Thoughts on Impossibility Defense (Funôhan / 不能犯 2018)

Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Golden Horse Fantastic Film Festival.

The impossibility defense is a legal term that refers to how the prosecution must prove the physical possibility for the defendant to commit the crime alleged. In Impossibility Defense (Funôhan / 不能犯 2018), based on the eponymous manga but with a female lead, the black-clad, gangsterish Tadashi Usobuki (Tori Matsuzaka) kills people upon request with hypnosis, leaving no physical evidence of wrongdoing; but if the person who wants someone dead isn’t pure of murderous intent, he dooms them, too. Crack police detective Tomoko Tada (Erika Sawajiri) takes up the case and discovers that she isn’t susceptible to Usobuki’s hypnosis, setting the scene for a series of ethical conundrums akin to those in The Dark Knight (2008), but designed a bit more smartly.

The film is competently, even skillfully made—note that accurate down-and-up camera tilt from Sawajiri to a knife and back that’s so fast it technically qualifies as a swish pan (swish tilt?)—but like Marvel films, it is limited by its manga genre limitations: the lack of 3-dimensional characters (Usobuki in particular is portrayed as a psychopathic researcher exploring the depths of others’ foolishness and depravity), the immature emotional and ethical binaries of both Tada and Usobuki (I would love to have seen them form a tenuous friendship), and the long expositions of character motivations. In line with the specific manga genre of crime narratives, the murder motives are either trivial or the result of jumping to conclusions.

Finally, brainwashing especially in the post-truth era inevitably calls to mind the issue of freedom of ideas (in the guises of belief, speech, press, politics, and so on), something I talked about for The Babadook (2014) in my review of Get Out (2017). The film gets around any potential ideological deadlock by conjuring up a scenario in which Tada can attempt to kill Usobuki under pretense of preventing graver harm. In other words, a cop out.

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