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The origins of director Osamu Fukutani’s “The Suicide Manual” may be more compelling than the feature itself. It was derived from Wataru Tsurumui’s non-fiction book “The Complete Manual of Suicide,” a bestseller that’s moved over 1.2 million copies in its native Japan and, depending on your point of view, may have led to scores of Japanese suicides since its publication in 1993. The book has been found at a number of group suicides, and one particular location identified in the book as the ideal death spot was the site of 74 suicides in 1998 alone. While the book advocates an individual’s right to choose the conditions of his/her death, the movie is in part a public rebuke of the book’s themes, and works actively toward shattering any illusion of nobility surrounding self-murder.
“The Suicide Manual” begins with the aftermath of a suicide pact where four people have died together in a dingy apartment. When the police arrive on the scene, they come across a mysterious DVD with an all-black label. Meanwhile, documentary filmmaker Yuu (Kenji Mizuhashi) and his assistant director Rie (model Chisato Morishita) are working to put together a special for a tabloid TV show, and while Yuu is looking to produce a serious piece on group suicide, his boss wants something sensational in order to cash in on the attention the suicides have been garnering in the media.
While filming at the apartment where the group suicide took place, Yuu and Rie run into a teenager named Nanami (Ayaka Maeda), who explains that she had been at the apartment and intended to die as well, but left when Ricky, the author of the so-called “Suicide Manual,” failed to show up. The manual turns out to be one of those black DVDs the cops found — a cross between an infomercial and solemn performance art, filled with suggestions on the best methods to off yourself successfully as demonstrated by folks who may or may not be actors.
But is it really as simple as that? Soon Yuu and Rie find themselves at a Buddhist shrine to witness a cleansing ritual being performed on a suicide survivor. We are told that when a person commits suicide, the spirit is either sent to a special hell or remains on earth to haunt the living, and while here, they compel others to kill themselves. As events unfold, it seems that this is exactly what is going on, but Yuu is at a loss (or is he?) to comprehend the forces at work, as he himself becomes drawn into the deadly cycle of suicides.
Firstly, “The Suicide Manual” is shot on video, and belongs in the direct-to-video industry (or V-cinema as it’s called), a huge and varied market in Japan. More than a few gems have managed to stand out above the filler lining the shelves, and at least half of infamous director Takashi Miike’s movies are V-cinema titles. If you can get over the cheap vibe that “The Suicide Manual’s” shot-on-video pedigree may engender, the film is a nice little thriller that plays out one way the first time you watch it, but on second viewing becomes a different movie altogether.
Many movies play out similarly to “The Suicide Manual”, some better than others. Sometimes, as in the case of the French slasher “High Tension,” the ending feels senseless, since there were no clues or hints during the movie that something fishy is going on, and the ending contradicts things the movie presented earlier as fact. In the case of “The Suicide Manual”, a second viewing actually reveals that the film does, in fact, logically builds up to its surprise twist.
For the most part, if you’ve seen one Asian horror movie, you’ll have an idea what goes on in “The Suicide Manual”. These things cook on a slow boil with a handful of shock reveals that you’ll likely see coming a mile away. Also, these films are always populated by folks who are a humorless lot to begin with, and become even more morose when things start to go bump in the night. If “The Ring”, “Dark Water,” “Suicide Club,” (no relation) or “The Eye” were not to your taste, then it’s doubtful “The Suicide Manual” will convert you over to the other side.
Overall, “The Suicide Manual” makes for interesting viewing, and the presence of some nice stylistic flourishes by writer/director Osamu Fukutani in his feature film debut, along with the creepy and minimalist soundtrack, helps to set just the right mood. Although probably too familiar to other fare within the genre, and it does fail to create anything overly original, the film is still worthwhile, and if nothing else, it’s take on the topic of suicide deserves some attention.
Osamu Fukutani (director) / Osamu Fukutani, Hiroshi Kanno (screenplay), Wataru Tsurumi (book)
CAST: Nozomi Ando …. Miki Nagasawa
Kei Horie …. Detective Nishiyama
Ayaka Maeda …. Nanami Kumatani