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Suicide Club (Suicide Circle)
Suicide Club
Suicide Circle
Actor: Ryo Ishibashi; Akaji Maro; Masatoshi Nagase; Saya Hagiwara; Hideo Sako; Takashi Nomura (II); Tamao Satô; Mai Hosho; Yoko Kamon; Rolly; Kimiko Yo; Yuhei Okabe; Asami Hidaka; Miyu Sawada; Himeno Maeda; Harina Hata; Hiromi Eguchi; Kikuko Sakurai; Tatsuo Mor
Director: Sion Sono
Genres: Indie & Art House, Drama, Horror, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts, Mystery & Suspense
UR     2003     1hr 34min

A wave of unexplainable suicides sweeps across Tokyo after 54 smiling high school girls join hands and throw themselves from a subway platform into an oncoming train. Are the jumpers part of a cult? What is the connectio...  more »


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Movie Reviews

Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 12/31/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)

"What do bags containing wheels of human skin, a computer hacker referred to as "The Bat," a serial killer named Genesis with a penchant for breaking into song, a girl band named Dessert, a hit song called "Mail Me," baby chicks, and a kid who clears his throat constantly during cryptic phone calls all have in common? Why, they all appear in Shion Sono's incredibly disturbing and impenetrable film "Suicide Club." I'm not the only person who adores these offbeat Japanese horror films: Hollywood loves them so much that studios are scrambling over themselves in a mad dash to buy up remake rights. I'm not so sure, however, that anyone in Tinseltown will knock themselves out trying to bring a new version of Sono's film to American screens. A scary ghost story about a haunted videotape has an appeal to audiences on these shores; a tale about kids taking their own lives in heinous ways as a result of the evils of mass consumerism doesn't. Can you imagine a corporation trying to figure out a way to place their products in a film showing children jumping off the roof of their school? I sure can't. I think it is safe to say that "Suicide Club" will remain a singular effort for some time.

Sono's film begins with what is probably one of the most memorable opening sequences in a modern horror film. A group of fifty-four Japanese schoolgirls--wearing those instantly recognizable uniforms--queue up at the edge of a subway track, join hands, and dive in front of a moving train. Oh man, what a mess that makes! The cops, led by Detective Kuroda (Ryo Ishibashi) launch an immediate investigation. Their query takes on decidedly ominous overtones when a white bag left at the scene is found to contain a wheel of stitched together human flesh. Good grief, Charlie Brown! Even my hardened soul recoiled at the sight of so much atrocity so early in a film. My finger strayed to the stop button until I decided to tough it out. Fortunately, the movie can't sustain its memorable opening scenes, and things start calming down significantly. That doesn't mean, however, that "Suicide Club" turns into a Disney film. The subway incident soon inspires other youths around the country to come up with grisly ways to take their lives, the worst of which is a scenario involving a bunch of kids jumping off the roof of their very tall school building. Suicide soon becomes the new "in" thing, something everyone wants to do. Kuroda and his men can't figure out this nightmare.

Then a mysterious website that appears to keep track of the deaths, and even predicts them beforehand with startling accuracy, comes to the attention of the cops. A hacker named "The Bat" soon contacts the police promising to track down the identity of those behind the site, and for the first time it looks like answers explaining the grisly suicides will come to light. Unfortunately, a wacko named Genesis kidnaps The Bat and her friends before she cracks the mystery. This guy and his cohorts live in an abandoned bowling alley where they keep their victims tied up in sheets. Genesis, after singing a song, admits to killing a large number of people. Is he the one behind the suicides and the website? Maybe, but kids keep dying after the authorities apprehend Genesis and his gang. Even Kuroda's family isn't immune to the tragedies sweeping the country. By the time he receives phone calls from a throat clearing kid who asks him cryptic questions about his "connections" to his family and others, the whole case seems impossible to solve. The focus of the film then switches to a young lady who finds secret messages hidden in products sold by the girl band Dessert, messages that lead her to a place filled with kids asking the same sort of questions Kuroda failed to answer. It's also filled with dyed baby chicks (?).

