by Del Harvey
This DVD is available for purchase at HKFlix.com.
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As writer/director Shion Sono’s film Suicide Club opens, 54 uniformed schoolgirls commit synchronized suicide by jumping hand-in-hand in front of a rush hour train at Shinjuku station in Japan. The shocked throngs of onlooking commuters are sprayed by fountains of blood that wash over the concrete platform. Soon after, a group of detectives, led by Kuroda (Ryo Ishibashi, Audition) and Shibu (Masatoshi Nagase), visit the platform and examine the remains of the dead girls, represented by a pile of severed limbs and pools of blood. Someone finds a white sports bag on the same platform, and discovers it contains a roll of sewn-together strips of human skin, all belonging to the young victims. Thinking there must be more to these occurrences than suicide, the police decide to investigate. Lead detective Kuroda is a straight-laced, middle-aged family man who finds escape from the monotonous horrors of his job in his home life, while Shibu is an over-the-hill bachelor who seems somewhat aimless.
As the police pursue many different leads which ultimately take them nowhere, young people all over the city continue their spree of mass suicides. As Detective Kuroda watches TV over dinner with his family each night, he is unaware that the ultra-popular musical group on the television is actually sending out subliminal messages in their music which may or may not be inciting suicide among the younger members of the audience.
Director Shion Sono is something of an anomaly since he seems quite comfortable in making star-studded features side by side with gay porn videos while developing a reputation as an experimental poet in his spare time. Suicide Club draws you in well, but the film’s perspective seems to change several times by the final reel, and the resolution left this viewer cold. There is, however, one very strong and powerful scene about a third of the way into the film. At a small high school a group of teens is discussing the recent rash of suicides around the city, and in a show of peer pressure solidarity, dare each other to jump off the school roof. These 15 or so students race up the stairs to the roof and stand along the edge holding hands. Smiles on their faces, they count to three and then about 12 of them all jump. The remaining three are either crying or trembling in fear. One of the hesitant students who has come up to try to talk them out of jumping is now pleading the remaining three to stay. He is only partially successful.
Whether or not it is a comment on fads or societal pressures, Suicide Club is seriously flawed. In spite of copious amounts of gore and mystery, the inclusion of the police investigation does not seem relevant to the main story, and ultimately serves only to add characters and opportunities for more gore and pathos. Suicide Club is resoundingly off the mark. Instead of this odd little mystical melodrama, check out Battle Royale or Paradise Villa for some more cohesive commentary on life and the societal outlook on youth in contemporary Asia.
Del Harvey is a writer and the founder of Film Monthly, a devout Chicago Bears fan, loves Grant Park in any season, and recently taught screenwriting at Columbia College Chicago.
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