“Suicide Club. And we’re its charter members.”
The Scoop: 2002 NR, directed by Shion Sono and starring Ryo Ishibashi, Saya Hagiwara, Rolly, Mika Kikuchi
Tagline: Sore de wa minasan, sayonara
Summary Capsule: Some sort of new pop fad sweeps Japan, and it’s one that is pretty easy and cheap to partake in: kill yourself, and make it bloody.
Kyle’s review: Suicide Club is easily one of the freakiest movies I ever saw, yet it was somehow disappointing. The best way to describe it in any accurate way is to say that it’s closer to an artistic film than to a horror/slasher film: it’s all about the visuals and putting the burden of understanding on you the viewer.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with Suicide Club, other than something crazy and along the lines of Fight Club, and I guess what I ended up with was an attempt to portray in physical and ironic terms one particular sort of nonsensical fad that often sweeps the populace (almost always starting with youths and working up) and has a lot of people, including the cops, baffled. In Suicide Club, of course, the fad is obvious and shown almost immediately in all its gory grandeur; the best advice I can give you before watching Suicide Club is to avoid ingesting red liquids a few hours prior to viewing. Bleh!
I’m not ashamed to say that I didn’t know what was going 60% of the time in Suicide Club. There doesn’t appear to be any true hero or heroine in the film, since just when you start to warm up to someone something bad happens (see: film title). The characters that last longer than most include cops and a vaguely unlikable, vaguely hot girl with a crazy shoulder tattoo that plays an important role late in the film; I guess those are the heroes, but it’s hard to tell. There is a crazed villain, that is sort of a cross between a discarded Zoolander fashion industry bad guy and a rape-happy A Clockwork Orange droog. You very much dislike the guy, and hope to see him and his minions stopped and thrown off a tall building, but then you realize that he may not have been the true bad guy because what was he really doing to have any kind of effect on anything? So what the heck is going on here?
Did I mention Suicide Club, also known as Jisatsu Circle, is a Japanese import? I love these things: Japanese horror films are where it’s at, that’s why America is remaking so many of them! Suicide Club is almost certainly more than an excuse to check out lots of hot Japanese schoolgirls in their school uniforms and to see just how Japanese schoolgirls explode bloodily when they jump off buildings or in front of fast vehicles; the problem is, I’m not sure what more it is. It’s so artistically done and undeniably unique and creative that I couldn’t help but enjoy it, but I was let down by the lack of understanding I felt when the final credits rolled. I like that feeling when I finish certain Grant Morrison comics; I don’t like the feeling when I finish a crazy-looking film that I want more out of than flashy visuals and a mix of horrific plot points. Oh well.
I still highly recommend Suicide Club, because it’s wonderful to look at and if you’re willing to fill in the blanks in the story with your own creative dredgings, it’s an experience unlike any to be found in American films. Some parts haunt me still, and once you find out what’s in those bloody white bags left at scenes of mass suicides and how they get the skin necessary to make them, you’ll realize as I did that there is a relentless and astonishing creative energy fueling the story of Suicide Club. If only the film had been able to reel that energy just a little bit to craft a more coherent story structure, I would be touting Suicide Club as a classic of intellectual gross-out cinema.
As it is, I endorse it as an impressive anomaly; a bloody film that focuses on human horror over supernatural horror and haunts you past the credits not because of any revulsion it makes you feel, but because of the social commentary it’s attempting to provide. I’m willing to think about the issues Suicide Club raises, I just wish it could have lived up to Fight Club in giving us an overall pleasurable experience. But considering you’ll never in a million years see a film in America that deals so overtly with suicide, this one is definitely worth a look. Don’t jump, Japanese schoolgirls: I love you!
Justin’s review: I’m going to start this review on a somber note — what, did you think I was going to do a bit of vaudeville for a movie entitled Suicide Club? — and see where it goes from there. While a harsh subject for many countries, suicide is extremely prevalent in Japan. It holds one of the highest suicide rates of any industrial country (over three times the rate in the U.S.), and in 2003, over 34,000 people killed themselves. There’s even a certain forest around the base of Mt. Fuji that’s earned a special reputation as a place where many people go to hang themselves from the trees.
While the reasons include the universal shared trait of teenagers feeling alienated from their culture and generally alone, the economic downfall that Japan’s been suffering also results in many more middle-aged deaths. It’s strange, because for such a happy-shiny image that Japan projects, inside the core of the country are many people who lack spirituality, career freedom, and individuality. In the end, Hello Kitty doesn’t cure the blues for all.
Thus, it’s easy to leap to the conclusion that this film is a heavy-handed social commentary on Japan’s suicide rate while trying to figure out the why of it all, and that might not be the wrong conclusion. There are several scenes of people obviously sad, depressed and detached; the movie’s irony is that those about to kill themselves seem to be the most alive and excited.