No one knows better than I do that "Suicide Club" is one strange film. Just when you think you've got a handle on the weirdness, Sono throws in another element that doesn't make sense. By the time the end of the movie rolls around, all sense of logic seems to break down. What exactly is Dessert's role in the unfolding madness? What does the song "Mail Me" mean, if anything? What is up with the wheels of skin, the kid clearing his throat, and the baby chicks? I think I can follow a few of these things, mainly that all of the questions about "connections" hint at the alienating aspects of pop culture and materialism. There is a sort of "monkey see, monkey do" facet of mass consumerism that is potentially life threatening, seen here in the way kids so readily take to the idea of killing themselves because others are doing the same thing. Life and death become mere commodities. I have no idea how that theme ties in with a bunch of kids sitting around applauding the answers to their questions at the end of the film, or the whole baby chick thing. Especially the baby chick thing, which is probably some symbol a Japanese audience would pick up on in a minute. For me, it's mystifying in the extreme.

As arcane as it is, "Suicide Club" still entertains. The gore scenes go appropriately over the top, but largely fall away as the movie expresses its social messages. I'm not ashamed at all to say I got a big kick out of Genesis's performance in the bowling alley; his song isn't half bad! Extras on the disc consist of trailers for "Suicide Club," "Between Your Legs," "Children of Hannibal," and "The Bathers." Sono's film isn't for everyone, and it holds on tightly to its secrets, but I guarantee you will find something in this picture that will grab your eye. Give it a shot.
To repair the connection to oneself...or to sever it?
Daniel J. Hamlow | Narita, Japan | 10/09/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)

"In the brash and ghastly opening scene of Jisatsu Curabu (Suicide Club), fifty-four students from eighteen different high schools join hands, step up to the edge of the platform at Shinjuku Station, and jump in front of an oncoming train. The splatter of blood against the train windows and spray of blood on screaming and horrified onlookers, and blood pouring onto the platform, as well as the chaos at the station sets the stage for this drama on how living in an industrial metropolis like Tokyo robs people of their connection to themselves.

Officer Kuroda, a fifty-ish family man with two children, Sakura and Toru, is in charge of the case. At first, the majority of his fellow officers, like the bald Murata think it's too much TV. A cult perhaps? However, a call from a woman calling herself Koumori (the Bat) reveals something odd and sinister. Koumori refers Shibu to a website that shows a row of red dots (representing women) and white dots (men), and that 54 red dots appeared on the site, and also before the suicides were reported! To add to the sordidness, a roll of ten centimeter strips of skin stitched together is found in a white sports bag at the train platform. Some belong to the dead students, many whose remains body parts are a horrid bloody collage of legs, and uniforms on the autopsy table. Things are complicated further when another caller says assuredly, that there is no suicide club!

Murata's point that it's too much TV points to how impressionable teens are and how fads come and go quickly. Two days after the suicides, a group of high schoolers join hands and jump off the roof. Once someone says "Let's all kill ourselves," and everyone goes "Yeah!" it's sad how jaded they seem to be, little realizing that they'll never see each other again.

It's not just teens, but ordinary adults committing suicide, as seen in a series of skits. Before hanging themselves, four women loudly declaim that "life is a sin. You just cause trouble for others. Kill yourself before you murder someone." And a mother in the kitchen slicing some daikon (long turnip) keeps on smiling as she continues slicing her fingers AND the daikon, oblivious to the spray of blood. All her daughter says is "Dad, Mom's being funny."

And just what is the connection with Dessert, a quintet of cute girls (average age 12.5) who sing infectious pop-techno songs like the seemingly harmless "Mail Me"? However, it's a crucial line that may send out the wrong message. They also sing how the world's like a jigsaw puzzle and how somewhere's there's a fit for everyone. "Don't fit, you say? Then make it so. ...There's nowhere for my piece to go. Find a place that lasts forever. Perhaps I'd better say goodbye."

