There really is nothing like a Sion Sono film. It’s too easy to slip the “gonzo” tag onto any artist whose work straddles the line of garrish cartoons and meta commentary, over the top gore covering everything like…well, gore. The fact that Suicide Club still hasn’t been upgraded to HD (at least streaming, which is how I saw it) makes in a strange way for an even more effective presentation, as if I’m watching something that maybe I shouldn’t. The film that broke Sono to wider audiences is still just as weird, wild, and ultimately mysterious as it was when it was first released over twenty years ago.
THE QUICK SUMMARY: It’s a normal day at the train station, work commuters and school kids waiting for the next train to take them along their way. 54 school kids joyously hold hands, count to three…and throw themselves to the tracks. What at first seems like a tragic but isolated incident starts to grow, with more and more people suddenly committing suicide. The police are confounded, moreso once they discover a website is predicting the suicides…and the weird rolls of stitched together flesh. What? Is it a cult? Does it have something to do with the bubblegum pop group Dessert? A pair of cops and an intrepid hacker race to figure out what is happening before more people start to take the fall.
So what is Suicide Club? Watching it and doing a little reading it seems like the general consensus is Sono commenting on the rise rate of suicide affecting the youth of Japan at the time, and the huge divide between that youth and the adults’s ability to comprehend the problems and issues causing it. There’s also some sharp satire about the bubbly exterior the popular culture (in the band Dessert and in the soundtrack overall) and how it contrasts with the very real pain people were experiencing. Nowhere is this better displayed then in the horrific section where Sono stages a happy montage of people mutilating and killing themselves. It’s still one of the most visceral things I’ve experienced watching a film.
But that’s the whole answer, either. What to make of the whole Genesis subplot? Is he the leader of the “Suicide Club” involved in some sinister death cult? or is it (more likely) another commentary on how we fetishize and adopt the trends of the day, no matter how crazy they are? I’m not sure, but the whole sequence is basically a trigger warning for some seriously sick content, and that’s not even considering the fact it takes place as a musical number with Genesis affecting his best Bowie.
Sion Sono is getting some renewed recognition right now with his first Western film, Prisoners of the Ghostland starring another “gonzo” artist: Nicolas Cage. But however crazy that film may be, I’m going to guess it won’t hold a candle to what we see and experience in Suicide Club. This is a truly insane film, made all the more twisted by how well it’s executed.
Just…be prepared before you watch it.