Shion Sono's Suicide Club (Jisatsu sâkuru or Suicide Circle) is a tough film to review...I don't even know where to begin; yet, here I am at the beginning, so I guess it has begun. That statement is as confusing as my thoughts about Suicide Club - a film that sat on my DVD shelf for a couple of years now and for whatever reason I never sat down and watched it. Not like there aren't tons of unwatched films in my collection, but I'm just saying. My only previous knowledge of the movie is about the same as most, which is the crazy opening involving a large group of Japanese schoolgirls that take a plunge right into an oncoming train. I heard that it was pretty good, but I feel like I heard that the train opening was the best scene in the movie and it never quite hits that level of madness again. Whoever said that could not have watched the same movie as I.
Suicide Club is a total mind fuck of a film. In theory, it is a simplistic tale of a rash of unexplained suicides that begin with the opening train slaughter. The local police, led by Detective Toshiharu Kuroda (Ryô Ishibashi) attempt to figure out what may be causing these suicides, ruling out the possibility that they could be caused by someone intentionally and chalking them up to a fad that kids have caught on to. There are so many themes in this film that I could do two full posts on the themes alone. Some of them may be a bit out of my knowledge range, as I only know so much about Japanese culture and how suicide seems to have found a way into the culture of Japanese society, but some of these ideas are very world-weary.
Most of these social commentaries individually factor into what may be the cause of these suicides. Each one adds a thick layer of oddity, while keeping you guessing throughout as to which of these things could be the reason, or even the cause of these self inflicted, life-ending decisions. Technology, selflessness, celebrity, fads, and even J-pop are all skewered in some capacity within Suicide Club's framework. All of them mix together to really throw off the viewer's sense of direction, a sense of direction you get with a lot of the detective aspects of the film - which work perfectly like a solid crime thriller. The police are what drive the film and everything unfolds around them for most of Suicide Club's run time. The value of family, friendship and even the connection to ones self is a thematic element found initially with the detectives portion of this tale.
Suicide Club is gruesome and at times almost comes close to being too over the top. In fact, it is over the top in a dark dark way and almost goes into the territory of more recent films like Tokyo Gore Police and Frankenstein Girl vs. Vampire Girl, films that also have outlandish next level (in comparison to Suicide Club) suicidal elements in them. While films like that make you say "What the fuck?!" It's in a, you cannot believe how crazy and almost silly kind of way, as opposed to the "What the fuck!" moments in Suicide Club, which are incredibly creepy and surreal even while being slightly over the top. Scenes of borderline humor that make you cringe in how they are presented and the way they unfold.
All of the peculiar elements are mainly outside of the police investigation aspect and almost work like little weird and wonderful vignettes that become increasingly strange as the film moves along. Throughout, I was captivated as to what was the cause of these suicides and as the movie rolled along, the more complex it became and the more interested I was in understanding what exactly is going on with this film. You know what? I really wasn't sure what had happened by time the films runtime ran dry. Suicide Club is one of those films that doesn't present you with a definitive explanation to what is going on. Something that may be a turn off for some, but for me, it makes it all the more mysterious.
There is one scene in particular, that is set very far into the movie that just comes from out of nowhere and I was not so sure about it at first. I thought that this was the moment where I would be let down. It is essentially a musical number involving a very effeminate male named Genesis (Rolly), who leads a small gang of murderous psycho's. The setting can be best described as a bowling alley of horrors, filled with sewn up white bed sheets containing various victims wiggling around, trying to get free. As the piano began, the music mixed with the squealing of a female victim became instantly recognizable as the underground Hip-Hop duo, The Leak Bros did a fantastic version of this song. Even with that recognizable sample, I still wasn't sure about this scene at all. However, as it went along, and it became more and more clear what was happening on screen and how disturbing it was, by the end, I was completely taken aback. Phenomenally haunting.
I cannot get this film out of my head for so many reasons and the ambiguity of an antagonist is a part of it. It is a movie that you can choose your own theory and there are plenty to choose from, but I think after some research, I have a better perspective of the happenings in Suicide Club. For me, the sign of a powerful film is the fact that I made the attempt and looked into understanding the story better after seeing it. If the movie were weak, I would have said "What a pile of stupid shit!" and left it at that. The intense imagery and frighteningly inspired ideas are captivating and Suicide Club may be one of the best Japanese horror films I have seen in many many years. The film is full of surprises from top to bottom and even when I thought I had the tone and style figured out, they threw in a gyro ball (get it?!) to throw off my game.
I barely tapped into the vastness of this movie in my review and I could really go on and on about so many things that I didn't even graze here. I hope that some of you have seen this and I would gather you would leave your thoughts if you did...this is a movie that I really would love to hear what other people that I know think about it.