Suicide Club aka Suicide Circle (Jisatsu sâkuru)
Japan (2001) Dir. Sion Sono
The final film of this Halloween weekend is an early and highly controversial effort from the highly controversial Japanese director Sion Sono. While not a horror in the truest sense, Sono does shock us with his trenchant if slightly obtuse and offbeat take on Japanese society, which he has since gone on to refine in his later works.
Set over the course of one week, the film opens with 54 schoolgirls jumping in unison in front of an incoming train at Shinjuku station, drenching the train windows and other people on the platform in geysers of blood. Later that night two nurses (Tamao Satou and Mai Hôshô) throw themselves out of a hospital window. At both scenes was a white sports bag holding a huge roll of stitched together pieces of skin from the deceased.
A police investigation, headed by detectives Kuroda (Ryô Ishibashi), Shibusawa (Masatoshi Nagase), and Murata (Akaji Maro) struggling to find a possible motive, receives a call from an Internet hacker named The Bat (Yoko Kamon). She claims a website predicted the suicides before they happen. Then the copycat suicides begin.
The big question when has about this film is a rather straightforward ward one – what is Sono trying to say? At first he appears to be presenting us with a typically esoteric commentary on the rise of teenage suicides in Japan, likening it to the idea of the fad mentality and fickle mass consumerism wants of the impressionable youth. Or perhaps he is warning us of the influence the internet has on the equally gullible?
But this would be too easy for Sono, so he ups the ante with the roll of skin gimmick, yards of flesh made up of pieces stitched together taken from the victims before they died. Is this a cult thing? It seems most of the people who top themselves have neither reason to nor are unhappy with their lives so why do it so readily and on a whim.
Elsewhere Mitsuko (Saya Hagiwara) is walking home when her boyfriend Masa (Noriyoshi Shioya) falls on top of her having jumped from a roof. At the police station, Shibusawa notices that Mitsuko has a tattoo on her back similar to one of the pieces of flesh; that piece however belonged to Masa. This leads to the suggestion that people with this tattoo are part of the Suicide Club.
Is the idea of such a Club a real thing? Well it could have been but Sono decides to take a detour down bizarro street and introduce us to a glam rock poser named Genesis (Rolly), whose main ambitions is to appear on TV and cause social upheaval in that order. Genesis brings with him a musical interlude that wouldn’t be out of place in The Rocky Horror Picture Show while his minions commit dastardly acts of violence and assaults, all with bloody results.
Another plot thread revolves around an oblique question Kuroda is asked about his connection with himself via a mystery phone call. The caller insist that while Kuroda is connected to his wife and kids, and that connection with remain even after his death, what about his own connection? Does that die with him?
Of all the facets introduced thus far this presents us with arguably the closest hint yet as to the philosophical questions Sono is asking. That fact he does nothing to proffer an answer of his own is rather telling but again that may be the whole point. With so many red herrings focused on only to reap no reward we never know if Sono is toying with us or is simply on another plane with his thought processes.
If we look at this idea a bit further we can see Sono is clearly not advocating suicide as a cool thing or even an answer to a problem, but is instead sending a message to the disenfranchised youth of Japan to find what makes them happy within themselves and map their lives out using that as a starting point and not fit with other people’s ideals.
The “connection” with one’s self therefore is about having that internal belief and confidence, and Sono is saying that being an individual and loving yourself is okay. Conversely, with Japan being a society based on community mentality, the roll of skin is symbolic of this wider connection, which is why the film’s alternate title of Suicide Circle is more appropriate in this context.
Yet the post-death connection has proven to be more arcane and less yielding to cogent interpretations, and I don’t feel smart enough to try. But one thing that is a true masterstroke is the presence of the idol group Dessert, whose catchy songs are the ultimate McGuffin that isn’t a McGuffin. As satire goes this right on the money along with portraying the old school police who are clueless about the modern ways of the internet, exacerbating their struggles with the case.
A mixture of black comedy, grisly visuals – including buckets of blood – and a possibly twisted philosophy, the low budget production values belie the needling social commentary and mordant intentions of the script, which Sono himself sadly undermines with the final act. The cast are solid if a little hammy in places, while the atmospherics in the first half are as creepy as any horror film.
For a film that superficially concerns itself with killing off swathes of schoolgirls in singular instances there is plenty food for thought for audiences here, putting this film in a slightly different league from most horror films, whilst satiating the bloodlust of the easily pleased or lazy film watcher.
It might not be so easy as to recognise Sion Sono’s currently noted trademark style from watching Suicide Club but there are flickers of it in some scenes making this a curiosity from the past to check out on many levels.
Just don’t kill yourself trying to figure it all out….