Over the past couple weeks, my drive has slowed to a crawl. I have no one but myself to blame, for the most part. I have a bad habit of taking on too many projects at once, from television series (attempting to make a review for Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, Babylon 5, Vietnam – A Television History, and perhaps a couple others), movie trilogies (mainly the Star Wars prequel trilogy so that I can re-address the newer Star Wars films), other various movies (thought about reviewing Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man, Made in America, and Redline), developing a fan-made expansion for a board game, creating my own original (somewhat) board game, and of course revisiting my Nostalgia for the 90s post by making the February 1990 sequel, which I’m having a hard time doing because I find it difficult to gain the willpower to track down and watch all the films/shows/games/songs from that month of that year (but I am down to a single film at least). I try to keep myself focused on one thing, but rarely succeed. Guess that’s the downside to having a bit of Attention Deficit Disorder. So I usually try to finish these things in spurts.
But then comes situations that I know I’m going to want to address at some point, but try to avoid. But then I just say, “Fuck it, I’m at my best when I spontaneously combust and go on spontaneous rants on something topical.” So what set me off this time? The recent school shooting (at this point it doesn’t really matter which one I’m referring to, consider it any of the shootings that involve school kids blowing away other school kids, and not in the sexual way [I don’t care how insensitive that joke is at this point]).
This isn’t going to be a single post. This is going to be a series, where I not only review a film, but address how it’s themes address this ongoing “crisis” (if it can even be called that). Because the problem with youth isn’t so simple that it can be condensed into just one topic. And there isn’t any single film that can adequately address all those topics (though that one movie Higher Learning sort of tried; it failed, but it tried). When it comes to something like this, people tend to try to make it as simple as possible, believing that the problem is something so simple that only 1, maybe 2 things need to be changed and then everything will be all better. They couldn’t be more wrong.
Suicide Club review
Rated: 3 / 5
Let me get this out of the way, I’m not against suicide. I used to be, in the past, mainly because all we would here is how suicide is bad, people shouldn’t kill themselves, we have more to live for, blah blah blah. That’s all true, and one must also consider how selfish of an act it is and what consequences it would entail to those close to them, mainly family members and friends (assuming they have any). However, what if one doesn’t have more to live for? What if there is no one close to them who would be all that emotionally affected by their death? What if they have no friends (or more importantly, what if they feel like they have no friends)? Much of the downsides to suicide go away, and the only thing they would have to worry about is, “I really hope I don’t fuck this up,” or, “I really hope this is going to be quick and mostly painless.” Basically whatever it takes to make the pain go away, whether it’s a physical pain from some disease or a physical injury; or mental pain from being bullied, from guilt over an action of the past, from thinking the future is too bleak, or from being alone and feeling isolated for too long. All of those can start to look like very good reasons to off yourself regardless of what anyone else tells you. Sure there are those who try to re-assure you that if you tough it out things will be alright in the end. But what do they know? They don’t know the future. They don’t know everything. They don’t know if your life will improve or continue to go into the shitter.
On the other hand, much of it could be applied to groundless paranoia, subliminal messaging, peer pressure, and the people you hang around with. While there are good reasons worth killing yourself over, sometimes people are coaxed into it by people who don’t really give a shit about you. Either way, good idea or bad idea, don’t take it lightly. There’s no going back from something like that. It’s a one and done thing, unless you fuck it up somehow and then you may end up a vegetable or a more miserable person than ever before who becomes less independent and less capable of killing yourself, living your life in an endless hell. So either way you need to do things proper and with some amount of responsibility. You know, like with living life.
Which brings me to this movie, known in the U.S. as Suicide Club, known in Japan as Suicide Circle. It begins with a bunch of school kids jumping onto the tracks of a subway and they all get run over by the train. A very gruesome scene of mass suicide. Boy do those janitors have their work cut out for them.
So I can just imagine what sort of a field day the news would have with a story like this. They can’t blame guns. They can’t blame perpetrators for directly shoving them to their deaths. This is suicide we’re talking about here, utilizing public service to complete the act. Pretty sure many in the U.S., in today’s context (as of this writing) would try to put a political spin on it, blaming the current president for driving youths to killing themselves, or blaming those who convince others to blame the sitting president or some political party (and honestly, if that was really the case and the actual reason, the youth just couldn’t take this guy being president so they decided to make a political statement by killing themselves in a more gory fashion than those Buddhists did during the Vietnam War, I say good riddance for those weak-minded pussies who’d rather die than stand for/against something while living, the latter being a more long-term and effective method IMHO). Thankfully the Japanese are more intelligent than that (so far anyway), so they launch an investigation as to the how and why without pointing any fingers at anybody within the first hour or two after the incident. They’re just as baffled about this whole ordeal as the audience is. And a mysterious bag is left at the scene, by an unknown figure.
