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Case Number 04064

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Suicide Club

TLA Releasing // 2002 // 94 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // March 12th, 2004

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All Rise...

Editor's Note

Our review of Danger After Dark Collection, published August 3rd, 2006, is also available.

The Charge

"A one…and a two…and a th—" *splat*

Opening Statement

Something of an international film festival darling, Suicide Club has been hailed as the next big thing from Japan, the next big shocker, the next underground hit, fueled by word-of-mouth power, based largely on the infamy of its opening sequence…one of the most shocking and memorable you are likely to ever witness in a film, for sure.

Sadly, the next Battle Royale, it ain't…but in consolation, Suicide Club is something far stranger, like a version of Suspiria directed by David Lynch, all wrapped up in delicate rice paper soaked through with blood. If confusing, shocking movies are what you yearn for, time to join the Suicide Club!

Facts of the Case

A normal day like any other in Japan…commuters bustling to get home, waiting for the next subway, chatting on cellular phones, businessman looking bored, tired, and exhausted, while teenage girls in uniform chat and giggle to one another.

Then, out of nowhere, 54 girls line up at the edge of the subway platform, join hands, start to sing, and simultaneously throw themselves into the path of a speeding train. Despite the bizarre nature of this event, police are reluctant to investigate this incident as anything other than an accident.

But then, the suicides start to pile up. A mysterious website is discovered that seems to be keeping tally of the victims as they happen, in real-time, and suicides are discovered every day. At each scene, a white bowling bag is discovered; its contents are as shocking and gruesome as the suicides themselves.

Rumors begin circulating of a "Suicide Club," something the police can neither confirm nor deny. This is made even more difficult to ascertain by the mysterious phone calls the police receive from an individual who sounds like a five-year-old boy, who adamantly insists there is no Suicide Club.

An enigmatic woman, calling herself "The Bat," gives the police tips through a BBS. A pre-teen pop band, called "Dessert," spreads their manufactured music across Japan. A punk, glam-rock teenager, who calls himself the "Charles Manson of the information age," has Machiavellian plans of his own. More and more people, from all walks of life, are inexplicably killing themselves…the police, more than anyone, seem to have no ability to stop the killings, or even comprehend them.

Welcome to Suicide Club. Things are going to get messy.

The Evidence

Suicide Club (AKA Suicide Circle) could best be described as a beautifully flawed film. Yes, there are problems, but one can overlook them, because the overall effect of the film is mesmerizing and entertaining. The film is a jumble of shocking imagery, underlining social discontents, graphic carnage, and confusion, confusion, confusion. It is difficult to separate the uneasiness caused by the poignant social commentary and the uneasiness caused by the gory visuals…indeed, the best scenes combine the two, with awesome results.

The director, Sion Sono, is mostly known for his work in the direct-to-video Japanese gay porn industry (this is absolutely true). In Suicide Club, which he also wrote, he managed to secure two fairly big stars, Ryo Ishibashi (Audition) and Masatoshi Nagase (Pistol Opera, Electric Dragon 80.000 V), and create one of the most highly anticipated movies of 2002.

Only in Japan, it would seem. You don't see much crossover from the gay porn industry to Hollywood.

Suicide Club could very well be a preachy film, underneath the buckets of blood and jumbled imagery. This is a film with a serious grudge against technology. As a commentary on Japanese culture, it is especially vicious, suggesting that humans have lost not only the connections to other people, but also our individual connections to ourselves. We do not talk, or listen, or care for one another anymore…we send e-mails, we leave voice messages, we watch music television. Technology has alienated us to such a level that suicide, it would seem, is the solution to regaining our connections with ourselves.

If that sounds like a load of sweet, seductive manure to you, bear in mind that Japan has the highest suicide rate out of any industrialized society on earth—three times higher than the United States—and over 600 Japanese end their lives by their own hands every single week. Viewing Suicide Club as a social commentary, at least, in this sense, may not be so farfetched a notion.

The film also has some things to say on the subject of music. The manufactured pre-teen band "Dessert," who sings candy-coated J-pop songs with lyrics like, "Mail me, to my phone or PC, I'm ready, to tell you that I'm standing by," come across as sweet and innocuous, but they may have something to do with the wave of suicides plaguing the police. On the other hand, a glam-rock punk named Genesis and his band of hooligans play good old-fashioned guitar rock, sing sad, angst-filled songs, but are not above kidnapping and raping women and torturing small animals for fun. Whatever Sono has to say regarding the proliferation of Westernized music upon the culture of Japan, you know it ain't pretty.

It is hard to know how far to take such analysis with a film like Suicide Club, a film that balances its wit on a razor-edge, its biting satire in constant danger of tumbling down into outright humor and slapstick amusement. The sheer level of blood, the gore, everything about Suicide Club could easily be interpreted as absolutely hilarious, if one were disposed to interpret it so…if, say, you were a Troma fan, a Dario Argento fan, or just someone who recently escaped from a mental institution.

But is Suicide Club any good? Truly, it all depends on how you choose to read the film. To watch the film merely as a bloodbath comedy can be very hilarious indeed. Trying to read the film as a social commentary can be a puzzling, frustrating endeavor, but ultimately a rewarding one. Trying to read it as an end-of-your-seat, nail-biting dramatic thriller will leave you a bit disappointed.

Personally, I recommend a combination of all three; though it gets tricky to laugh, think, and bite your nails all at the same time. But when you find out the contents of the white bowling bags, you will understand what I mean.

The video quality, while not terrible, is somewhat on the disappointing side. The non-anamorphic letterboxed image is washed out, grainy, and highly compressed, suffering from odd pixelization in low-lit shots far too often. The black levels are a jumbled mess of grays. Colors are generally benign, though reds and sickly greens stand out as the best of the lot. The image is spotless in terms of noise, scratches, or other defects, and that is a plus; but considering the spooky atmospheric low-level lighting nature of this film, the DVD could have used some work in the image department enhancing the contrast and black levels and sharpening up the transfer.

The worst part of this DVD, by far, is the subtitling. Bizarrely, the English subtitles are hard-burned onto the actual image, a particularly repugnant method rarely found nowadays outside of Malaysian bootleg DVDs. Essentially, it makes the subtitles part of the image, and non-removable, and to see such subtitles on a new, modern-day North American release is disappointing, and sort of sad. Kind of like a clown crying.

The sound is a basic Japanese Dolby 2.0 mix, and it sounds absolutely adequate for its purpose, being neither particularly exceptional nor disappointing in any noticeable fashion. The extras are pretty weak, consisting of an image gallery (a big fat nine photos) and some trailers for various TLA-released films.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

To put it metaphorically, Suicide Club had the potential to be a finely honed sword slicing with precision, stabbing away into the chest of the viewer. In reality, however, the film more resembles a box full of nails hurled into a dark room…some points hit home, and some merely tumble to the ground in a noisy clatter.

At its best, Suicide Club is a wild, wild ride: shockingly thought provoking and daring. At its worst, it is much, much less: merely a jumbled mess of incongruent silliness and over-the-top gore. No doubt, there are some amazing ideas, startling imagery, and fantastically original concepts in this movie, but they feel raw and underdeveloped. It feels like Suicide Club simply had too many interesting ideas for its own good.

Rumor has it, though, that two sequels are in the works, which could only be a good thing, if you ask me. Any thematic expansion would be a most welcome thing, though considering the puzzling nature of the first Suicide Club, sequels would probably raise far more questions than they answered.

But in the meantime, if someone could explain the red-roomed, yellow-chicken sequence to me, I'd appreciate it. (If you haven't seen it, don't ask.)

Closing Statement

Though disjointed, confusing, and deliberately obtuse, it is impossible to call Suicide Club a failure. In fact, quite the opposite…the movie is spectacularly grandiose in its esoteric nuttiness. Similar to a David Lynch movie, you may not walk away with a complete literal comprehension of what you just saw, but none is required to enjoy and appreciate the film. Like the fragmented coming together of a nightmare, one remembers only scattered images, but the profound sense of unease and confusion lingers on long after the film ends.

The DVD is a letdown and suffers some technical issues (nasty hardsubs and a grainy transfer), but the fact that Suicide Club saw an uncut North American DVD release at all is something of a miracle. If you have a sadistically strong stomach and a thirst for the esoteric, the film is worth a look.

The Verdict

"Mail me! To my phone or PC, I'm ready, to tell you that I'm st—"

Err, ah, what? Sorry? I was er…listening to my, ah, Walkman.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 72
Audio: 75
Extras: 5
Acting: 83
Story: 77
Judgment: 79

Perp Profile

Studio: TLA Releasing
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
• English (Non-Removable)
Running Time: 94 Minutes
Release Year: 2002
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Foreign
• Thriller

Distinguishing Marks

• Image Gallery
• TLA Releasing Trailers


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