There are two types of film review that I find it particularly difficult to write. The first is for a movie that I have fallen head over heels in love with, with fear that my gushing words of praise will do little to do the picture justice. And then there is the review for a film that, despite repeated watches, I just cannot wrap my poor aching cerebrum around; in short, one that I just cannot fully understand. Shion Sono’s 2001 offering, Suicide Club, is, sadly, of that latter ilk. And that’s a real shame, because for the film’s first 2/3 or so, I was wholly involved, slack-jawed, and keeping up very nicely, indeed. And then come those final 30 minutes or so, which, judging from some other comments that I’ve read, have served as a stumbling block of sorts for many other viewers besides myself…
The film opens with as memorable and horrifying a spectacle as any I’ve ever seen, when no less than 54 plaid-skirted, white-bloused, giggling high school girls — from 18 different schools, as it turns out — hold hands, count to 3, and jump in front of an oncoming train at Japan’s Shinjuku Station; the resultant spurting of blood from the tracks is not to be believed, dousing everyone and everything in sight. (These blood-spraying FX, by Yoshihiro Nishimura, would be exponentially multiplied in the Nishimura-directed Tokyo Gore Police seven years later!) Before long, a fad of “suicide clubs” erupts all over the country, as scores of schoolkids and adults gleefully do themselves in, in increasingly bizarre and horrendous manner.
Insofar as the film has a main character to speak of, I suppose it would be Detective Kuroda (played with great charisma by Ryo Ishibashi), who, along with his fellow cops, tries to get to the bottom of these recent death cults. We also meet a young lady named Kiyoko, aka The Bat (pretty Yoko Kamon), who is investigating a strange website that might have something to do with the suicides, and another young gal named Mitsuko (Sayako Hagiwara), who comes to suspect that the deaths may be related to an adolescent pop group (it’s actually composed of 12-year-old kids) named Dessart … but one that is occasionally spelled (on screen, not via the subtitles!), perhaps deliberately, “Dessert,” “Desert,” AND “Dessret”!
Suicide Club is a handsome-looking film, well-directed by Sono, and, as mentioned, truly horrifying in parts. In addition to its opening train station sequence, the picture dishes out the horrifically memorable scene in which another gaggle of schoolkids jumps off their school’s roof and makes big splats on the sidewalk below. The picture’s horrible centerpiece, however, comes, appropriately enough, at its exact midpoint, when, to the insipid strains of a Dessart tune that might be suitable as the theme song for some kind of “Pokemon, Jr.” show, we see, in montage, four girls hanging themselves; a street chef OD’ing; a young girl crisping her head in an oven; a comedian sticking a knife in his throat while on stage; and, most horribly, a beautiful young mother slowly and happily cutting off her fingers and hand in front of her little girl! (And don’t even get me started on that roll of human skin, and the bloody ear lying on the building ledge!) Yes, it’s some pretty sick stuff, but still understandable, still lucid.
Things begin to turn decidedly bizarre, however, when The Bat is kidnapped by the owner of that mysterious website, a dude who goes by the handle Genesis. In a segment that seems to want to outdo the strangeness quotient of Dean Stockwell lip-synching “In Dreams” in the David Lynch cult classic Blue Velvet (as if that bloody ear weren’t Blue Velvet homage enough!), Genesis — think of a Japanese Ziggy Stardust and you’ll have a rough image — performs a droning number that is absolutely unforgettable, and one that features the line “I want to die as beautifully as Joan of Arc inside a Bresson film”! Despite even this bit of grotesquerie, I continued to follow right along, however.
It was only when Detective Kuroda speaks to that ominous, constantly throat-clearing kid on the phone, who asks the cop, “If you die, will you lose the connection with yourself?” that I began to lose it myself. At this point, the film turns extremely existential/deep/philosophical/New Agey, to head-scratching effect. Perhaps it has something to do with cultural differences, or maybe something gets lost in translation, or it could be that I’m just a little slow on the rebop, but I just could not figure this last section out, despite multiple viewings. Those rolls of skin, the butterfly tattoos, how Mitsuko comes to realize the significance of the numbers on the Dessart kids’ shirts, as well as their finger positions … all a baffling conundrum to me.
So, well made as Suicide Club is, the film remains something of a disappointment for this viewer. I was happy to note, however, that, grim, depressing and horrifying as this film often is, it DOES try to conclude on a happy note, with those cute Dessart kids singing “We’ll Find Life Again” … a tune that probably prevented a few thousand viewers from jumping out of their own apartment window!