The Hypnotist

The Hypnotist (1999)
ADV Films
Cast: Ken Utsui, Goro Inagaki, Takeshi Masu
Extras: Trailers

During the 80s and 90s, those looking for a fix from the East turned to Hong Kong and it’s over-the-top action and fantasy films. As we enter the new millennium, it appears that the new hotspot for Asian entertainment will be Japan and it’s creepy and original horror films. Following the international success of "The Ring" and it’s sequels, many horror enthusiasts became more interested in what other fright films Japan had to offer. Answering that call is ADV Films with their new release "The Hypnotist" (which is also known as simply "Hypnosis" in some circles). This psychological thriller is reminiscent of "The Ring" in its presentation, and gives Westerners a look at how the Japanese handle a giallo.

Whereas director Masayuki Ochiai opened "Parasite Eve" by cutting between four different events, here he outdoes himself by showing five! "The Hypnotist" opens with three mysterious suicides (ala Armando Crispino’s "Autopsy"), in which seemingly normal individuals suddenly commit very violent acts to kill themselves, two in very public places. The only connection between the three victims is that they all mentioned a "green monkey" before committing their horrific acts. Inspector Sakurai (Ken Utsui) is assigned to the case. During his training on the psychology of lying, Sakurai meets Saga (Goro Inagaki), a psychologist who specializes in hypnosis. When Saga hears the details of the suicides, he attempts to convince Sakurai that hypnosis may have caused those individuals to behave so strangely. But, when Sakurai witnesses the evil TV hypnotist Jissoji (Takeshi Masu) at work, he realizes just how powerful hypnotism can be. Now, with the help of Saga, Sakurai must discover who is behind these sinister acts before this person can strike again.

As with director Ochiai’s "Parasite Eve", "The Hypnotist" is very deliberately paced, but ultimately yields a better film. Actually, after the first 45 minutes of "The Hypnotist", I was ready to give up on the film. I liked the premise, but the movie just seemed silly, as Sakurai seemingly ignores many obvious leads in the case. But, then the film introduces several plot twists and the last hour is a suspenseful and creepy ride. "The Hypnotist" is an interesting film, because it juxtaposes the typical Hitchcock style of suspense. During the first hour, when the audience thinks that they know more than the characters, the film isn’t very suspenseful, and as mentioned earlier, seems a bit nonsensical. But, once the characters in the film grasp what is going on, and how the killer is operating, then "The Hypnotist" really takes off and becomes a very suspenseful film. There is a great scene in which Saga races through the city trying to stop his colleagues from becoming hypnotized, and thus, committing suicide.

"The Hypnotist" has a nice twist ending, which I didn’t see coming until right before it happened. As with Argento’s "Tenebre", we only deduce who the killer is because all of the other characters are dead! However, a portion of the twist ending didn’t make much sense. While it was certainly creepy, I can only assume that something was lost in translation, because the final reveal didn’t really hit home. The vast majority of "The Hypnotist" plays as a standard thriller, but the ending takes on a more supernatural tone, and admittedly, borrows heavily from "The Ring". But, that doesn’t detract from the film’s overall success.

Director Masayuki Ochiai shows a great maturity with "The Hypnotist". While "Parasite Eve" was definitely a visually beautiful film, Ochiai obviously has a better grip on pacing with this film. "The Hypnotist" is based on a novel by Keisuke Matsuoka, and while I’m not familiar with the source book, the film definitely has a literary feel, as Ochiai allows the drama to play out. This should not imply that "The Hypnotist" is not a visually impressive film, as Ochiai has matured in that respect as well. "The Hypnotist" is a slick looking film and is filled with creative and impressive shots. As in "Parasite Eve", Ochiai makes great use of color and uses it to help tell the story. This film shows a nice combination of an intriguing story and a visually talented director.

ADV Films mesmerizes us with the DVD release of "The Hypnotist", and though it’s not as technically impressive as their recent release of "Parasite Eve", it still delivers. The film has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 1.85:1, but unfortunately, is not <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TVs. Despite this, the transfer is quite impressive, as the image is sharp and clear, for the most part. There is hardly any grain present during the movie, but some scenes appear a bit hazy. This doesn’t really detract from the viewing experience, but it does seem a bit odd that some scenes are very clear, while others have this haze. (There’s no obvious thematic cause for it.) The color palette on this transfer is very nice, as Ochiai uses strong reds and greens to help tell his tale. The framing appears to be accurate, as there is no warping of the frame at any point during the movie.

The audio on the DVD is a Dolby 2-channel surround mix. This soundtrack offers clear and audible dialogue, which is never overpowered by the sound effects or music. The audio is well-balanced throughout the film. The surround sound is used mostly for ambiance throughout the movie, but there are a few moments, such as during a storm, when the sound emanating from the rear becomes more prevalent. The English subtitles are an easy-to-read yellow and appear below the frame. When two characters are speaking at one time, a second set of white subtitles appear on the image itself. I found this to be a creative way to solve the problem. The only extra on the DVD are two trailers for "The Hypnotist". The first 90-second trailer contains only images from the film and music, and has more of an international feel. The second 90-second trailer has the same music and images, but contains an English voice-over and critical blurbs from FANGORIA magazine. Do not watch these trailers first, as they give away a great deal of the plot.

As our "Global Village" grows bigger (or would that be smaller?), we want to branch out and learn more about other cultures. And what better way to do this than through movies? For those of you interested in learning more about Japanese horror films, then "The Hypnotist" is a pretty good place to start. The film is suspenseful and scary, showing the Japanese take on the action-thriller, and except for one really cheesy make-up effect (you’ll know it when you see it), the film is quite good. The DVD from ADV Films gives us a good transfer, with well-done subtitles. Now, look into my eyes…