The difference between hypnosis and brainwashing, according to a recently released street thief, is that brainwashing forces you to do something you don’t really want to whereas hypnosis merely encourages you to act on a latent desire. He perhaps leans a little heavily on this defence, justifying his own actions as only accidental motivators as if his victims were somehow complicit in his crimes, yet there is something in what he says if only in his own wilful self-delusions. 

A graduation project, Takuto Okui’s Hypnosis (ヒプノシス) follows protagonist Kazuto across two time periods 15 years apart opening in colour with the young Kazuto hypnotising and then robbing a policeman of his watch and gun, before jumping forward and into black and white to find him recently released from prison using his powers for “good” to knock out a sexually aggressive guy and rescue sex worker Maki from being assaulted in an alleyway. Taking her for a hamburger dinner he can’t convince her to eat, he explains that he was passing through on a trip down memory lane remembering when he’d saved his first love Mei from a similar situation with an abusive boyfriend. 

Kazuto proves his point about hypnosis only working if the target on some level wants to comply when his attempt to convince Mei to leave violent partner Masashi immediately fails, she later coming to the conclusion her decision to stay with him was also a kind of brainwashing. Nevertheless, he seems to be able to pull Jedi mind tricks on various policemen while otherwise using it to manipulate a situation to his advantage. We might wonder about his ability to pull the wool over our eyes especially when he pulls a gun on his abusive father, a fantasy sequence giving way to his shooting him for real but there being no sign of blood at the scene though a policeman does turn up a little later having received a report of a gunshot only for Kazuto to convince him to go away without investigating further. 

In each timeline he’s minded to play the hero, firstly trying to save Mei from Masashi and then Maki from the loansharks who have been after her ever since her father took his own life after unwisely guaranteeing a loan for his boss who then ran off and left him to carry the can. But the more he tells us the less we trust him, painting a picture of romantic tragedy in which he was cruelly robbed of his true love and languished in prison for 15 years while Masashi apparently went on enjoying his life. “That’s how this story ends” Kazuto stoically explains, suggesting that it’s how he’s chosen to end it in not immediately gunning for revenge on his release from prison but also hinting at a degree of personal myth making in creating an ending that fits with his version of events. 

The colour sequences are in a way part of the movie in his mind, the way he’s taught himself to remember it, while the black and white are just that a starker version of an objective truth without Kazuto’s editorial filter. He says he wants to help Maki, and perhaps he does, but is also playing an angle to get his hands on her money while leaving her open to reprisals from the loanshark, not to mention his grand plan involves selling someone to an elite club of French of torture enthusiasts through middle woman Akemi who, as a kind of anchor, has apparently not changed in the 15 years he’s been in prison. 

Even so, reality will eventually come calling for him and he’ll go to great lengths to protect his self-deluded fantasy, preserving the grand act of self-hypnosis he’s practiced on himself. As it turns out, there are some situations you can’t talk your way out of or escape through a simple Jedi mind trick but the ability to rewrite the past as you remember it might be the next best thing. Heavily stylised, Okui’s noirish drama pits fantasy against reality and objective truth against delusion while Kazuto wanders between failed hero and cowardly villain unable to protect anything or anyone save perhaps his image of himself even in his failure. 

Hypnosis screened as part of the 2022 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival.

Interview with the director (Japanese only)

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