Jisatsu saakuru (Suicide Club) (2002)
Director: Shion Sono
Starring: Ryo Ishibashi, Saya Hagiwara
(out of 4)
Certain Japanese movies of recent years, like Battle Royale and the movies of Takashi Miike or Kiyoshi Kurosawa, seem to have some themes of despair and desperation running through them. Jisatsu saakuru (AKA Suicide Club AKA Suicide Circle) is a good fit into this kind of group – a gory concoction of horror, black comedy, and social commentary. It begins with an eye-opener – 54 Japanese schoolgirls lock hands and in unison, jump off a subway platform in front of an oncoming train (while smiling). The resulting splatter of crimson (Evil Dead-style) is enough to make the most jaded horror fan sit up and take notice. A bowling bag is left at the scene – inside is a roll of patches of human skin, stitched together. Soon, unexplained suicides are happening all over Tokyo, more bags are being found, and the police seem helpless to do anything – given the nature of the deaths, opening a criminal investigation is apparently not an easy task.
Rumor has it that writer/director Shion Sono created Suicide Club after the real-life suicide of a close friend. The suicides depicted in the movie, while nasty, are treated with a seriousness, something of a miracle given the absurdity of having large number of people kill themselves for no apparent reason and with little warning. The film suggests numerous possible explanations for the deaths. Are certain web sites responsible (also see fear dot com)? What about the surrealistic Lynch-inspired sequence involving a cross dressing Manson wannabe and his cadre of psycho goths, inhabiting an abandoned bowling alley full of squealing animals wrapped up in white sheets? Are the songs and videos of an all-girl J-Pop group delivering subliminal messages? (Branding kiddie pop nonsense like Britney Spears and N’Sync as causing suicidal tendencies is not unwelcome by me). By the movie’s end, we think we know the culprits, but on the surface we never really know why. It is this lack of full explanation and also some nightmarish, bizarre scenery – baby chicks followed by children in raincoats, a hacker’s apartment that looks like an asylum populated with cats, fish, and a troubled (ignored? abused?) father, the bowling alley – that seems to place Sono firmly in with the Lynch camp or most likely something closer to the cult of Takashi Miike.
Moviegoers used to Hollywood hand-holding will most likely be very frustrated with Suicide Club, as easy answers are never given. But it’s all metaphorical anyway – take the scene where our main detective (Ishibashi) is taking the subway home, observing the grim, detached looks on the faces of his fellow commuters – this is a group of people in silent desperation. The logical leap – that suicide is a way out for many who are in their own private hell – is obvious. What is also obvious is the skewering of mass media, of fads, and of conformity. The effects of television and mass consumption, easily noticeable in America, are even more intense in Japan. Sono seems to be giving a wakeup call to Japanese society – a plea to turn around from the brink of the abyss. At its heart, Suicide Club is sly commentary on the spiritual death of a society made manifest in suicidal behavior. Even more fascinating is the idea that it is our children that must lead the way in our education – becoming both our tormentors and our martyrs.
Not for the squeamish or faint hearted, the movie has some missteps – scenes in the bowling alley seem out of place, sequences involving a security guard don’t really work, the police seem more inept than usual (how come phone calls and web servers are never traced?), and there seems to be a supernatural influence on events that is never really followed up on – but on the whole the piece is disturbing and challenging (despite the premise being somewhat absurd), a message for sheep to quit being sheep, and rewarding to those who want some brains with their grue.
- Bill Gordon