The seventh volume of Old Boy pushes us incredibly close to the secret of why the rich and powerful “Dojima” locked up the ordinary salaryman Goto for ten years. But you won’t get the answer just yet — the story’s been constructed to hold off revealing that particular piece of information for as long as possible. And, on top of everything else, it’s been put behind a door labeled “hypnotism,” but more on that later.
It all comes down to how patient you are, I guess. If you’re the type to squirm angrily while critical details are held over your head in a story — not just once but again and again, as part of the story structure — if you don’t savor the journey as opposed to the destination, Oldboy will drive you monumentally nuts. But if you like that sort of thing, if you are as fascinated with the steps towards the solution as the solution itself, this has proven itself to be a series worth following through to the end. It’s not where we get in life, but how we got there and what it all means.
Several key events take place in Volume 7 which break the ice that has formed over much of the story. One of them is the defection of “Dojima”’s private detective, a gatekeeper to many of the secrets that have previously been unavailable. Goto’s friend, the mystery author, has her private files raided by this man, and what turns up hints all the more at “Dojima”’s mind-set and world-view. Having such a blow struck against “Dojima” is in itself exciting: he’s almost indifferent to whether or not he’s going to win or lose. The detective finds such things appalling, and wants this game ended as quickly as possible.
The other major revelation is a song — a song in the music room that is somehow pivotally connected to the whole mystery. As popular as it is supposed to be, Goto cannot remember it. When it’s sung to him in a karaoke bar, he’s plunged into stark terror. Why? As another reviewer put it when talking about the movie, this first major twist is “the H-word”: hypnotism. Yes, Goto was given a posthypnotic suggestion to forget the song — presumably by someone under “Dojima”’s command, as a way to make the game all the more unwinnable in his favor. Once this clue is leaked by the detective, though, the game’s not unwinnable anymore, and we’re sent headlong into the events of the final book.
Implausible? Maybe. But dig a little deeper and you’ll realize that it’s part of the structure of the story — it fits with many of the major themes, and with the major characters: one man who is determined to change the very substance of the world he lives in, and another man who realizes the only way to face such things is to change himself. The story asks, which one is the truly strong one?
If hypnotism is one of those plot elements that makes your eyes roll when you hear it, you’re likely to toss the whole thing aside once you get to this point. But if you’ve already made yourself at home in Oldboy’s peculiar universe, you’re probably in for the long haul anyway. Only one more volume to go.