54 Japanese schoolgirls await the arrival of a train in a Tokyo subway. As Hasegawa Tomoki's score breaks into a Pogues-esque jig, the girls join hands and with a resounding "A one. And a two. And a three", throw themselves into the path of the oncoming train. So begins Shion Sono's abosrbing study of disaffected Japanese youth, and the national obsession with sucide.
As an admittedly unconventional thriller, Suicide Club will delight all but the most jaded viewer: at least, for the opening hour, as the police led by Inspector Kuroda (Ishibashi) investigate a series of rapidly escalating deaths, and attempt to establish the significance of a scene-of-crime(s) sportsbag containing chains of stitched-together human flesh. Sono ups the ante further when a woman - known as 'The Bat' - informs Kuroda of a web site that appears to register deaths before they occur.
Are the suicides part of a growing youth cult, or the grisly results of outside forces who use self-anihilation as a smoke screen for murder? Perhaps it's the all-girl pop group Dessart (or Desart/Desert, depending which subtitle you go with) who are the instigators, despatching catchy tunes with lyrics which recall the old Judas Priest 'Songs From Hell' controversy. It's an intriguing mixture to be sure, though the linear plot eventually gives way to outrageous developments that lie Far East of left field. Witness the introduction of Genesis (Rolly); a glam-rock "Charlie Manson of the information age", and a series of phone calls from a pre-teen director of operations who announces, "There is no suicide club".
As the film progresses, it's clear that Sono prefers raising questions to providing answers, using a streak of black humour to punctuate the increasingly bizarre events. For the most part, this policy works extremely well, which is more than can be said for a couple of less-than special effects.
The subway carnage - awash with rivers of blood - is slightly diluted by the inclusion of a painfully inept head-crushing scene, and the kitchen knife performance works best when we move from action to reaction. Here, Sono comes over as a director who is far more comfortable with the less-is-more approach: check out the rooftop chain suicide, where glimpses of plummeting bodies, and blood splattered windows combine with sickening thuds that may well prompt your last meal to get out of Dodge.
Those who dislike having the rug pulled from under their feet (which happens on more than one occasion here) will doubtless be infuriated by threads left a-dangling, though a soon-come sequel will likely tell us whodunnit and how.
For the time being, the Region 1 DVD from TLA Releasing is the easiest and most cost-effective way to see this film. Picture quality is nice and sharp with muted colours, and the audio department doesn't disappoint with Tomoki's score getting up, close and personal; particularly when piano and violin play host to some of the more lyrical moments in the film.
Extras are confined to a photo gallery (numbering just nine stills), and there are also four TLA releasing trailers, including Suicide Club and the internationally acclaimed thriller Between Your Legs.