Monday, November 30, 2009

Suicide Solution

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.


  1. I loooooooooove this movie. One of the best blind watches ever, on a small computer screen with two friends. When we got to the musical moment, I had to literally pause the film because I couldn't stop laughing. It's not really funny, but I think that was the point where the sheer bizareness of the film really caught up with me.

    Also, check out Noriko's Dinner Table, Sono's "prequel" to Suicide Club. It's VERY DIFFERENT in tone, so don't expect quite the same level of wackiness. It's much more blatantly philosophical, whereas SC is more style, with philosophical underlyings when you really let yourself think about what's going on.

  2. I have had this recommended to me numerous times but my netflix queue is so long it hurts my head! I will surely move it up though because I love suicides! Am I allowed to say that? Oh well I do and I don't care who knows it!

  3. Emily: YAY! So pumped that someone saw and liked it too!

    I LOVED the movie, may be the best Japanese horror film I've seen since Battle Royal! The musical scene is so weird and I can't blame you for laughing, because it is silly, but the last couple of moments when you see the knife come up and drop back down into the girl, I was shattered! Now I see that scene in such a different light and it is pretty fucked up, but that dude singing is awesome!

    I do know about Noriko's Dinner Table and it's pushed up the queue after seeing Suicide Club. Apparently, Sono was planning a trilogy, but I have not heard about a third film at any point in my research.

    Andre: I hear you on the epic queue...between instant and regular DVD, I have almost 1'000! And if you love suicide, you will love Suicide Club!

    I would hate to hype up a movie too much for anyone, cause hype can really ruin a movie for some, but this movie is incredible. Plus, reading my review will set you up for success as far as expectations.

  4. This is one movie that can't be overhyped enough, just because it's so bizarrely fascinating. Sono may be one of the true avant garde filmmakers that makes genuinely watchable films.

    And great review Matt, especially since it's pretty impressively non-spoilered.

  5. What a deeply disturbing movie. It's that smiley-face Oriental sensibility that masks something far darker underneath that got to me; the obsession with superficial culture, the need for sensory overstimulation. Suicide becomes just another trip waiting to be taken. I can close my eyes and still see the face of the woman happily chopping away at her own hand. Nihilism with a smile - brrrr. (I also saw this while in a city I hated, working at a job I hated, living in an apartment I hated, and like you, it had been sitting in my DVD collection for a few years. Did I pick the wrong time to watch it, or what?) It is brilliant, but there are elements of it that I wish weren't still lodged in my brain five years later. And don't get me started on the flesh-spiral; I'd like to be able to fall asleep tonight...

  6. Suicide Club is fuck-ing awwwwwweeeesooooome. It's just all kinds of weird. I don't even wanna get into it. It's been years since I've seen it but I may have to watch it again sometime soon. Awesome review, man. And I didn't even know there was a hip-hop version of the song in the movie out there. It's pretty dope, son. It makes me wanna go slang some rock or something. (Did I say that right?)

  7. Matt, here is a link to my review of the same from my original blog.

  8. Suicide Club (sometimes called Suicide Circle) almost defies reviewing. I loved reading your thoughts and you've helped me get a better grip on the film. I've seen it a few times and though I really like it, I warn people off borrowing it if I don't think they'll get it. I barely get it.

    I'm surprised you didn't mention the skin roll. I don't know what you'd say about it, though, maybe something about making connections both on the level of solving the mystery and connecting with other people.

    Anyway, I'm starting to ramble, so I'll just cut myself off by saying Suicide Club is totally underrated, and I think the preposterous blood spatter from the high school jumpers is up there with the opening subway scene.

  9. I love that high school jumping scene. The way the three left standing deal with being along is so hauntingly done. What's great about the film is the first time you watch it, you're totally taken in by its strangeness and remember all the big stuff. On later viewings or musings, you can really start to unravel (hehehe) some of the subtext and play with different interpretations.

    I truly hope Sono returns for a third film. I need to give Noriko's Dinner Table another viewing. Again, much less dynamic than SC but still an intriguing and deeply philosphical (perhaps overly so) watch.

  10. Emily: Thanks Emily! I will almost never have a spoiler without some sort of tag first and I do think I kept this review very ominous as to events in the film. I didn't even want to bring up the opening scene, but so many people already know about it...

    And I agree about Sono, he is a filmmaker that doesn't seem to get mentioned enough either and SC showcases his extreme talent for strange, yet amazing film making prowess.

    Senski: I think that is one of the things that really made me like the film is the way the characters acted happy while doing such horrible things to themselves, like the finger cutting scene.

    That entire scene as a whole is incredible in how it unfolds and is a big turning point into insanity in a film that is going an almost normal path.

    Aaron: Thanks, Aaron...glad you dug the review! I'll probably make my girl watch it soon, so I'll see it again. I wonder if I'll pick up on anything upon a second viewing or not. Either way, the movie is pretty amazing and a huge surprise that really caught me off guard.

