many films about hypnotism itself, and so “Hypnosis” has a premise that is vaguely fresh, even though it degenerates into yet another story about a creepy girl with long dark hair. Despite this unfortunate reversion to type, “Hypnosis” does offer enough obtuse philosophy to come off as a kind of “Suicide Circle”-light, and has enough inventive death scenes in the style of “The Omen” to keep viewers entertained.

The film opens with a burst of strange deaths across Tokyo: a groom strangles himself at his wedding, an old man hurls himself out of a window, and a runner keeps going even after she has broken all the bones in her legs. The three have something in common: just before dying, they uttered the words, “Green Monkey”. Soon, a wave of mysterious suicides is sweeping the city, leaving detective Sakurai (Ken Utsui) with a seemingly unsolvable case on his hands.

The bizarre nature of the suicides lead Sakurai to believe that hypnotism may be involved, and so he enlists the help of a young psychiatrist named Saga (Goro Inagaki, who used to be in Japanese boy band “Snap”). Their search leads them to a sleazy TV hypnotist named Jissoji (Takeshi Masu), who appears to know more about the deaths than he is letting on. However, it soon appears that the girl at the heart of the mystery may be Yuka (Miho Kanno, who was heartbreaking in Kitano’s “Dolls”), a stranger who Jissoji finds wandering the streets muttering, “Green Monkey”…

As you can probably tell, the plot of “Hypnosis” is quite convoluted, and there’s actually a lot more to it than what I’ve outlined above. I won’t go into more detail, as the way that the story progresses is one of the film’s strengths, and it has a fair few twists and surprises up its sleeve. That’s not to suggest that the film makes a great deal of sense or that the narrative is particularly coherent. As well as featuring a number of unexplained deaths, “Hypnosis” is similar to “Suicide Circle” in that it chooses to only partly explain its mystery, which I guess to some viewers may be frustrating.

“Hypnosis” similarly has pretensions of delivering a message, using hypnotism as a metaphor for the way we are brainwashed by things in everyday life such as advertising, and how we spend most of our lives doing what other people tell us to do. Or at least I think this is what it’s trying to say. To be honest, the film is a little confusing as a whole, throwing a number of different ideas and possible interpretations at the viewer. Like many Japanese horror films, it also features an ending which is incomprehensible and which seems to be making some obscure existential point, though again, I’m not exactly sure what. The upside to all this is that the film is interesting, and works on a number of levels, most surprisingly being that it is actually quite moving.

Masayuki Ochiai (“Parasite Eve”) directs with real visual flair, especially during the death scenes. Although he doesn’t manage to generate any real atmosphere, or indeed any real scares, he keeps things moving quickly and manages to keep the viewer wondering what will happen next. He also manages to make the viewer actually care about the characters, which is no small feat and which gives an extra dimension lacking in so many other modern films. There’s a lot of FX work, and though not all of it is convincing, it helps to distract from the vagaries of the plot. Some of the death scenes are very creative and actually quite nasty, which will certainly please horror fans.

The acting is a mixed bag. Miho Kanno is superb, giving the viewer a great deal of sympathy for a very odd character, and both Takeshi Masu and Ken Utsui are convincing in their roles. Unfortunately, Goro Inagaki is pretty terrible as the young psychiatrist and his brand of non-acting can be a little distracting during some of the films more emotional moments. He is wholly unbelievable in his role, having only two expressions — concerned and confused (usually the latter). Still, for a gimmicky horror film, I guess we shouldn’t complain too much.

Overall, “Hypnosis” is an entertaining, if somewhat confusing film. It mixes a good amount of thrills with some decidedly abstract Japanese philosophy and manages to come up with something which, if not a classic, is definitely way above average and well worth watching.

Masayuki Ochiai (director) / Yasushi Fukuda, Keisuke Matsuoka (novel), Masayuki Ochiai (screenplay)
CAST: Goro Inagaki …. Toshiya Saga
Miho Kanno …. Yuka Irie
Takeshi Masu …. Jissoji
Ken Utsui …. Sakurai
Yuki Watanabe …. Mitsui

Buy Hypnosis on DVD