But throughout the carnage, emerges the theme of the disconnect Tokyoites have between their fellow comrades. A look at the faces on the subway cars yielded tiredness, emptiness, and unhappiness in their eyes. Indeed, the recurring melancholy instrumental theme reflects weariness at a life without meaning in the industrial waste of Tokyo.

On the phone, Kuroda is asked by a child who has a penchant for clearing his throat: "What's your connection to yourself?... If you die, will you lose the connection to yourself? Even if you die, your connection to your wife will remain." It also comes down to the loss of empathy between people: "Why couldn't you feel the pain of others as you would your own? Why couldn't you bear the pain of others as you would your own? YOU are the criminal." Indeed, Kuroda's own two kids, Sakura and Toru, are more addicted to the Net and to TV rather than their own family.

Maybe it's best to be like Mitsuko, the girl on the DVD. She is shocked, sad, angry, and betrayed when her boyfriend dives off a roof and lands on her, yet musters the courage to say, "I have to keep living." She is sullen, a bit harsh, despises stupid questions, but quite the realist, connected to herself.

Apart from the carnage, there are some disturbing scenes, such as forms writhing in sheets in an abandoned bowling alley, and apart from the message of connection, the point of enjoying life is ultimately revealed, per Dessart:

Scary it's true, but it's loads of fun too
To open up and feel the brand of life
For each and everyone.

Light yourself with life
Light yourself with love
Light yourself with memories

All it takes is just a little heart and courage on your part

As we go, we'll forget the pain
We'll feel life again."
"every day we push buttons that execute a million commands"
R. Grubb | Minneapolis, MN USA | 12/11/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Suicide Club opens with 54 Japanese school girls jumping off a subway platform in front of an oncoming train and just gets better from there. As a horror fan, I loved this movie for it's disturbing violence and genuine creepiness, but the social commentary and philosophy behind it is equally effective.

The opening scene was mindblowing for obvious reasons. But what made the movie even better after that was seeing how this effected the rest of society. If this actually happened, it would probably have an intense effect on everyone in the culture, in ways such as what we see here: it begins a wave of suicides across Tokyo.

At the heart of the story is a group of very young children, who make mysterious phone calls to the police, and ask questions with philosophical ramifications which would seem far beyond the comprehension of their tender years. While this seems ridiculous, I believe this group is shown as children because they represent truth and purity. If they had been adults, they would immediately appear to be sinister, and I don't feel that they were. While they seem connected to the suicides, it becomes clear that this is, in no way, their intention. The theme they present is that of being "connected to yourself" and "connected to everyone else." It is difficult for some people to maintain one connection without severing the other. How do I assert my individuality without alienating myself from my family, and from society? How do I take care of everyone around me without conforming to the will of the group? These are some of the issues the characters in this film are struggling with.

There is a scene later on that asks the age old parent-to-teenager question, "If all your friends jumped off a building, would you do it, too?" and answers it with disturbing results. The idea of being "connected to yourself" as an individual is examined here, and in the recurring theme of the J-pop group, Dessart. When the suicides begin to occur at a more rapid rate, one of the kids in the Japanese Junior Spice Girl group says, "Everybody's acting funny lately. We hope this song cheers everyone up!" Up to this point, I was looking at that little girl and saying to myself, "Yeah, right! You hope that song drives everyone to suicide!" But by the end, I was not so sure.

If we listen to the lyrics of Dessart, what we find is nothing so deep and philosophical, but something to appeal to people who may be lost because they are having trouble maintaining the connections the children are concerned with. The first song we hear, "Mail Me," says, "By phone or PC, MAIL ME, you should know as friends go yours is the best hello, MAIL ME, I need to hear from you now, or I'LL DIE." This is something that young people would be able to relate to if they were connected to others, but not to themselves. It is possible to be connected to someone else, but you will still be alright by yourself if you do not hear from that person. You will not die without communication from someone else. The inclusion of the J-pop group further illustrates this idea of connections--you can value the ideas of everyone around you without owning a pop group's CD just because "everyone has one." And the theme of suicide, committed because others are doing it--I can have empathy for that person feeling his/her life was not worth living without coming to the conclusion that my own life cannot be worth living.

