Top positive review
106 of 110 people found this helpful
on December 30, 2004
What do bags containing wheels of human skin, a computer hacker referred to as "The Bat," a serial killer named Genesis with a penchant for breaking into song, a girl band named Dessert, a hit song called "Mail Me," baby chicks, and a kid who clears his throat constantly during cryptic phone calls all have in common? Why, they all appear in Shion Sono's incredibly disturbing and impenetrable film "Suicide Club." I'm not the only person who adores these offbeat Japanese horror films: Hollywood loves them so much that studios are scrambling over themselves in a mad dash to buy up remake rights. I'm not so sure, however, that anyone in Tinseltown will knock themselves out trying to bring a new version of Sono's film to American screens. A scary ghost story about a haunted videotape has an appeal to audiences on these shores; a tale about kids taking their own lives in heinous ways as a result of the evils of mass consumerism doesn't. Can you imagine a corporation trying to figure out a way to place their products in a film showing children jumping off the roof of their school? I sure can't. I think it is safe to say that "Suicide Club" will remain a singular effort for some time.
Sono's film begins with what is probably one of the most memorable opening sequences in a modern horror film. A group of fifty-four Japanese schoolgirls--wearing those instantly recognizable uniforms--queue up at the edge of a subway track, join hands, and dive in front of a moving train. Oh man, what a mess that makes! The cops, led by Detective Kuroda (Ryo Ishibashi) launch an immediate investigation. Their query takes on decidedly ominous overtones when a white bag left at the scene is found to contain a wheel of stitched together human flesh. Good grief, Charlie Brown! Even my hardened soul recoiled at the sight of so much atrocity so early in a film. My finger strayed to the stop button until I decided to tough it out. Fortunately, the movie can't sustain its memorable opening scenes, and things start calming down significantly. That doesn't mean, however, that "Suicide Club" turns into a Disney film. The subway incident soon inspires other youths around the country to come up with grisly ways to take their lives, the worst of which is a scenario involving a bunch of kids jumping off the roof of their very tall school building. Suicide soon becomes the new "in" thing, something everyone wants to do. Kuroda and his men can't figure out this nightmare.
Then a mysterious website that appears to keep track of the deaths, and even predicts them beforehand with startling accuracy, comes to the attention of the cops. A hacker named "The Bat" soon contacts the police promising to track down the identity of those behind the site, and for the first time it looks like answers explaining the grisly suicides will come to light. Unfortunately, a wacko named Genesis kidnaps The Bat and her friends before she cracks the mystery. This guy and his cohorts live in an abandoned bowling alley where they keep their victims tied up in sheets. Genesis, after singing a song, admits to killing a large number of people. Is he the one behind the suicides and the website? Maybe, but kids keep dying after the authorities apprehend Genesis and his gang. Even Kuroda's family isn't immune to the tragedies sweeping the country. By the time he receives phone calls from a throat clearing kid who asks him cryptic questions about his "connections" to his family and others, the whole case seems impossible to solve. The focus of the film then switches to a young lady who finds secret messages hidden in products sold by the girl band Dessert, messages that lead her to a place filled with kids asking the same sort of questions Kuroda failed to answer. It's also filled with dyed baby chicks (?).
No one knows better than I do that "Suicide Club" is one strange film. Just when you think you've got a handle on the weirdness, Sono throws in another element that doesn't make sense. By the time the end of the movie rolls around, all sense of logic seems to break down. What exactly is Dessert's role in the unfolding madness? What does the song "Mail Me" mean, if anything? What is up with the wheels of skin, the kid clearing his throat, and the baby chicks? I think I can follow a few of these things, mainly that all of the questions about "connections" hint at the alienating aspects of pop culture and materialism. There is a sort of "monkey see, monkey do" facet of mass consumerism that is potentially life threatening, seen here in the way kids so readily take to the idea of killing themselves because others are doing the same thing. Life and death become mere commodities. I have no idea how that theme ties in with a bunch of kids sitting around applauding the answers to their questions at the end of the film, or the whole baby chick thing. Especially the baby chick thing, which is probably some symbol a Japanese audience would pick up on in a minute. For me, it's mystifying in the extreme.
As arcane as it is, "Suicide Club" still entertains. The gore scenes go appropriately over the top, but largely fall away as the movie expresses its social messages. I'm not ashamed at all to say I got a big kick out of Genesis's performance in the bowling alley; his song isn't half bad! Extras on the disc consist of trailers for "Suicide Club," "Between Your Legs," "Children of Hannibal," and "The Bathers." Sono's film isn't for everyone, and it holds on tightly to its secrets, but I guarantee you will find something in this picture that will grab your eye. Give it a shot.