“They’re not the enemy.”
Suicide is the most inexplicable of all human behavior, because it runs counter to our most basic instinct to survive. To those of us outside of that feeling, it’s impossible to understand. Today’s Killtoberfest 3 movie and the first of my Asian sounder, the 2001 Japanese film Suicide Club, taps into eeriness of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible through a careful dissemination of narrative information.
The premise is crackerjack, established immediately when, in the first scene of the film, 53 young girls in school uniforms stand on a subway platform, join hands, count three, and jump in front of the oncoming train. The results of this shocking event are a little over the top, heads exploding and blood spraying in watery gouts, but the shock remains, and the subsequent sequence–a creepy, low-key walk through a deserted hospital–uses that opening to unlock a sense of unease and dread that exists for the rest of the film. This latter segment is the first example of the film’s careful lack of explanations working for it. The scene is something we’ve seen many times before, a security guard wandering his beat at night looking for a pair of nurses, but although we know something bad will happen, we don’t know what, and that makes all the difference in terms of effectiveness.
Everything in Suicide Club is a careful combination of things you can predict–there will be more suicides, more baffled and frustrated police, more dots on the website counting bodies–and an overriding uncertainty as to the progression and outcome to any individual scene. One of the best scenes in the movie is absolutely thrilling and horrifying because of that tense gap between our dread of the future and our ability to predict it. Students are hanging out on the school roof at lunch, laughing and joking about the mass subway suicide. Rumors abound–were the dead girls members of some kind of club? Some say they should start their own club. An unspoken agreement forms to stand at the edge of the roof, hold hands, count three, and–“Wait,” says a boy. “Are you serious?” The question has burning in our brains the whole time. What’s really happening here?
At first, the film’s structure is loose and free-form, covering various aspects of the suicide fad that begins sweeping the nation’s youth, as suddenly ubiquitous as the new pop music group Dessart that appears throughout the movie. But gradually protagonists emerge: a pair of cops, one younger, one older with a family of his own; and Mitsuko, a young woman whose boyfriend accidentally hits her when he jumps off a roof. The painful blow and the shock of his death seems to unlock something in Mitsuko, some need to understand both what’s happening and her role in it. Meanwhile, the detectives are also trying to understand, but each new clue only makes the case stranger, from the website that seems to know how many of which gender will die before it happens to the discovery that a mysterious white bag has been left at the site of the mass suicide–a bag containing a surreally horrifying rolled up strip consisting of many pieces of human skin sewn together end to end. What could it mean? There’s obviously some kind of plan here, but by whom, and to what purpose?
Eventually we come to understand the true source of the film’s anxiety, the generation gap. To adults, it’s the youth who are inexplicable, who behave in strange ways and want things that don’t make sense to us. It’s the young who embrace fads like Dessart, who are comfortable with the internet and technology, who prize humor and fame over responsibility and dignity. They haven’t lived long enough to be resistant to radical new ideas, and so might be driven by forces to kill themselves–forces their parents will never understand. The older of the two main detectives comes home to his family and doesn’t know how to deal with them; other teenaged characters in the film can’t even talk to their parents. It’s Mitsuko, closest to the victims in age, who gets closest to the truth–and once she finds it, she crosses some ineffable boundary and we no longer understand her. Suicide Club ends as suddenly and as mysteriously as it began, on a subway platform where life and death matter less than having a reason to choose between them.
Killtoberfest 3 continues! Click here for more horror (but not horrible) reviews, including Killtoberfests 1 and 2.