Hallow-vent - Day 22: Suicide Club

Pensive looking teenage schoolgirl

We love Halloween here at The DreamCage and we love the countdown to it even more as, every day in October, David Ames opens a window (well, writes an article) in his Hallow-vent Calendar of Asian horror films. His choice for Day 22 of Hallow-vent is Suicide Club ...

Find the full calendar for Hallow-vent 2020 here.

It’s that time of year again: the birds are chirping, the leaves are falling, there’s a chill in the air, and there’s a pandemic raging. All of these elements come together to make a fantastic holiday season, full of candy, and popcorn, and gory, bloody, creepy films that cause existential crises and fits of catatonia. 

This year I am looking at a subgenre of horror that, although it is centralized to a continent, is very diverse in subject matter and approach: Asian horror. I LOVE Asian horror. It may be that the original Ringu played an important part in my young life, causing me to be both fascinated and horrified by this type of horror. 

While I was used to American horror movies, particularly slasher franchises like Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th, I was not prepared for the sheer amount of difference between American and Asian approaches to horror. While most of what I had seen of American horror dealt with blood, gore, murder, and a substantial amount of nudity and sexual content (my 12-14-year-old self was always appreciative), Asian horror was much more subtle and disturbing. 

Maybe it was the newness and disconnection of the culture. Maybe it was the language barrier. Maybe it was the seeming focus on folklore that wasn’t present in the west’s presentation (at least from my limited experience), but from the moment I saw Ringu, I was hooked. 

This year I wanted to approach Asian horror that was not as famous as those I had seen previously and so I chose movies that I had never seen, or even heard of for the most part. There is only one film on the list that I was familiar with beforehand, and I hadn’t watched that since high school. 

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the strange mix of subtlety, disturbing imagery, and slow-burn that is this year’s Hallow-vent calendar.

Standing girl covered in blood looking at seated man who ignores her

I have wanted to watch today’s film for years, but because of pretty recent events in my own family, as well as a pretty jarring rash of teen suicides in my area over the past five years, I have avoided it. This morning, I sat down and decided it was time, and I treated myself to a strange film; one that I wasn’t entirely sure I was a fan of until the end. Today we talk about Sion Sono’s 2001 Japanese satirical horror film Suicide Club.

The basis of this film is a six day period in which a large number of Tokyo citizens commit suicide, many in groups. It begins with a shocking scene where 54 schoolgirls all jump in front of a train, and we see the first real use of gore, as well as a tone for what is to come. While investigating this scene, two nurses commit suicide elsewhere in the city. Detective Kuroda and his team are chosen to investigate and what unravels is a strange mystery.

Next there is a group of high school students jump off a roof, and Kuroda’s own children begin to hear rumors of a suicide club somewhere in the city. When a hacker named “The Bat” contacts the police to tell them of a website that seems to post the numbers of suicides as dots (red for women and white for men), the plot thickens and the police begin to investigate this as not suicide but murder.

If I give away anymore, I will ruin this gory piece of satirical art. And yes, I just referred to this as art. While some of the scenes don’t land well (I’m looking at you, weird bowling alley Rock of Ages scene), the movie as a whole does make a pretty good commentary about the nature of Japanese society in the early 2000s, especially celebrity culture and its impact on the youth.

The gore is everything you want in a classic horror movie, with blood and violence that reminds me so much of Evil Dead that I thought maybe Sam Raimi got a producer credit at first. There are literal buckets of viscera in certain scenes, and the explosions of blood are fun if you are a fan of the genre.

Once again, this film is not scary but is rather disturbing, especially when you consider what Sono is trying to say about how impressionable and easily manipulated we as a society are by media. By bookending the movie with performances by a teen idol group known as Dessert (oftentimes spelled in different ways throughout the film), we see just what the director is going for.

I see now why this film has received such praise over the last two decades, and I have to admit that I think I would watch it again, just to examine more closely the message of the director.

Follow David on Twitter @TheDavidMAmes

Image - IMDb
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