Suicide Club (Jisatsu Saakuru)

Dir: Shion Sono

I’m always up for a good Japanese horror movie, but this one didn’t do it for me.
The film felt like it began with a series of striking images (a mass suicide in front of a train; a roll of stitched-together flesh; a woman blithely cutting off her fingers; a theater filled with scary-looking children) and then a script was written to contain them.
Taking a lot from Kiyoshi Kurosawa (especially his classic “Kairo”–you should know this is one of my favorite films from the current Japanese horror renaissance), Sono creates a whole lot of questions, emotional and logical, and then confuses not explicitly answering them with not having an answer.
The plot centers around a rash of group suicides around Japan, and the detective (Ryo Ishibashi) called in to solve the case. The film opens with a bravura set piece where 50 or so high school girls jump in front of a subway. Trouble is, the editing reveals the budget, and the soundtrack (a kooky march) ruins the shock. It’s actually (intentionally?) funny. Big waves of blood shoot out from beneath the train as it plows through the tender flesh–it’s something that Dario Argento would love. But it is rather silly.
Much better is a later mass suicide set on the top of a high school where horsing around leads to the entire rooftop of students jumping to their deaths (although we get some more buckets-o-blood splashed on the ground floor windows). It’s a well-written scene and the tone is just right. No marching music either.
Then there’s a completely unrelated sequence set in a hospital with two nurses and a security guard–this is shot very dark, and is reminiscent of Kurosawa or Nakata (Ringu). In the context of the film though, it doesn’t follow the “mass suicide” theme. Seems to me it’s either mass suicide or just random suicides–Sono seems to change his mind depending on the effect. When things drag, Sono goes back to this set up for one more scare with the security guard–where he sees the nurses’ ghosts. But this isn’t a ghost story–and so we never see anything like this again.
Then there’s some bits about an online Suicide Club (a bit reminiscent of Kairo’s ghostly website); a mysterious child who calls the detective and offers up cryptic clues (don’t they all?); and a 5 member “idol” group, a bit like Morning Musume, who seem to be everywhere, and who also seem to be singing cryptic messages. Gee, you think…? Naaaah.
Then there’s Rolly. Who? Rolly.
This guy is a sort of glam rocker who was popular when I lived in Japan. Think Ziggy Stardust, but less subtle. He turns up as the head of a murder (or is it suicide?) cult in the third reel, and, whaddya know? he sings a song! I don’t think this sort of thing has happened in film since Mick Jagger’s Memo From Turner walked onscreen in Nicholas Roeg’s “Performance” and baffled all. The movie really skids off the rails when this campy fella turns up.
Suicide Club wants to make us think, but more importantly, it wants to make us quietly depressed, like…well, like “Kairo” I’m afraid to say. But thinking back over the film only reveals its weak points. If young children are behind the murders, then who is producing the music, filming the shows, setting up the websites? Who is the (adult) guy in the executioner mask who planes off the victim’s flesh? If–as we see–it’s that hard to get into the flesh-planing place to start with, how come more and more people are offing themselves, as membership suggests? Well, you see, the film sort of falls apart.
The reason why Kurosawa is so good at his horror films is that, in Cure and Kairo in particular, once the “mystery” is solved, the film doesn’t end–the knowledge is the horror, not a solution to it. Kurosawa takes the solution then expands it beyond what we’ve expected. Sono doesn’t do that because, as I said at the beginning, he’s working backwards.
For a rave review, for I could be wrong, check out the one at Snowblood Apple, although I feel Mandi Apple is reading way too much into the film.
Oh, and this is one of the first DVDs released by TLA Entertainment. I don’t know whether the lack of a 5.1 mix is their fault, but unremovable subtitles? C’mon now…

Kitchen Confidential – Anthony Bourdain

Bloomsbury, 2000
Another thing the visit from my friend Phil turned me on to was Kitchen Confidential,
the autobiography/expose/rant from chef Anthony Bourdain. I found out that Phil and I had been talking about the same guy–I was telling him about this show called “Cook’s Tour” on the Food Network, and he was telling me about the book, yet neither of us could remember his name. When we browsed in Chaucer’s Books–and nothing made my friend happier than being in bookstores, so I certainly indulged him–I asked him for that title and–ah-ha–it’s the same bloke!
Turns out that I’m the last to read it–I’ve mentioned the book to several people and I get the “last on the bus” look.
I was going through a difficult chapter in the Will Durant book–the one devoted to Immanuel Kant, where even Durant suggests he has a bit of a problem reading the man (but not as much as Hegel)–so I eagerly turned to Mr. Bourdain’s down-and-dirty stories from behind the swinging kitchen door.
Bourdain obviously delights in revealing the kitchen of haut cuisine as roiling pits of raw testosterone, much as early on in his career he was shown the blistered and scarred hands of his boss after having the nerve to ask for a bandaid. Bourdain makes it sound like you could cut your own hand off and still be expected to come back to work a few hours later, stump at the ready.
He tells us when not to order fish (Monday), never to order beef well-done (they’ll pick out the worst cut for you, then throw it in the deep fryer), and the few simple ingredients to cook like a pro. In an amusing penultimate chapter, he visits a friend’s restaurant and has to retract all his hard, fast, and swinging-dick rules after seeing the gentlemanly behavior on display. There’s a nice chapter when he discusses his battle scars, and one section on a trip to Japan that made me quite hungry.
Bourdain swears like a sailor, has no fear in telling you what a smack-head he was in his early years, and successfully puts the fear of God into anybody half-thinking of owning a restaurant someday. Own one? I’m nervous now just to walk in one.
I read this in 3 1/2 days, so I don’t feel so guilty of leaving the Kant on hold (that chapter is now done, anyway).

Feeeeeeed me!

Hi gang,
Long time no post.
However, I’ve just updated all the pages to feature RSS feeds.
The reason why is that my friend Phil was here last week, spending a little time with me before the big EtCon conference in San Diego. He turned me on to a whole bunch of web sites, primarily being BlogLines, which I now use exclusively. Turns out that Blogger now has RSS available for free, so I updated. Now you’ll never have to come here…unless you really need to.
Cool, eh?

David Lynch’s Cigarette Ad

Dating apparently from 1998, this is one of a series of cigarette ads for French cinemas only. Other directors included Wim Wenders, Roman Polanski, and the Coen Bros. Lynch’s commercial features his usual obsessions: fire, electricity, smoke. But it also features two black dudes who seem to entice fish to rise up into the sky. If this is selling out, go for it.
You can see other Lynch commercials at, and the other cigarette commercials over at LDM Productions.