The film was released to strong critical acclaim in Japan and internationally, with critics praising Kurosawa's direction as well as the visuals and atmosphere. In 2012, South Korean film director Bong Joon-ho listed the film as one of the greatest films of all time, citing it as having had a strong impact on his career. This is Kurosawa and lead actor Yakusho's first collaboration
Plot[edit | edit source]
Kenichi Takabe (Kōji Yakusho) is a police detective with a mentally unstable wife. Takabe investigates a series of bizarre murders in which each victim is killed in the same way, with a large "X" carved into their neck, but the perpetrator is different each time. In every case the murderers are caught close to the scene of the crime, and although they readily confess to committing the crimes, they never have a substantial motive and cannot explain what drove them to kill.
Takabe, together with a psychologist named Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki), eventually determines that one man is the common thread among the murders, as each person he comes in contact with commits a killing shortly thereafter. The man, called Mamiya (Masato Hagiwara), appears to have extreme short-term memory loss; he seems constantly confused about what day it is, where he is, and what his name is. He claims to recall nothing of his past. Mamiya constantly counters Takabe's interrogation with evasive questions regarding Takabe's identity. This drives Takabe nearly insane as he gradually loses his initial calmness. The futility of the case starts to affect his psyche as he becomes more and more volatile, exploding into violent fits of anger.
Takabe discovers that Mamiya used to be a student of psychology who researched mesmerism and hypnosis. He comes to realize that Mamiya has no memory problems, and is instead a master of hypnosis, capable of planting criminal suggestions in strangers' minds by exposing them to repetitive sounds, the motion of water, or the flame of a lighter.
In an archive, Sakuma finds a videotape of a mysterious man, speculated to be the originator of Japanese mesmerism, and shows it to Takabe. The man is depicted hypnotizing a woman in the late 1800s. She had been under treatment for hysteria and was hypnotized by the man who gestured an "X" midair. The woman later killed her son in a manner similar to Mamiya's crimes. Sakuma believes the current crimes have a connection to the earlier events, describing Mamiya as a missionary of ceremonial murders. After showing the tape, Sakuma is revealed to have unconsciously drawn an X on his wall, and starts to experience hallucinations of Takabe menacingly cornering him. Several days later, the police discover Sakuma's body in his home, and conclude that he committed suicide. Meanwhile, Mamiya is jailed and charged with incitement to murder.
Mamiya finds Takabe fascinating, possibly because he cannot force Takabe to kill. Takabe is tormented by visions of his wife (Anna Nakagawa) dead, however, and the more he studies Mamiya, the more he feels that he might be losing his mind. The detective grows frustrated with his wife's helplessness and even expresses murderous intent towards her at one point. His wife's strange behavior and concerns about his own mental stability lead him to have her committed to a mental hospital.
When Mamiya escapes, killing a policeman and a doctor in the process, Takabe tracks him to a deserted building in the wilderness and shoots him. Exploring the building, Takabe finds and listens to an old phonograph cylinder that contains a scratchy recording of a male voice repeating what seem to be cryptic hypnotic instructions.
The next scene cuts to the mental hospital where Takabe has had his wife committed. A nurse hears a squeaking sound behind her and turns to see Takabe’s wife’s lifeless body in a wheelchair with an “X” carved into her neck. There is no indication of the killer’s identity.
The film ends ambiguously at a restaurant where a waitress serves Takabe, then suddenly draws out a knife after speaking to the detective — suggesting that the phonograph’s hypnotic power continues to spread.