2 ½ Stars: A J-Pop Group called AKB48 with a Horror Backdrop
Woopak | Where Dark Asian Knights Dwell | 10/27/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)
"At first impression, Masato Harada's "SUICIDE SONG" (2007, DENSEN UTA) may have strong similarities to Sion Sono's "Suicide Club". This film is written by Yasushi Akimoto who also wrote the Japanese original "One Missed Call" and the J-pop group AKB48 takes center stage in this film with a horror-subplot to spice things up. While the cult hit "Suicide Club" had strong elements such as gore, a cryptic plot and a powerful message about pop culture, this film follows the usual Japanese horror trappings such as a sad backstory, a "curse" that needed exploration and the usual themes of existentialism.
When a young girl named Kana (Atsuko Maeda) mysteriously commits suicide after singing a song, her school mates led by Anzu (Yuko Oshima) and a group of magazine reporters led by Riku (Ryuhei Matsuda) with Kana's childhood friend, Shuri (Sayaka Akimoto) become obsessed in solving the mystery behind Kana's death. A mysterious urban legend about a supposed song seems to encourage suicide. The group decides to sing the song to test the truth about the urban legend. When Kiriko (beauteous Haruna Kojima) and Taechi (Yusuke Iseya) commit suicide, Riku decides to hide the remaining survivors in his hometown.
The film does feel like a rehash of Sono's "Suicide Club" but rather than involving a cryptic storyline, "Suicide Song" is quite easy to follow. The film's storyline is very simple. The issues with this film isn't so much as how simple it is, but the film's script rather feels like it is trying too hard to be more and pitches too many ideas that the film itself feels rather underdeveloped. As a result the film's pace suffers quite a bit and ends up with a "sleepy" feel that loses all credible horror aspects. "Suicide Song" has the usual messages on existentialism, a subtle commentary about the media, along with the strong commentary about suicide.
The film is very slow-paced in the film's first 70 minutes, (the film clocks in at little over 2 hours) and attempts to divert the viewer's attention with subtle bits of satire and the all-girl in mini-skirts singing troupe. The J-pop unit called AKB48 is actually a group established in 2005, that consists of 3 different teams (A, K and B); 16 girls each with a total of 48 members (hence the name Akibahara 48); it is rather unusual that a young singing troupe would appear in a film that is supposed to have a controversial plot given its image conscious industry. (I guess they needed more exposure?) The film's first half feels rather uneven and contains a lot of "fillers" to try to make the film feel more complex than it actually is. The film's final 45 minutes did get interesting but I felt like it diverted too much from the rules it pitched and its set up in the beginning that whatever small success it had in developing a solid climax seemed like a "throw-away" detail. The film started to explore the presence of curses, evil spirits and then it diverted to another tale of secrets and past sins--neither one ever becoming fully defined.
There are some attempts at major creepiness but I rather thought it wasn't something I haven't seen before. The film just didn't have anything to offer in terms of a memorable scene which may make it very forgettable. Ryuhei Matsuda had so little to work with so obviously this wouldn't be one of his strongest portrayal. Yusuke Iseya's character showed a lot of promise with his obvious manga-inspired portrayal but he has quickly abandoned, although his fate does add some "punch" in the film's final act however cheap it may be.
"Suicide Song" isn't the worst Japanese horror film you'll find but it is definitely forgettable. The film's script felt rather convoluted that all the impression it left me is that there are a lot of pretty young women in Japan prancing around in mini-skirts. The film does feel like a vehicle for our sexy, young female singing group. The film lacks what we call "visceral punch" that should be included in a film involving suicides. There was a time when suicide became quite common in that country which is why Sion Sono wrote "Suicide Club". The film just dawdles too much that it failed to reach its full potential.
Overall, the film is very mediocre but I cannot say it is a bad film. It needed a lot of editing and the there were just too many ideas in the film that were abandoned that scenes and some characters felt like they were minor fillers. The film is NOT scary at all for something promoted as a horror film. The film's premise is very simple but for some reason it felt like the story was difficult to follow, because a lot of it was undefined. The film does try to stay away from the usual lore's of the "Yurei" that I commend this attempt but it is still uneven and very forgettable. I've read that Japan has about almost 30,000 people who kill themselves each year, I guess the film along with AKB48 is just trying to express the insanity and absurdity of suicide after all.
RENTAL [2 ½ Stars]