Review: Jisatsu Sâkuru (Suicide Club, 2001)

suicide club

I was a member of a wresting club, so I understand the whole club concept, right?

Written By: Shion Sono
Directed By: Shion Sono

Shion Sono is one smart and risk taking sort of guy. That’s why the scene near the end of Jisatsu Sâkuru that takes place in a bowling alley and involves innocent animals being stomped to death is troubling. That is the trick of a horror director who isn’t smart enough to come up with a way to convey evil. Sono-san isn’t that dumb, he’s a very smart director who is capable of coming up with a better way to showcase evil than the tired trope of violence being perpetuated against an innocent animal. That scene sticks out like a sore thumb in Jisatsu Sâkuru because it is the epitome of lazy and stupid filmmaking. The rest of the film is bereft of lazy or stupid filmmaking, but most films have their flaws and the animal violence in the bowling alley scene in Jisatsu Sâkuru is a glaring flaw.

When Jisatsu Sâkuru finished I was happy to have been left with so many questions unanswered. Some films need to answer the questions posited by the narrative. Other films are about atmosphere, mood, and an exploration of visual and narrative ideas. Jisatsu Sâkuru doesn’t need to provide answers for why the suicides are taking place, they are taking place and that is all that matters. This isn’t a rote whodunit, or an episode of serialized television with a concise beginning, middle, and end leading up to the big answer and the capture of the evil villain. Sono-San is exploring in Jisatsu Sâkuru, commenting on Japanese culture and trying to put forth a different kind of horror film.

As social commentary Jisatsu Sâkuru is pretty obvious, but effective nonetheless. The J-pop movement in Japan is one of a machine. Hit after hit is churned out while humans who are actually robots perform song after song and replace one another with little to no difference between the robots. Yet, Japanese culture is fascinate with J-pop performers, and look to their songs as more than they are. Values are ascribed to J-pop that aren’t always present, or at least aren’t present in the majority of J-pop and Sono-san is afraid of a society that willingly looks to such vacuous characters for their life lessons. What Sono-san wants people to learn from J-pop is that it is a product, not something to live your life by. The commentary in Jisatsu Sâkuru is obvious, but the method used to convey said commentary feels fresh and unique.

There’s another scene in Jisatsu Sâkuru that deserves to be highlighted. Around the middle point of the film the police are at a train platform attempting to stop another mass suicide. The entire platform sequence is filled to the brim with tension and suspense. Sono-san does a masterful job of building to a conclusion that never happens in that sequence. I spent every moment of the five minute or so sequence on the edge of my seat, convinced that the next moment was to be the moment when the mass suicide would take place. The mass suicide itself ended up not mattering, rather it was the way in which Sono-san moved his characters around and played with the tenseness of the viewer that were paramount to the platform sequence.

I’m only two films into the filmogrpahy of Shion Sono, but I am mightily impressed so far. Animal scene aside, he’s a smart director who has an interestingly unique way of approaching the horror genre. Jisatsu Sâkuru is unlike most horror I see nowadays, it’s not interested in the why or the how, simply in the what and the feeling. People will be suitably unsettled by Jisatsu Sâkuru, and unsettling is always a welcome feeling when it comes to a great horror film.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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