by Pamela Torres
The day was May 26th. 54 schoolgirls descended the stairs of Tokyo's Shinjuku Station. As swelling crowds nonchalantly chatted among themselves and gathered on Track #8, these teens stepped behind the platform's yellow line. Suddenly, in an unprecedented act of escapism, all the girls simultaneously jumped in front of an oncoming train. Amid the screams of panicked spectators, an ocean of blood spashed the walls as bodies were crushed underneath the screeching wheels.
The gruesome spectacle I just described is what opens up 2002's SUICIDE CLUB, a violent and semi-supernatural detective mystery written and directed by Shion Sono (who later on became responsible for the surrealist fairy tale nightmare STRANGE CIRCUS).Refusing to cater to audiences as a superficial exploitation film, SUICIDE CLUB performs an autopsy on mainstream pop culture by scrutinizing how it desensitizes impressionable young people and allows advanced technology to rob from them the yearning for self-expression. In the case of the film's disturbing plotline, self-destruction is reduced to an innoucous fad embraced by adolescents. With peer pressure poisoning the air, teenagers clap and cheer as their best friends leap off tall buildings or hang themselvs in a last ditch attempt to chase the thrill.
In the heart of SUICIDE CLUB is a cheery pre-pubescent pop group called Dessart, who is relentlessly advertised and sold to he masses thanks to its latest confectionary single MAIL ME. Meanwhile, the Tokyo police department is searching for clues related to the train suicides. Among the members are Kuroda (Ryo Ishibashi), Shiby (Masatoshi Nagase) and Murata (Akaji Maro). At first, these three gentlemen believed that the deaths were instigated by an underground cult. However, that changes with Shibu receives s mysterous phone call from The Bat (Yoko Kamon), a woman who informs him of the existence of a strange but intriging website bearing rows of red and white dots. Each single dot represents a suicide, but for some unknown reason more circles pop up immediately before the deaths happen. It's later revealed that at almost every crime scene, a white sports bag is left behind. Inside it is a rather grisly souvenier: a coiled belt stitched from the victims' skins. It's never known as to who is actually doing the horrid handiwork.
During the movie's scenes of sobering satire, citizens all over Tokyo take their own lives in a farewell montage. An overweight stand-up comedian slits his throat. A girl inserts her head in a gas stove. A smiling mother methodically slices off her fingers on a cutting board (unbeknowst to her husband and children who are happily watching a Dessart chocolate bar commercial in the family den). Obviously a sinister plot to eradicate humantity is connected to Dessart, but what it is? Some American moviegoers might complain that a Japanese flick like this one has a somewhat convoluted way of storytelling, but the beauty of SUICIDE CLUB is that is forces us to mentally connect the dots. Could the songs contain subliminal messages intended to brainwash record buyers? Are the lyrics miscontrued as a message taken from someone who endured too much pain and felt that dying was the only remaining option? Are the children hiding behind their perfect faces demonic forces that swallow lost souls? Or are the girls just pawns manipulated by outside enemies (keeping in mind that the music industry hires skilled musicians to write catchy pop hooks for underage performers)?
I also have to note that the most unforgettable character in the film is Genesis. Played by former Ganch frontman Rolly, Genesis is a sadistic rock singer who appears in the latter half of the movie sporting bleach blond hair, eyeliner and black sequins. He's David Bowie, Dr. Frankenfurter and Cecil B Demented all rolled into one! He and his band of punk kidnap the Bat and drag her into a bowling alley, where the gang kills time by raping women and torturing house pets. In an insane effort to gain public noteriety, Genesis boldly labels his group THE SUICIDE CLUB and claims to have used the Internet to trigger a blood revolution. What's important about this particular scene is it reminds us how shocking rock n' roll outcasts like Ozzy Osbourne and Marilyn Manson are wrongfully blamed for encouraging fans to kill themselves or students who had bullied them. After Genesis is handcuffed and escorted to prison, it seemed like the carnage has ended. But then, another 200 red dots show up on the computer!
If you achingly desire a cinematic work with stunning imagery and a daring concept, then I recommend SUICIDE CLUB for your DVD collection. No American remake can ever do justice.