Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Suicide Club

Last night saw "Suicide Club" a 2002 film by Sion Sono.  What a fascinating mix of satire and horror.  The film begins with 54 cheerful Japanese schoolgirls throwing themselves in front of a commuter train.  Their crushings, severings, and splatterings horrify astounded spectators.  And let me say that the splatter in this case is not in any way understated.  This is as though someone took a firehose and sprayed stage blood over the set.  In scene two a night guard and two nurses hear about the event in a news broadcast, but it's something that doesn't really affect them, being far away.  The nurses, mindlessly cheery and polite, soon off themselves.  A catchy song by a strawberry lemonade hello kitty group of 14-year-old girl pop singers plays on the radio just before the two cases of mass suicide.  Is there a connection?  The police can't believe it, but soon they're wondering if maybe there's some kind of mass hypnosis turning Japanese children into lemmings.

The film suffers actually from trying only half-heartedly to connect the dots.  There really is no connection.  It's not entirely in David Lynch land, but the satiric hyperbole is instantly recognizable.  When Genesis, a Dr. Frank-N-Furter clone, stamps a puppy (it's underneath a cloth) to death with his rhinestone covered pumps, and calls it a sissy as it wimpers, you know that this is no longer a strict attempt at realism. 

There is a message, but it's ambivalent.  It's about the vapidity of popular culture, of the deathwish of the young who want to live dangerously, of the inability to understand death as final, and the inability to feel anything except banal cheerfulness in the absence of impending death.  It is about trying to achieve a permanent state of pleasure, and the horror that that quest engenders.

It is about a society so sick that it has no values, makes no sense, in which even the eternal human values, love of family, of self, and community have fallen apart and nothing remains except marketing, preferably in primary colors and happy slogans that promise eternal joy through pleasure.  We have lost our faith to Madison Avenue, to merchandizing, to packaging.  A recurrent image in the film is of rectangular strips of human skin stitched together and rolled up. I knew it instantly for what it looked like--a roll of movie tickets--from the old days when they came in a roll and the box office person would tear one off when you bought a ticket.

In many ways, this was the most accessible Japanese film I've ever seen.  I understood it, enjoyed it and was totally entertained.  But I'm degenerate, so you can't trust my opinion on these matters.  See it for yourself.

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