Wednesday, 24 August 2011


Film: Suicide Club
UK Release date: 19th September 2011
Year: 2001
Certificate: 18
Director: Shion Sono
Starring: Ryo Ishibashi, Masatoshi Nagase, Mai Hosho, Tamao Sato, Takashi Nomura
Running time: 99 mins
Genre: Horror
Format: DVD
Country: Japan
Subtitles: English
Reviewer: Adam Wing

When it comes to celebrated movie openings, you wont find any more memorable than Sion Sono’s 2001 cult hit Suicide Club, available for the first time in the UK courtesy of Cine Du Monde - 54 high school girls, one subway station and a southbound ticket to hell. The police believe it to be the first of a string of suicides, but their investigation takes a sinister turn when a sports bag is discovered at the scene of one of the alleged incidents. The contents suggest an altogether different investigation is in order, taking Detective Kuroda (Ryo Ishibashi) and his team of officers on an unexpected, horrifying and deeply disturbing journey into the depths of depravity.

A girl called Kiyoko - known to investigating officers as The Bat - suspects that she has found the answers on a strange website, one that shows red and white dots matching up to the number of suspected suicide victims. At around the same time, a mysterious stranger calls Kuroda at work - a young boy with what sounds like a speech impediment. He warns Kuroda of another mass suicide set to take place at the same station as before. Add to the mix the appearance of Genesis and his horde of twisted henchman; a girl called Mitsuko (Saya Hagiwara) who gets caught up in the case, and the regular bombardment of girl band sensation Dessert, and what you are witnessing is anything but ordinary.

If you’re not convinced as to what kind of journey Sono is taking you on, you will be by the time the first act comes to it’s darkly comic conclusion. As part of a joke - attempting to poke fun at the 54 students who killed themselves at the subway station - a group of classmates stand on the edge of a school roof and imitate the events that transpired. It’s a deeply disturbing moment, laced with the blackest humour, and Sono handles it beautifully. Suicide Club can best be described as a relentless stream of arresting imagery, backed by light-hearted musical numbers and jovial dance routines. One such moment captures the mood brilliantly; as a catchy tune rings out to the sight of overdose attempts, group hangings and culinary disasters. Just when you think Sono has reached the peak of his prowess, he takes his film down a completely different path.

For a short period of time, Suicide Club finds itself in similar territory to Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, where potential suicide is put aside in favour of sadistic torture and homicidal tendencies. It’s an unexpected change of direction - one that comes with delirious rock-opera trimmings - but Sono continues to shock and surprise like its going out of fashion. The final act switches gear again, returning to the scene of the crime and twisting the knife even further. The denouement doesn’t always convince, and a few lingering plot holes serve only to frustrate. In 2006, Sono attempted to plug these holes with sequel-come-prequel Noriko’s Dinner Table. The follow up depicts events that take place before and after the incidents of Suicide Club. Sono went on to say that he had originally envisaged a trilogy, but in reality the chance of making three feature films was slim.

Considering what happened when Ryo Ishibashi tried to find a new wife in Takashi Miike’s Audition, you’d think he would steer clear of put upon roles in deeply deranged thrillers. In Suicide Club he plays much the same character, a hard working father with an uncanny knack for bleak endings. With so many characters coming and going, it’s hard to pick out a standout performance. Musician turned actor Rolly Teranishi makes an immediate and lasting impression as celebrity-in-waiting Genesis, but in hindsight that might have something to do with his sudden and unexpected appearance. 

The abundance of unexplored characters serves only to highlight the films biggest weakness - Sono’s refusal to structure his ideas in a coherent and satisfactory manner. There’s a lot going on in Suicide Club, and ideas bombard the screen left, right and centre. Themes are explored and then dropped - often in favour of gory mayhem and J-pop dance routines - leaving the underlying message somewhat confused. His ability to shock was never in question though, a statement made clear by the opening stampede.

Suicide fads, subliminal messages and social commentary provide Sono with another opportunity to enthral the masses. Suicide Club touches on current themes and fears, but Sono’s film will best be remembered for it’s harrowing tone, twisted humour and startling set pieces - washed down with a catchy pop number or two. Flawed yet fearless, Suicide Club will forever remain a sign of things to come from an unmistakable talent.

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