Disclaimer: Suicide Club is super weird at times and by weird I mean weird! I literally had a moment of serious jaw dropping, like the first time I watched John Waters’ Pink Flamingos…but I digress. That being said, this film has become a cult classic in its own right and the meaning underlying the film still holds up extremely well today. Now on to Noriko’s Dinner Table (NDT), this prequel fills in necessary gaps but it plays out more like a three hour long drama. So if you are seeking gore or scares, NDT might not be for you. If you skip it, you will still get the gist of Suicide Club.
Aside of the intermittent strangeness, Suicide Club was way ahead of its time. The film investigates a series of suicides sweeping across the nation. In doing so it reveals what happens when there is a break down in connections between people. Both Suicide Club and Noriko’s Dinner Table focus particularly on the loss of connection between family members. In Suicide Club this is visible in the familial interactions for example when the children visibly go on watching television as their father tries to hold a family meeting. Later, this same father comes home and doesn’t even notice his child is completely covered in blood. Noriko’s Dinner Table takes this one step further when both daughters run away to Tokyo to live amongst rental families because their father never understood them. Over and again Noriko and her sister Yuka make it clear how disconnected they felt from their father.
When people feel disconnected they seek out substitutions. Through the disconnectedness, these films offer a social commentary on the digital age as well as consumerism. The people within both films seem to find connections by becoming a part of substitute communities such as internet chat rooms, consumers, and super fans. The film parallels the blind loyalty of the suicide club with peoples’ allegiance to popular culture (bands, fads, products). This is best evidenced by the reoccurring role of the band Dessart throughout the film. Children ignore their parents to catch the latest video, buy all the albums, plaster their walls with posters, and purchase the chocolate that Dessart sells. Through the character of Genesis as well as the child’s voice on the phone we see the desire for fame and meaningless adoration from strangers. Genesis and the child caller want to know if they will be recorded or put on TV. Yet, fame, fads and consumerism are not enough to make the false connections necessary for a suicide club.
These people are seeking out connections at any cost. The film’s imagery supports this through the stitched together pieces of flesh as well as the twisted pile of body parts found after the first mass suicide. People are dying to feel connected whether it is by forcing a connection to other people’s bodies with needle and thread or by jumping in front of a train so that each person’s limbs are indistinguishable from the next. Suicide Club suggests that the internet facilitates such situations by fostering a sense of community. Unfortunately, it becomes a community among other disjointed people.
Without addressing the root cause of the disconnect the people are doomed to fall into the same pattern as the suicide club. Suicide Club and Noriko’s Dinner Table offer examine the causes of this by looking at parents in the workforce, the generation gap in families, as well as the rise of technology/advertising. In Noriko’s Dinner Table, once Noriko and Yuka’s father (Tetsuzo) recognizes that he chose his work over his family, he is able to follow the clues to his children’s whereabouts. He says “I was a worse father than they imagined…My daughter disappeared from this forced portrait of harmony”. In one less subtle story, the character Kumiko is so damaged by her upbringing she tells everyone her mother was a locker in a train station. She justifies her business in family renting by saying, “We lie openly and pursue emptiness, loneliness” and this is how she is connected to others. She knows why she is not connected to others, but she is too fearful and spiteful to change her circumstances so she pulls others into her downward spiral.
The commentary on the internet is most fascinating to me especially since the film had no idea how it would exponentially increase in years to come. Today in the digital age of social media and immediate information, people don’t even look up from their little pocket computers. How many times have you sat in a diner and noticed a whole family sharing a table, faces buried in their phones not recognizing the potential for real interaction and experience right in front of them. People feel like they are part of some greater community because they have FaceBook friends from overseas; they get likes, and retweets. In reality, much like Suicide Club and Noriko’s Dinner Table, the mirage of cyber connectedness blinds us to our need for pure and tangible contact. The problems in the films are only remedied when the characters pay attention to the blank faces and the feelings of others. Only by noticing each other and interacting with one another in person can the characters help those around them. Even back in 2002 Suicide Club proved it had its thumb to the wind and predicted things to come which definitely justified the film’s relevance over time.