But hold off there, buckaroo; there’s still a track or two left to plow down.
As the film opens, chirpy music plays against a large group of schoolchildren who throw themselves in front of a train. It’s more the suggestion of how terrible it is than how they show it, though. The filmmaker keeps bouncing between wanting to make a genuine horror film (such as the protracted tension sequences in a hospital) and treating the subject with paradoxical cheeriness. So sometimes the movie is spot-on with really unsettling you, and sometimes its goofy handling (and somewhat amateurish camera work) keep you safely at bay. There’s blood and body parts for the whole class to share, that’s for sure, yet there’s a lack of actual pain, suffering or even a “real” feeling of death here. It’s as if someone wanted to put on a quirky play about a touchy subject, but kept it from getting too personal on purpose.
Apparently part of a demented club, people (mostly schoolchildren) start offing themselves left and right in gruesome ways. [Spoilers Ahead] For me, a much more frightening scene than the opening teaser is when a group of school kids on a roof go from mere joking around about starting their own suicide club to doing it, all in about five minutes flat. It’s almost as if they’re being controlled or manipulated against their will — and maybe they are, with a website predicting their deaths and an annoying J-pop song playing a lot. The freaky part of that scene is that you think they’re not going to jump… but they do… yet three kids remain behind, shocked and unbelieving at what they witnessed. And then they jump, too.
As Kyle said, our only main characters are the police (who follow the suicides with depressing bafflement), a mysterious internet informant, and another girl who gets hit on the head early on then sort of figures out the plot. A lot of possible clues are handed out — strips of skin stitched into rolls and stuffed into bowling bags at the site of the suicides, tattoos, a hypnotic music video, and even a devilish fax machine. A lot of possible explanations are given too, because someone over in Japan knows how irritating I find David Lynch’s non-explanatory storytelling to be, and wants to give me hives or something.
If you like dark comedy, so dark that most true goths don’t even have a shade as black to match and the Crayola company is useless to assist you, then the weird humor of Suicide Club might… might appeal to you. Chances are, the true horror and gloomy outlook of this film will either cause a restless night or push you the heck away from the television in revulsion. However, it’s as odd and unique of a film that’s been seen in quite some time, and I can’t condemn it for that.
I’m just going to edge away from the abyss and watch something a little more uplifting. Care Bears, anyone?
- At around the halfway point, you start losing track of who is dying from what, and what methods of suicide certain characters are taking part in. But then again, just seeing a bloody girl greet her oblivious father before walking back upstairs is the sort of visual that doesn’t need overthinking, you know?
- There is a youthful musical group in this film that is like a Japanese version of the Backstreet Boys, only with all girls. Their song, “Mail Me,” appears to play a crucial part in the film, unless it doesn’t, and the band plays a big part in the narrative, unless they don’t. Hard to tell.
- It appears that joining the true Suicide Club in the film means you’ll be getting a lot of weird looks at the beach for the rest of your life, since you’ll have quite the telltale sign of membership on your back. Ouch.
- The clearing the throat thing the caller has gets real annoying, real fast
- It has been said in other reviews that this film is specifically focused on the sort of society that exists in Japan after nearly 10 years of economic difficulties and social unease, and that Suicide Club examines what sort of effect this has had on ordinary citizens, especially teenagers. Okay, sounds good!
- Apparently, director Shion Sono has quite a bit of experience in making gay pornographic films. How much of an effect this had on Suicide Club, I’m not quite sure.
- Reviews of the film have indicated that upon viewing the film more and more, the satirical elements of the story jump out and start to outpace the bloody stuff to help further your understanding of what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish. Okay, great, but you lost (Kyle) at “viewing the film more and more.” Once is enough, thanks!
- Internationally, this film is also known as Suicide Circle and Jisatsu Circle.
Radio Announcer: There’s mass confusion on the platform. This is unprecedented.
Medical Examiner: There are several bodies here. We’ll pry them apart later.
Genesis: Hi there. My name’s Genesis. I’ve had delusions of grandeur since I was a child.
Genesis: I’m Charles Manson of the information age!
Schoolboy: Hey, let’s all kill ourselves!
Schoolgirl: Yeah! I’m in!
Schoolgirl #2: Not me.
Schoolboy #2: The Suicide Club.
Schoolgirl #3: Let’s get enough people to beat 54.
Schoolgirl #4: 100! Let’s get 100!
Schoolboy #2: We’ll pass out flyers! “Join our Suicide Club.”
Schoolboy #1: “Come die with us.”
Schoolgirl #2: “Let’s shed blood together.”
Schoolboy #1: But before that, we party. Lots of food and fornication.
Schoolgirl: Come watch me kill myself.
Chanting schoolkids: Suicide Club! Suicide Club!
If You Liked This Movie, Try These:
- Battle Royale
- Dark Water