Suicide Club (2002) Movie Review

One of the most recent entries in the renaissance of Japanese horror cinema is an impressive but gory meditation on the power of pop culture on the public psyche. A pitch-black satire as well as a shocking horror film, it raises several excellent points concerning the media’s manipulation of the general population’s value system. If only the blood soaked sequences didn’t occasionally obscure the scathing message the filmmaker was trying to convey.

“Suicide Club” opens with 54 cheerful teenagers throwing themselves in front of a train for no apparent reason. Other inexplicable suicides follow, but further events yield more questions than answers. What is the purpose of a mysterious white bag containing stitched human skin found at some of the scenes? What sinister role does the seemingly innocuous but overexposed teen band Dessert have in this? What is the meaning of a mysterious website that seems to predict the suicides before they occur? Time is running out for the police and their unlikely ally, a cyber jock known as “The Bat”. The suicide rate has climbed to a spectacular rate, and the country is in the grip of an obsession with death. Unless this is stopped, anarchy will consume Japan.

Writer/director Shion Sono presents an impressive satire on the power of popular culture and its control over the mindset of a country. With the media telling us how to dress, what to watch, and what to think, why not have the media tell us to kill ourselves? Granted, it’s an unlikely scenario, but for the purpose of “Suicide Club” it drives the point home. Think for yourself and be yourself, Sono seems to be saying, and not what television and magazines say. Truly a laudable message and certainly advice worth taking.

Kazuto Soto’s cinematography gives the film a surrealistic quality, as if we’re watching the events unfolding in a bizarre, other reality. In a way, this weird presentation makes the gory events seem more horrifying since they’re being shown through a distorted perception. In an excellent and sympathetic performance, Ryo Ishibashi inhabits the role of embattled Detective Kuroda. He’s a fortunate man, with a wonderful wife and two loving children; things that could be destroyed by the events unfolding around him.

Probably the most glaring criticism of “Suicide Club” is the overdoes of death and graphic gore. Not only can it be a depressing film to watch, but by the end you’ve seen enough death to qualify for membership in the Witness Protection Program. Shion Sono has a valid point to make, but by drowning the movie in blood he threatens to obscures its meaning and impact. Even worse, the graphic bloodshed makes it unsuitable for the young teens that should be the prime audience for “Suicide Club”. At a time in their life when they’re most vulnerable to fads and commercialism, a film like this would be invaluable in encouraging them to think for themselves and not just follow the crowd.

While “Suicide Club” is a bleak and bloody film, it’s nevertheless brilliant and insightful in what it tries to tell the audience, all the while wading waist deep in blood and body parts. But the film’s meaning is not just for adults with strong stomachs, it should be made accessible to all audiences, especially younger ones. That is the only failing in an otherwise excellent and highly recommended film.

Shion Sono (director) / Shion Sono (screenplay)
CAST: Ryo Ishibashi …. Detective Kuroda
Akaji Maro …. Detective Murata
Masatoshi Nagase …. Detective Shibusawa

Buy Suicide Club on DVD