At this point, the film gets a little weird but very interesting (trust me, the weird factor is nowhere near the high-point yet with this movie). We go to a hospital where, long story short, at least one of the nurses commits suicide (while the film leaves it a bit vague as to the fate of one of them, it’s been suggested that her fate can be seen in the trailer, where she faxes herself to death, though it seems unlikely consider how that’s the most far-fetched aspect of the entire film, and that’s saying a lot). A bag is also left at the crime scene by an unknown figure.
The police eventually get a hold of the bags, and discover that each has a roll of skin. A roll with rectangular bits of skin stitched together to give a circular cinnamon roll appearance. Each piece of skin belonging to a different individual. At least one of the skin bits has a tattoo on it. They determine that a good portion of these pieces of flesh belong to most, if not all, of the suicide victims on the subway. Have to admit, at this point, I was very intrigued with the plot, wondering where it was going to go from here.
And for the first hour or so of the movie, I was incredibly invested. The first issue I had came up when Japanese David Bowie shows up, not only being over-the-top himself, but also being in an over-the-top environment, with a bunch of puppies and girls wrapped up in white bed sheets, which him and his henchmen torture then just straight up kill. It’s the one bizarre bit that didn’t gel with the rest of the film for me, and was more over-the-top than it needed to be. But I did see the intention behind it. At first, he’s considered a suspect for the suicides, in that he is responsible for driving people to suicide, or running a cult. In all honesty, I never believed that bullshit for a second. I saw through him and knew exactly what the film was going for with this guy. Someone who’s inspired by the insane incident. Someone who wanted to claim a part in it even though he had no part for the sake of eternal fame and remembrance. The thing is though, with the shit he was pulling, he already would’ve been remembered for the insane shit he did at this abandoned bowling alley, which makes his purpose in the film less impactful. Would’ve been more effective if he was largely a nobody until the suicides happened, which is when he would start doing crazy stuff. Plus he just does disturbing things (crushing cats and dogs) just for the sake of disturbing the audience, and it comes off as cheap and unnecessary. But in any case, that’s his role in the film, a red herring to the overall plot, but serves as a part of the theme of how a fad, an event, a cult, can influence people into doing insane things.
That aside, it’s a thrilling mystery film, making the viewer ask how and why this is happening. And the film lays enough clues down to where one could piece things together and figure it out by the end. It all comes down to two things: 1.) Subliminal messaging (ala They Live). 2.) A fad that caught on from one heavily publicized and talked-about incident due to highly impressionable youth.
“I’d say it’s too much TV. The Pied Piper…”
Regarding point #1, subliminal messaging, this indication is given early on, immediately after the subway incident. After that happens, we see some red and white light circles via some digital video, and then a music video by some kid dance group called Desert (though the name changes from Desert to Dessret to Dessart, something I’ll discuss later). They sing a song that basically has a message of, “Talk to me, e-mail me, or I might die.” Thus indicating that you should be talked to, or talked to someone, on a close friendly/family level, or else it would be a good idea to consider suicide. We see one of the nurses at the hospital listening to this, and one of the police detective’s has a family that listens to the band (and thus the song) on a regular basis. The band is popular, and influential in ways many adults don’t understand. An indication of the generation gap, the differences between many of the adults and many of the kids. It’s implied that this band and their lyrics influence these strings of suicides, but the police never manage to catch on to this. Plus there’s the question of, “Well what about the audience that is cheering during these live dance routines?” Well it’s simple, they are there in person, we the viewer and all the characters we come to know never view this band in this way. It is always through electronic technology, and electronic devices can send more subliminal signals. That, and it’s also a less personal experience in this way. Sure, we see the band perform, but we’re not with the people who are there cheering with the band. We are still more alone, more isolated, focused more on a screen than on the people around us.
“Have you noticed how quickly fads come and go these days?”
Point #2, a fad that easily influences the impressionable youth. Aside from the youth being easily influenced by the fad that is Dessart, they also tend to be influenced by such heavily talked-about incidents such as that mass suicide. You know, like how those other assholes are easily influenced and wanting to do a copycat of school shootings because of how much publicity the media gives it, and how much detail they reveal about it (too much about the shooter himself).
We see this with a group of dumbshit school kids on the roof of a school building, just hanging out and doing their usual talking and goofing around. Then a couple kids lightheartedly talk about committing suicide, and say they’re going to jump off the roof. Others, thinking this is a joke, get on the edge with them. One thing leads to another, and most end up jumping right away, followed by two others who were too skeptical (one of which forces the other to fall against his will), and then a third follows, feeling too pressured to say no at this point, being the only one left on the ledge. Soon we see other random people picking up this trend (some while listening to Dessart), a mother who slices her hand off (but it looks really really fake, so it doesn’t really have an impact on me), some stand-up comedians who do it at the end of their act, and some lone vendor on the side of a street.
