Suicide Club (2002)
By: J.R. Gregory on April 14, 2009  | 
TLA Releasing (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 1.85:1 (Non-anamorphic). Japanese DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 94 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Sion Sono
Starring: Ryo Ishibashi, Masatoshi Nagase, Yoko Kamon, Kimiko Yo, Hideo Sako, Rolly
Screenplay: Sion Sono
Country: Japan
External Links
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Suicide Club (aka Suicide Circle) is a strange beast. Part police procedural, part horror, part social critique, and darkly humorous throughout, Suicide Club presents a complicated filmic experience. It is a film that could only have originated from Japan. Suicide Club is a movie that demands the full attention of the audience, requiring more than a solitary viewing in order to discern wholly the flavours it offers.

Suicide Club opens with the mass suicide of fifty-four Japanese schoolgirls who jauntily link hands and throw themselves in front of an oncoming train at Shinjuku station. Blood and body parts go flying in every direction, before segueing into the sugary pop of all-girl pre-teen band Dessert and the catchy number "Mail Me." Even here there is a darker subtext - check out the lyrics to this little number 'Mail me/I'm sure you never knew/How I feel about you, this is real/I need to hear from you right now or I'll die'.

The police initially put the suicides down to a "suicide fad" amongst school kids and don't feel that there is anything worth investigating. However, two Officers, Kuroda (Ryo Ishibashi from Audition) and Shibusawa (Masatoshi Nagase) think that there is something more going on, and they have their suspicions further aroused after receiving a tip from a web blogger known as The Bat. She informs them about a peculiar website that seems to be keeping score on the number of suicides, but before they occur.

Another lead to the source of the suicides comes with the discovery of a white sports bag near the scene at Shinjuku station. The contents of the bag are a roll of stitched together patches of skin, each about the size of a packet of cigarettes, which are shown in grisly detail. The medical examiner informs the police that there around 100 pieces of skin making up the roll, and each patch comes from a different person. Only some of these patches come from the body parts from the mass suicide at the station, meaning that there are a multitude of individual's walking around with skin missing. The police now have a race to find out who all these patches belong to before another mass suicide takes place.

So far so straight forward right? Not so fast, for Suicide Club begins to take some increasingly disconcerting and bizarre turns. These include the freaky happenings at the world's most deserted Hospital, or the students who follow one another off their school building in a game of dare that goes tragically wrong. Then there are the bizarre phone calls from children asking existential questions, secret messages in band photographs, the posing of self-styled 'Charles Manson of the Information Age' Genesis in the dubiously titled Pleasure Room - all add up to a film out of the ordinary.

This is largely a downbeat film with darkly comic moments, and the personalities reflect this. While they are not developed very deeply, each character seem to have the weight of the world on their shoulders, with the disconcerting exception of those who kill themselves, who display such looks of gleeful release that one wonders if they are the fortunate ones. The amazing montage of suicides illustrates this point, where the "victims" all have such looks of blissful liberation. Contrast this with Ryo Ishibashi as the cop who struggles with the investigation and what this uncovers particularly exemplifies the desolate attitude of those who struggle through life. The main characters all have such looks of world-weariness you wonder how on earth they decide to get up each morning. Bleak stuff indeed.

At first I was attracted by the description of the opening scene - and it is very bloody - and the gore attached to the various suicides. To take Suicide Club solely on the gore is to miss the point though. Director Sion Sono has constructed a multi-textured film with a message about the influence of popular culture on the individual. Sion Sono seems to be saying that you either stand up for yourself or kill yourself; there is no in-between. With so much going on to distract the viewer, this theme takes time to implant itself. The numerous plot strands don't quite come together at the end, leaving the viewer somewhat in limbo and wondering what it was all about. However, as with many challenging films, the journey is sometimes more important than the destination.
The film is clear in most places. The subtitles can be difficult to read at times, but overall this is a well-presented film. It is shown in a letterboxed 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Presented in stereo only, the disc's soundtrack is impressive. The music sounds fantastic, especially with the use of the unsettling pop music at particular points in the film. Audio is in Japanese with English subtitles.
Extra Features
Not a great deal. You get an image gallery and some trailers for other TLA releases.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Suicide Club presents a challenge to any audience watching. A complicated film that has numerous stylistic and thematic influences, from police procedural, J-horror, social commentary - at turns gory, and then comical, that does not quite bring it all together by the end. That said, Suicide Club is a distinct and unique film that offers much more than one would initially suspect, presenting a bleak view of humanity and the role of popular culture in constructing our modern world. Wonderfully acted and written, juxtaposing the humorous with the macabre, Suicide Club comes recommended to anyone who does not mind being made to think for themselves.

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