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Suicide Circle (Sono Sion 2002)


Suicide Circle
[Jisatsu Sakuru]

Genre: Blood-Bathed Social Commentary

review in one breath

Suicide Circle packs many cultural nuances which are very prevalent in the contemporary Japanese psyche but which are either quite taboo or completely bizarre in American culture. This discrepancy undoubtedly creates significantly different attitudes and impressions of this film between its intended Japanese audience and the rest of us who look longingly into Japanese cinema.

Rather than reading the title Suicide Circle solely through Western eyes, wherein "suicide" according to the Catholic Church is/was an irreversible and damnable act, try to imagine suicide ("jisatsu") from within a culture wherein honor and allegiance (eg, samurai bushido) once required suicide in various HONORABLE situations and was thus socially deemed the highest possible expression of duty. Can you picture that? If so, you are able to understand Suicide Circle on its own terms. If not, this will simply be another tragic tale of teens go awry, though indeed entertainingly so.

Suicide Circle is the work of Director Sono Sion. Sono builds Suicide Circle upon three undisputed realities within contemporary Japanese society.

First and foremost is isolation. Isolation not in the sense that there are no friends or loved ones within your vicinity, but rather in the sense that we are way too busy or distracted to be anything but removed from those most truly important to us. Sono will give you prolonged shots of exhausted commuters with expressionless faces, or the constant noise being imposed by cell phones, mass media, trains, bells, etc, or a family's inability to have a serious conversation due to bombardment by TV and pop music. Sion's world is a world in which urban demands have taken over human need. The absolute opposite of this isolation is relation ("kankei") which proves to be the beckoning call by those behind the suicides. In other words, Sono presents a contemporary society so desolate of real relationships that when promise of a true, thorough relationship is offered youth and adult alike seem willing to forsake all for it. They literally jump headlong (no pun intended) into suicide with smiles on their faces and looks of expectation and serenity in their eyes.

In Western terms, such a response could only come from someone who is "brainwashed". But Sono's tale is not about brainwashing. It is about the willingness to exchange one's current desolation with one of "relationship". After being asked only a few simple questions (by a creepy little boy) such as, "Do you thoroughly understand/appreciate your relationship ("kankei") with your [wife, lover, children, etc]? Do you thoroughly understand/appreciate your relationship to yourself? Do you think these relationships will somehow disappear after you die?", it's as if a light goes on in the heads of the citizens of Tokyo.

Second, Sono explores the possible influence and origin of the wildly popular Japanese "young people" pop groups currently leading the charts. Sono "creates" a pop musical group consisting of 5 junior high girls, which anyone familiar with recent trends in Japan will undoubtedly associate with Morning Musume (pictured here), a rotating group of junior high school girls which have been consistently a top selling group for years. To say that Morning Musume is "popular" within contemporary Japanese society is to say that water is a preferred beverage. Sono is here exploring, through intentional visions of possible horror, what this mass appeal toward an otherwise unremarkable group might be. (Though to be honest, Morning Musume is a very disciplined group which rocks. ...But they are commanding I slit my wrists now, so goodbye.)

Third, of course, Sono explores the phenomenon of suicide among high school youth. The primary question he raises is whether mass suicides, (which by the way have occurred, though minimally under other circumstances due to "celebrity") is to be socially deemed accident or crime. If one person (obviously) commits suicide, (Japanese) police inevitably deem this a "Jiken" or accident. If someone is obviously murdered, it is considered a "Hanzai" or crime. Sono's entire film grapples with the very important notion that at some point, when social forces motivate mass suicide, a suicide must be categorized as a crime ("hanzai"). The plausible existence of such social forces (which could possibly lead, deceptively or otherwise, to mass suicide) is precisely a key exploration of Sono's film.

The way that Sono ties all these three together is indeed rather bizarre. He introduces a wannabe cult leader named Geneses (ROLLY), who though more than willing to accept the publicity for it, finds himself in the unfortunate position of being the scapegoat for causing a "Suicide Circle". In other words, Geneses may have liked to think he was influential enough to cause this phenomenon, but as the audience well knows, there are other much deeper, stranger powers at work. Many compare Geneses' spiel with "Rocky Horror Picture Show". The resemblance is certainly there, but actually this is what ROLLY (who plays Geneses) is like in real life and in his rock concerts. Choosing ROLLY to play Geneses is akin to choosing Ozzy Osbourne to play the same character for Western audiences. The point is that society is very prone to label such shady, bizarre characters as the source of social evil among youth. Sono, however, has a different vision of the real source.

No doubt this film left an empty pit in the stomachs of Japanese audiences. As to what it does to non-Japanese audiences is up for grabs.

Yet have no doubt. This film lives up to its notorious (glorious?) reputation. Sono is by no means a melodramatic story teller. This will be wildly bloody, violent and disturbing. The entire point of this review was aimed at helping you understand what the huge waves of blood are all about.

If you want cinematically skillful shock. This is certainly for you. If you want a scathing attack on contemporary societal trends (filled with skillful shock) this is for you. If you are looking for enlightening social commentary. I dare you.

Anyway, this is a very GOOD film. I didn't even cover the excellent storyline here. I encourage you to see it.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness

I doubt you'll get more (foreboding) contemporary social realities in one film. Ready? (The following are all self-inflicted.) One reunion of the class of 2006 with a speeding train. Three leaps from a tall building. One being landed on by one leap from a tall building. 600 cases of tremendous razor burn. One radish salad gone awry. One mouthful of pills. Four Hangings, one of them Holly Jolly. One sad retelling of William Tell before an audience using a pocket knife and adam's apple. One head in oven. Several unexplained large pools of blood. (The following are Geneses inflicted.) One stomped cat. One stomped puppy. One stomped chickadee. One rape. Two murders. (I'm sure I left some out in both lists.) No nudity, but an implied brutal rape. Oh definitely!


For me, the film started very good, touching the social problem of suicides on japanese culture...but then it got messy and confusing, nevertheless there is no doubt Sion Sono has some skills, but he just needs to refine them, and perhaps he needs to make his films shorter, of course this comment comes from an aficionado. I dare say after Suicide circle, the watching of "Noriko┬┤s dinner table" is a must.

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