Those are the main points the film brings up, about how many can be too easily swayed into doing something terrible. But there’s another point to be brought up as another reason. So the main detective (Kuroda) gets into contact with some coughing kid over the phone who says that 50 more people will jump on the subway that night, and he can get a clue about it on line 6. They determine that “line 6” refers to a line of that human flesh, which they take a look at and see a tattoo on it. Which leads to the most intense sequence in the entire movie, with several cops staking out the subway amidst a bunch of people. They are on edge, and clenching their gut whenever a subway train comes, hoping that no one they miss will make a jump for it. A fantastic sequence, though it does get a bit over the top when this one officer tries to wall off a bunch of school girls from getting near the tracks.
There’s something to mention about this before moving on. The whole tattoo thing. It’s something one should be aware of about Japanese culture in general, which enhances the viewing experience. Tattoos in the past had been used as a way to label individuals as criminals, criminals who didn’t do something terrible enough to warrant a death sentence or life imprisonment, but bad enough to where they should be marked for society (like how child molesters are marked on a database, except in the case of Japan from the mid-1800s to some point in time, it mainly applied to thieves). It’s not something that’s still ongoing as far as I know, but it’s noteworthy for the metaphor in this film. While the police are scouting out the subway, looking for anyone who may have skin missing, they focus primarily on people who have signs of a tattoo. But this brings up a McCarthyism aspect, looking at everyone as a potential criminal (in some sense) when most are just innocent bystanders. The police are trying to do right, but the paranoia and fear puts them in this predicament where they have a high chance of looking bad and doing something to harm their image. Because they don’t know these people all that well. They are isolated from this area of society, despite that they are actually there among society members.
“Those cheap tattoos. Everyone’s got them these days.”
Which brings us to a major point in the film. When the main officer Kuroda comes back home, he finds his family dead. And he sees that it was his son who had that section of skin missing, which that skin piece with the tattoo on it belonged to. He realizes he was too disconnected from his family to realize that one of his own family members was a part of this cult, who was to be among the next victims. He gets a call from the coughing kid, tries to blame him for his family’s death, but the kid points out bluntly to him that it was his own fault for not being all that connected with his family. That he is to blame. And Kuroda knows this to be true. And for a brief moment the film breaks the 4th wall when he aims his gun towards the camera (towards the viewers), wanting to blame them, even though he knows it’s his fault for not being with his family more intimately than he had in the past, allowing all of them to become more isolated in just watching television or being on a computer. Then the camera changes perspective and shows he’s pointing the gun at a mirror, and thus himself, aiming the gun at himself knowing he’s to blame.
Which brings up another point, point #3: being disconnected with those you should be close to, which can be family, and even friends. Not giving your family enough attention, the right kind of attention, can lead to a disconnect to the point where you can’t even see when they are going into a downward spiral. Whether they plan on killing themselves, or if they plan on killing others (or doing something bad that’s not killing-related).
But anyway, after this point, the film starts to go downhill when this girl, who’s boyfriend committed suicide, begins to piece together clues about the subliminal messaging aspect, and this leads her to Dessart headquarters, which seems to be run by a bunch of toddlers who not only planned the whole thing, but have at least one adult gimp to go along with the whole plan. Jesus aged Christ, so this is what happened to those little cunts from that film Baby Geniuses.
I’m not really going to get into much detail as to what goes on during this portion of the film, because it’s honestly pretty fucking stupid, and it exists more to be a metaphorical statement than it does to be plot-sensical. Granted, the whole thing is far-fetched from the get-go, but at least it was reasonably grounded up until this point (if you exclude Japanese David Bowie). In a nutshell, another batch of school kids get their skin sliced off, but the message of Dessart has changed at this point. The subliminal messaging their promoting is no longer about committing suicide if others don’t really care for you, especially family members. No, the message becomes, “Live as you please.” As in have an identity, know who you are, do what you believe should be done. But live.
And that’s the film. It could’ve been better, but there’s enough strengths to it, and fascinated subjects and brief moments of genius that manage to give it a solid 3 / 5 rating from me. That being said, something like this could use a decent remake. There’s plenty of concepts in this movie that have not only stood the test of time, but are as relevant today in America as they were in Japan when it was first made (though there are quite a few other movies that have a similar title, none of which have a plot that is anything like this). It covers topics on how people are becoming more isolated from one another due to technology (cell phones weren’t really around at the time, not as they are today, so that theme is definitely more relevant than ever). It mentions how subliminal advertising can be used as a tool for both good and bad (used for bad initially to send a message that critiques the state of society, used for good later to drive the point forward for a positive end-note). And it overall delivers a message that we shouldn’t let technology and jobs/hobbies distract us from each other. Because if we become distracted from each other, it doesn’t matter if we’re in the same room, the same building, the same vicinity, the same town, the same country, or the same planet; we become isolated from one another regardless.
“Even if you were to die, your link to the world would remain.”
Are we just a piece of flesh to someone? Or do we mean more? How are we connected to each other? Are we as connected as we should be?
“But if you die, will you lose your connection with yourself?”
Flawed, but watchable.
Other recommended review for this film: