Saturday, October 08, 2011

Sono at MAD: Suicide Club

Only Sion Sono could make perky J-pop creepy as all get out. A poet, actor, and mad auteur of Japanese cinema, Sono has helmed some of the most disturbing (though not necessarily violent, per se) Japanese films to breakout on the festival circuit. Suicide Club (a.k.a. Suicide Circle, trailer here) is definitely one of them. Considered Sono’s greatest commercial success, Club screens this afternoon as part of the Museum of Art and Design’s Sion Sono: The New Poet retrospective series.

Just forget that bit about gore not being a hallmark of Sono’s films. Club opens with a notoriously gruesome scene, still controversial ten years after its release. It is rush hour in Shinjuku station and fifty-four high school students are about to join hands and leap in front of a speeding training. We will be spared most of the actual impact, but none of the mess.

The police want to treat the incident as a tragedy instead of a crime, but as spectacularly staged mass suicides become increasingly common they begin to suspect the work of a cult. Around the turn of Y2K, the coppers are still a little green when it comes to the internet. Fortunately, they are contacted by “The Bat,” a mysterious hacker forerunner to Lisbeth Salander. Then things get freaky.

Despite the exploitation veneer, Club is a serious film, executed by a master. Granted, he somewhat abruptly introduces significant characters and changes the tone on a dime, but the film’s over-riding impact is as heavy as it gets. While Japan’s well-documented high suicide rates give Club an inescapable added resonance, it is not an advocacy film, by any means. Rather, Sono is a provocateur, burrowing into the collective imp of perverse, ripping open the self-obliterating impulse to full view.

As is often the case with Sono’s work, Club is his film, through and through. His cast is perfectly competent submerging themselves in this eerie world, so unsettlingly like our own. Yet, they are largely just there to keep up with the wild twists and turns of his story. A notable exception, J-Horror star RyĆ“ Ishibashi is pretty devastating as Kuruda, the police detective who first stars to suspect an outside agency is at work.

Club is not suitable for young children, delicate sensibilities, or most house pets. It is genuinely edgy and ambitious filmmaking though. High recommended for those who fully understand what to expect, Club screens this afternoon (10/8) at th MAD Museum just off Columbus Circle.