A subway station loaded with people await the arrival of the express train to Tokyo. As the announcement of its approach is made over the loudspeaker, 54 schoolgirls move to the edge of the platform in one long line. They hold hands, count to three, then all leap in front of the oncoming train, showering the entire station in a massive spray of blood. As opening scenes go, it is hard to top.
So begins Shion Sono’s Suicide Club.
More suicide follow, apparently completely unrelated to each other. The police, led by Detective Toshiharu Kuroda (Ryo Ishibashi from The Grudge and Audition) move to investigate and make a grisly discovery – two rolls of human skin, stitched together in ten centimetre strips from around 200 people. Combined with a mysterious web site that counts the suicides before they occur, it becomes quickly apparent there is some kind of force behind the suicides…
Suicide Club is a difficult film to categorise. Part mystery thriller, part horror movie, part social commentary, it shifts tone a number of times and even protagonists. Despite this somewhat disjointed feel, the core mystery – why are people killing themselves? – gives the narrative momentum. Add to this some often surreal imagery and ambition that far outstrips its modest production budget and it is clear why this is often regarded as something of a cult classic.
The facets of the mystery – including the possible involvement of pre-teen J-pop band “Dessert” (alternatively called “Desert” and “Dessart” in the subtitles) – are diverse enough to maintain interest as red herrings and bizarre occurrences litter the story. This is engaging, energetic stuff.
If there is a flaw in the film, it is that the final stages are somewhat confused, to the point that the central “live for yourself, not for the approval of others” message of the story risks being muddled. But the scathing view of the way modern culture jumps on trends, no matter how foolish or even destructive they are, remains acidic throughout.
With such rich subject matter, it is a bit of a shame that this DVD is a bare bones release. A commentary or even interviews to discuss some of the issues raised would have been extremely welcome. The transfer is also quite grainy, but certainly adequate enough.
An effective blend of entertainment and a blacker-than-pitch sense of humour with some worthy intellectual musings, Suicide Club is an excellent film and deserving of more than its avid cult following. Are you connected to yourself?
Available from Madman Entertainment.