Suicide Club and Instant Community
Sion Sono’s bizarro masterpiece Suicide Club faces one common thread of criticism: is the titular online society the actual driving force of the bloodshed in the film? Sono has long claimed that this (and the sequel Noriko’s Dinner Table) story has no answer to the mysteries it creates. It poses a lot of questions about digital society and its impact on the real world with no intention of answering them. The fear and dread come not from the twists and turns in the story but the refusal to tie everything together in the end.
This is why Suicide Club functions so well as an exploration of life on the Internet. Originally released at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2001, Sono’s horror has become a regular feature at international festivals. The technology in the film is unquestionably dated–a hospital uses the clamshell apple laptops–but the commentary on how the Internet impacts our sense of community and culture is more relevant as time goes on.
Suicide Club follows a series of unusual circumstances in Japan. After a large group of high school girls throw themselves into an oncoming train, the country is ravaged by reports of grotesque suicides in public places. Though the methods are varied, the presence of the public eye and the absurdity of the death connect them all.
The police are alerted to the presence of a strange website, www.maru.com, where red and white dots represent the number of women and men who have committed suicide. Flashing dots indicate the next group of fatalities. The site is a static page of colored dots cataloging the connection between the victims in death.
From there, Sono branches the horror out in varied directions. Rolls of human flesh are found stitched together in bowling bags. Students obsess over the suicides in the classroom, turning them into games and jokes. A girl group races up the charts with a string of hit songs about email and connecting online. A hacker tries to investigate the maru site while a serial killer steps forward claiming fame as his motivation. Which of these are actually connected to the suicides? All of them and none of them.
The single lingering thread connecting all of the events is the creation of community. Some people will die to feel accepted into something greater than themselves. Others are spurred on to a dark fate through the encouragement of online friends. Still others define their existence by what they are able to garner off the Internet.
The reason that Suicide Club is gaining recognition is its attempt to define the impact of online communities. As social networking and mobile devices become ubiquitous around the world, the traditional notions of friendship, family, society, and interaction expand. You can consider someone you’ve never met face to face a close friend because you can text, poke, Skype, like, and follow their every movement.
The horror of Suicide Club comes from theme and subtext. Society is radically changing and everyone is helpless to stop it. Authority, experience, and lawfulness can no longer constrain or define a world where anyone can share their philosophies and ideas directly with everyone else.
The reason Sion Sono doesn’t provide answers to the central mysteries of the story is the nature of the Internet itself. The content and community is forever in flux. No two interactions will ever be the same. Therefore, if the Internet itself is the connecting thread of a dark mystery, the mystery itself can never be solved.
Thoughts on Suicide Club? Share them below. I have fond memories of discussing this with film fans at conventions and exploring all the different theories about what’s really happening. I’ve never heard the same one twice, even from the same person. What about you?