    Pax: Thanks for that, I checked it out and I learned some things about Sono that I would never had known!

    The Divemistress: I agree, the only thing I hear about SC is about the opening train sequence and there are plenty of other outlandish things that happen in the film that are maybe crazier.

    More people should see this film, but like you said, if someone wants a clear cut explanation, this is not the film for them.

    The skin roll thing was yet another layer of oddity that added to the mystery of it all. I do think that there is a connection between the attached skin and the joining of the teens by holding hands before they jump into the train, or off the building. The skin and the teens are attached - connected if you will. Thanks for the kind words!

    Emily: The high school jumping scene unfolds in such a great way and by the end, I felt like I too was up there with the three kids left, completely shocked by what just took place.

    And thanks for the heads up with the different tone of Noriko's Dinner Table, I would hate to go into it with the expectations of Suicide Club.

  11. Noriko's Dinner Table is HUGELY different in tone, which started as a disappointment for me before I accepted it and fully absorbed the film.

    I recently watched Strange Circus, another very surreal Sono film. It took me some time to settle into it and I don't know that I actually "liked" the movie, but also quite fascinating in a very unusual and artistic style. Read the synopsis for a rough idea of the plot. It's insane.

  12. Yes, I just read the synopsis...sounds very intriguing and yucky! It says something about a director when you aren't even sure if you liked one of his films, yet you still are fascinated with them for some reason.

    I have been wanting to check out his films Hair Extensions and Hazard (which Laof covered at Paracinema) for some time, but there is so much to watch, that stuff just gets lost. After SC, I plan on checking out all of Sono's back catalog.

  13. I just watched the film in the last 2 weeks for the first time. Another vicitm of the ginormous Netflix queue. While I can't honestly say that I liked it as much as you and Emily did, I can say that it is a multileveled philosophical film and not a over the top gore film ala Machine Girl like I was expecting. the first half of the movie had me hooked as I was trying to figure out a very interesting puzzle. But I was disappointed in the second half as some of the plot had me confused, the bowling alley scene to me seemed gratuitous for a red herring and the reveal with the poster in the bedroom came long after I had anticipated that connection. I was left wanting a better answer as to why? and so felt disappointed. But I can say the film stuck with me and the questions keep running though my brain. Great review as usual Matt.

  14. I haven't seen this in a while and I OWN IT! Maybe its time for rewatch so I can get dizzy.

    I just figured J-Pop made them all commit suicide..but then again it could have been one missed call or a mysterious videotape!

    Who knows.

  15. Doc: Thanks! I can understand psople not being into the confusing and unexplained ideas behind the film, it worked for me, but it can be something that is irritating. And it doesn't help that the second half adds so many things to make it even more confusing too.

    I had the thought that Dessert had something to do with it from the beginning and I think I have it sort of figured out, but to even attempt to get into all that would be at least 1,500 words! While I loved the bowling alley scene, it served no purpose to the story except to be a red herring as you said, I think the visual and mental aspect of it all was what I liked about it. Other wise, it isn't needed.

    From what I have read, Noriko's Dinner Table sheds some light on the confusion of Suicide Clubs antagonist, but Emily would know better than I. Then again, I would hate to be disappointed by an answer that couldn't live up to my expectations. Your comments are thought provoking and very welcome, Doc...thanks!

    Jaded: I owned it for like over two years before I finally sat down and watched it! I almost watched it once and even thought I saw the train sequence, but when I just watched it, I clearly hadn't. It sure is a dizzying film and I do blame J-pop, or even some sort of Dark Water, for all of the suicides!

  16. Yup, I meant to comment to say I'd be really curious to hear Doc's thoughts on Noriko's Dinner Table. It doesn't give all the answers in any way, but it is fascinating in sort of digging into the head of a teenager who may or may come to be one of the jumpers in the opening of Suicide Club.

    In no way does Noriko's Dinner Table complete the Suicide Club circle, but it does expand the a way, it's like another season of Lost.

  17. There is nothing I can add that everyone else hasnt already touched on, but excellent, excellent review man, SUICIDE CLUB is made out to be a surface level gore fest, but the film completely blew away all expectations for me. It draws a vast range of responses, and is entirely engaging and thought provoking. Glad it is still finding new audiences!

  18. Thanks Carl! I am very happy that I found this one too and I am happy that so many people seem to enjoy it. I was pretty blown away and never expected anything like that from this film, which made it even better. I will be re watching this one more than a few times I think. Thanks for the comment!

  19. Hi there, many thanks for this review. It's great to see that someone realizes that this film has a lot of different layers. It is in my opinion not a gore-film either, I see it as a social comment on what is wrong with contemporary Japanese culture. It's a polemic, filled with bloody symbols. I'm not a great writer but I'm living in Japan. If you're interested in my p.o.v. then please read more here:

    Thanks again for the review! Great website btw...


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