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DIRECTED BY: Sion Sono
FEATURING: Ryo Ishibashi, Masatoshi Nagase, Saya Hagiwara
PLOT: A shocking mass suicide in a train station attracts the attention of the police and a curious hacker who may have found a link to the seemingly random act.
WHY IT MIGHT NAKE THE LIST: This exercise in the Japanese new school of shock horror does not have enough substance to be considered extremely weird. There are moments that light up the screen with an inspired energy that recalls the best horror-thrillers. Yet, like a Noh theater performance, Suicide Club chooses to keep actual events close to the chest, relying on long pauses and slow takes to create the mood. Noh theater has dancing and music to fill up the entire performance, though; Suicide Club languishes with scenes that are filled with empty silence and shots that mean nothing.
COMMENTS: Suicide Club is the odd story of one country’s affinity for self-termination, represented by a strange and tragic mass suicide in a train station. Why this happens is never explained in a way that leaves one satisfied, but such is the state of the high suicide rate in Japan, and, to be fair, to ask why is almost besides the point. The point seems to be the journey into the strange underbelly of Tokyo and the detectives who must investigate the suicides by journeying into that hoary netherworld.
Well, the detectives and their sole lead, the idiosyncratic hacker Miyoko– I’m sorry, “The Bat”– who has a strong fascination with the tragedy. This fascination drags her from the safety of her malicious computer activities to a world where secret messages are written in human skin and dropped off at hospitals and where J-Pop groups wield a heady authority over an unassuming generation. As she becomes wound up in this mystery that seems to go deeper than anyone could have imagined, a youth named Mitsuko also becomes involved when her boyfriend commits suicide. She too falls into the web of what is appearing more and more to be a sort of suicide club (how titular!) whose members might even be unaware of their membership. And the deeper she falls, the closer she comes to realizing that she might even be in this unfortunately named club…
But this is all told through the visual narrative, because dialogue is in extremely short supply in this mannered horror exercise. As is character development. Or much of anything, really. Suicide Club is a very visual film, told through a Morse code string of images that reads normal-normal-normal-weird! And when the images are strange or grotesque, the audience becomes intrigued and downright enthused. But during the slow mood-building scenes, the movie falters in the wake of the sterile, lifeless Tokyo Sono sets up. It surrounds and eclipses most moments of tension, replacing the anxiety with a vague sense of ennui that does not behoove a horror-thriller.
There are moments of inspired lunacy in Suicide Club that set it apart from the rest of the Japanese formalists, and if you can make it to the middle of the film where we meet the conspicuous character named Genesis, then your patience has truly paid its due diligence, because the film rolls along by then with images too weird and too delightful to spoil for you. And Suicide Club feels meticulously fabricated in its down time, where the details brim forth from a lack of any real action; seemingly trivial things like the posters hanging up in Mitsumo’s boyfriend’s room are very well designed and hold little clues to the secret waiting at the end. When it wants to be, Suicide Club has the potential to be a very good weird movie.
So give it a shot. Suicide Club is worth trying, even if you find it to be a failure. It’s a labyrinthine horror-thriller with a touch of mystery that will have you guessing, even if the mystery has no real bearing on what actually happens at the end. Sono delivers what might be one of the only minimalist conspiracy movies, and on that note alone, it’s worth a gander. Suicide Club is a valiant effort and a weird movie, just not often enough to make it something special.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“Sono has been making weird, formalist indie films for more than a decade, but [Suicide Club] represents a shift into weird, free-form exploitation. None of it makes any real sense, but it sure does keep you watching.”–Time Out Film Guide