SYNOPSIS: In Tokyo, when fifty-four high-school students commit a collective suicide, jumping from a platform in Shinjuku Station, the police force leaded by Detective Kuroda has no clue to follow. Then he receives an e-mail from a young woman, The Bat, advising that there is a site where red dots mean the number of persons that died. [IMDb]
REVIEW: Conceptual, philosophical, and gruesome, writer/director Sion Sono‘s first of two films delving into… well, madness, delivers on it’s force and standing as a contemporary cult classic, but not without it’s share of hiccups and happy coincidences. Jumping styles and breaking it’s own narratives for forays into pop-culture dissection and musical excursions, the film is held together not by it’s story, but the questions it has the viewer asking early on. Incredibly ambitious and competently acted, the cast, helmed by Ryo Ishibashi, Rolly, Yôko Kamon, and Sayako Hagiwara, carried a heavy burden in creating relatable and sympathetic characters in a film highlighting the ugliest side of people possible. Asking “Are you connected to yourself?”, the film traverses untrodden lands within people usually pushed to the limits with the question, “You sure you follow the plot?”, and whether this is a good or bad thing is up to the individual viewer. Like a film in 3D, you’re either getting twice as much as you paid for with this askew yarn, or only half of what you bought, thinking you ordered up a mindless bit o’ gore, and getting something so far beyond the concept of bones that go crunch that you may feel lied to. For me, the fib is in denying what a landmark film this is, not just for a dying breed of blood squirting flicks, but as a work of art the likes of which Andres Serrano would get off on. If it sounds like my head is in the clouds with this one, you’re almost right, and it’s because my head can be there. It shouldn’t, because the film should not work, on any level. It shouldn’t be cogent, with every bizarre spectacle having a definite place in the miles thick text and subtext, but it does, almost miraculously. This kind of absurdity cannot be planned out to this level of competency, making the sum of the parts not nearly as great as the finished result. It’s magical. Why would so many people kill themselves, and happily? More like, why in the world wouldn’t they?
If you’re the type of cat who Frisbees discs from your couch to the open tray on the DVD player, the greatest service to yourself here is to avoid this film at all costs. Watching it mindlessly will be a hollow, aggravating experience, highlighted by the fact that you’ll be rooting for everyone to die, something that may or may not actually occur. If your sensibilities are tender, avoid this blood bath at all costs. If you are expecting something heavily polished with incredible effects and sleek production, you will be left wanting much more, and that thing probably isn’t Japanese. If you watch television and film for the story of a group of characters, this film will be a disappointment to you. Wonderful they may be, but merely a means to an end here. Extremely polarizing, yes, but like all similar things in life, it’s the mark of big risks and big rewards. Really, there is almost too much that is wrong or a distraction here, but “almost” doesn’t take us the distance. We’ll get to an occasionally kitschy, often campy place, but that’s okay.
THE SCORE: Perhaps rougher on it than I should be overall, and almost certainly a bit too forgiving, this film’s score dictates both that you pay it some attention, out of respect and wonder as a passionate viewer, all the while keeping your expectations non-existent, because even staring at it without so much as a blink won’t permit you to see what’s coming. If you keep an open mind and an open heart, you may find the film’s dark charm causing you to cough up membership dues for the club.
SYNOPSIS: A teenager called Noriko Shimabara runs away from her family in Tokoyama, to meet Kumiko, the leader of an Internet BBS, Haikyo.com. She becomes involved with Kumiko’s “family circle”, which grows darker after the mass suicide of 54 high school girls. [IMDb]
REVIEW: The latter of Sion Sono’s two films of a proposed trilogy (it’s highly unlikely the third will ever be made, sadly and bizarrely) surrounding his circle of suicide, NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE doesn’t just expand upon the strange world he created, clarifying it, and even perfecting it, but creates a film so sharp and brilliantly written that it joins BILL & TED’S BOGUS JOURNEY and others in the exclusive club of sequels that blow their predecessors out of the water (c’mon, I’m being serious here!). A hypnotic, sobering, and massively touching tale and exploration through feelings of inadequacy and resentment told almost completely through narration, the words lining this film from beginning to conclusion are sublime poetry, the feelings behind them portrayed perfectly by the titular Noriko, actress Kazue Fukiishi, and joined in harmony by Tsugumi, Yuriko Yoshitaka, and Sanae Miyata. Following each of the main characters at points, allowing their tales to be told from their own perspective, is expertly implemented, which is where the film, in the role of sequel, really shines. Taking place before, during, and after the events of SUICIDE CIRCLE, motivations are learned, and these scenes, from the makeshift PR statement to the foundational brainstorm, are so simple that it’s almost deceptively contrived, and I mean this in the best way possible. Simply said, as an aspiring storyteller myself, this is pornography to me, and anyone who claims to be a true fan of the visual and written arts should not have dissimilar feelings. Really, I cannot express enough just how brilliant and fully realized the motifs are, how painstakingly haunting and harrowing the beauty and ugly are, or how it is that this near flawless work of art isn’t mandatory viewing in every film class held since it’s release. That said, the flip side of the coin here is the same as the first entry in the series.
Again, what you’re asking for in watching this film is a mental challenge dripping in ruby red DNA that fans of contemporary horror may not be able to handle. This is a lot more than a maniac killing teenagers, but arteries spray just the same, and the emotional subject matter here is heartbreaking. Visually the film improves upon SUICIDE CIRCLE, but the effects are still on par with what you’d expect from even the higher budget films of Japan. Not convincing in of itself, the theatrics of it provide a healthy balance and stark contrast to the abundance of non-grisly events that unfold, many of which are more horrific than mere death. Other than these minor quips, this is a true gem in every sense. A blood diamond, if you will.
THE SCORE: Speechless from the moment the credits hit, I’m sure your reactions may be the same. Shakespearean in nature, and uncompromising in execution, the table is set for a mental and emotional feast in Sion Sono’s thrilling, underrated masterpiece. This is literally one of the three greatest films I’ve ever seen. Be you a lion or lamb, you can’t escape the jaws of this beast.