The philosophy about connections becomes physically manifest in a clue the police keep finding--a chain of rectangular pieces of skin sewn together. It symbolizes pieces of individuals, all slighly different from each other, literally connected to each other.

At one point, the movie goes off on a tangent into a scene with a serial killer named Genesis, who performs a violent and Rocky Horror-esque musical number. This awesome, if puzzling, interlude is actually an example of a person who is completely connected to himself, but not to other people. Genesis has completely asserted his own individuality, but lacks a connection to human kind. He does what he wants without respecting the lives of others, and so he kills.

As the film progresses, it becomes apparent that the strange goings on do seem to be leading back to the cult of children. But it doesn't seem to be the children and their message that is causing the suicides, but rather a failure on part of those who speak to them to fully digest the message for themselves. When they ask, "If you die, would your connection to your loved one remain? If yes, then, why are you living?" they mean to make people understand that their connection to themselves is valuable to their life. Instead, people come away thinking that there is, in fact, no reason to live, because the connection they have to people would not be severed by their own death.

In the end, Dessart gives a final performance, and says, "Our final message to you: LIVE AS YOU PLEASE." Is Dessart connected to the mysterious children? The ending would tell you, probably so. In spite of their best efforts, their message was being corrupted and misinterpreted, and causing people more pain, so the children choose to end their mission.

Director Shion Sono examimes many themes present in Japanese culture, so it will help if you know a little bit about this before viewing Suicide Club. However, most of what he deals with, peer pressure, conformity, suicide, have universal interest. This is a brilliant movie, but takes a few viewings to fully absorb."
Gory but half-hearted social commentary
Jeff C. Cho | The OC, CA | 11/26/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Beneath the surface, Suicide Club is more than just another stylized blood bath. The director Sion Sono's vision of a bleak satire/commentary on the state of modern Japanese culture is apparent throughout the film. However, the underlying themes are so poorly executed and unstructured that they are eventually lost among the bits and pieces of plot/characters/limbs scattered throughout the film. As far as gore and shock value goes, Suicide Club won't disappoint fans of Audition or Battle Royale. The first 5 minutes of the movie inside Sinjuku station set a reverberating macabre tone throughout the movie with promises of wall-covering blood, strewn limbs and human-skin rolls (wink wink) to come. Director Sion Sono (also a noted gay porn director and experimental poet) does an excellent job creating and maintaining the creepy and sinister undercurrent throughout the movie. The problem is, the undercurrent simmers and simmers but never boils. The plot is at best non-linear and mostly illogical, peppered with characters with unclear motives, an out-of-nowhere Rocky Horror-esque musical number, and existential soliloquies that fans of Neo Genesis Evangelion would instantly identify. There are plenty of impressive moments throughout Suicide Club, but it is unclear whether they serve to enhance or befuddle the main mystery of the suicides.It's really a shame because Suicide Club is really a social commentary with underlying themes that cut deep into the Japanese psyche. The suicides baffle police detectives partially because the truth is hidden somewhere in bubble gum pop music, internet message boards and instant messaging, phenomena on the other side of the generation gap. The suicidal slogan "To connect yourself to yourself" while trite to us Americans post-teens, is nevertheless an important commentary on the Japanese society that is historically obsessed with community and nationalism at the cost of individual liberty and identity. Perhaps the real horror of Suicide Club is that the premise of the movie, in the eyes of all the over-studied students, over-worked salaryman, and over-disconnected families of Japan, is not really that far fetched.Unfortunately, all its earnest intentions at social satire are mostly drowned in the blood of Suicide Club."