Suicide Club (Jisatsu Saakuru)

Dir: Shion Sono
2002

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…

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