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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Suicide Club Shion Sono 2002

Happy No Shocking Strawberry Chaosss!!!

Disturbing? Nah.

Irreverant? Not particularly.

Confused, hollow, and somehow sad? Yes, that's it.

A film that is as unsure of its heritage as Phoebe Cates in "Lace", Suicide Club bounces gleefully from red herring to red herring and reference to reference, piling up an amazing amount of ripped-off material and sadly never getting to ask the question, "Which one of you bitches is my mother?".

The brainchild of one of Japan's leading gay porno filmmakers, the movie seemingly addresses the issue of modern man's (or schoolgirl's) disconnect from his own self, but is ultimately just an excuse to douse the actors with gallons of sticky stage blood, baby chickens, flambouyant glam musicians, radishes, teen pop, and sequins. Not that I have a problem with any of these things, mind you -- but here they just call attention to themselves as so much glitz and glamour, and smack less of the punk-nihilism that the filmmakers likely intended, and more of crap like The Doom Generation.

The film starts out promisingly enough: in a slice-of-life-styled opening sequence, a crowd of folks gather on a subway platform in tokyo. As the express train approaches, a group of 54 schoolgirls, chatting amongst themselves casually, line up on the platform's edge, join hands, give a boisterous "A-one and a-two", and jump in front of the train to the piercing strains of Irish folk clogging music and a chorus of shrieks from the quickly blood-soaked bystanders. The news spreads quickly, and the people of Tokyo are shocked: what could have caused a mass suicide of such proportions? What was the connection amongst the girls? And most importantly, why in God's name does a culture that has been around for thousands of years force its young women to dress like hoardes of cross-dressing sailors?

The answer to this and many more questions lies in the director, avant-garde poet and former gay pornographer, Shion Sono. As the writer/director of this strange medley of teen pop, splatter, cultural criticism, mystery, and art film, Sono may just be the 40-year-old Japanese equivalent of Donnie Darko's Richard Kelly. But while many people found Kelly's film (and therefore Kelly himself) to be brooding, pretentious, angst-ridden, and self-consciously "teen", many were able to forgive him since he was still basically a teen himself when he made it. Sono, on the other hand, has no such excuse: this film is the work of a man who has a clear distaste for the young people of his country and the parents who raise them, and goes out of its way to belittle the family unit. If this is done satirically and with intelligent execution it can be a productive, positive enterprise (as it is in many of the films that Sono rips off). In this case it's just kind of sad.

The movie itself is so schizophrenic that I hardly know where to start. In the absence of any real characters, we're given a handful of recurring faces to latch on to, although few of them really engender much sympathy (think Rat Race with beheadings). One, a police detective investigating the strange suicides, has a painfully well-adjusted family that is just begging to be offed after their first scene. Another, a tough-chick whose boyfriend lands on her after jumping off the roof (he dies anyway), disappears for an hour or so and returns at the end to show us the "lesson". Yet another, a needlessly mysterious cybernerd who calls herself "The Bat", gets kidnapped by a glam rock band and apparently gets away later, but imparts some important yet random information about a website that tallies up the deaths -- get this -- before they happen. Oooooooooooh....

And of course between all this we're thrown lots of girls jumping off buildings, cutting their hands off, sticking their heads in ovens, etc. Following the far-superior Battle Royale (in which high schoolers are forced by the government to kill each other), one might wonder why adult Japan has such an obsession with offing its offspring, especially in a case such as this, where they appear to take such glee in it. The kids here are stupid, impressionable morons who latch on to the suicide fad like they do to vacuous teen pop (well-represented by the hideously cute Dessart (dessert?), a Mary-Kate and Ashley-esque girlpop band who appear more often than any of the other characters and may be responsible for the deaths themselves) and, lemming-like, are pulled to their deaths by the sheer force of their own need to belong.

But putting aside the fact that the film ultimately makes no real statement about suicide or society at large and completely falls apart in the last hour, it does present some fascinating and occasionally well-rendered setpieces. The opening sequence, while bordering on laughable, is effectively audacious. The device of the "skin roll" found at the murder scenes is gleefully guignol (you have to see it to believe it), and the colors and camerawork are a definite throwback to the Italian horror/giallos of the '70s and '80s. And besides, no matter how out-of-place a mincing cross-dressing glam band or stable of baby chicks may be in a fright film, it's great to see at least one Japanese horror flick where you don't have to see a wet girl with her hair in her face walking in reverse-motion.

So, if you're looking for something a little different and aren't a stickler for things like story, character, structure -- that sort of thing -- or if you like to watch movies that remind you of other movies, only in different languages (I thought of American Beauty, Heathers, Donnie Darko, the Virgin Suicides, God Told Me To, Strangeland, Nowhere, and Battle Royale), then check this one out.

Rating (out of 5):