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Review © Alex Apple, 2007.

Directed by Sono Sion, 2005, 159 mins. Starring Kazue Fukiishi, Tsugumi, Yuriko Yoshitaka, and Ken Mitsuishi.

Oh God. Sometimes, you get the feeling that some movies really shouldn't ever be bequeathed a sequel, for fear of sullying the once pure nature of the original.  No Citizen Kane 2, for example.  Or Kairo 2.  And, even though it resolutely failed to resolve any of the situations it so carefully set up, should perhaps Sono Sion's masterful 2001 film Suicide Circle also be one such movie?

Well, maybe yes, and maybe no.  Yes, because the movie was such a melting pot of seemingly disparate ideas chucked together with no sign of any meaningful solution.  No, because despite its lacklustre ending, it was an incredibly haunting piece which stayed with you for days afterwards.  For one, some were baying for the movie to make more sense.  As in, any sense at all, as Suicide Circle had its own beautiful internal logic that challenged as much as perplexed and which simply, you just had to run with.  For many, that was a step too far; despite the iconic opening sequence of the fifty-four schoolgirls jumping, en masse and consequently extremely bloodily, in front of a train at Shinjuku station, what followed was a mass of sometimes unfocussed, defiantly unexplained and maybe even totally unexplainable ideas which polarised audiences and stirred up vigorous discussion. 

By now, of course, we know that that's pretty much Sion Sono's raison d'être.  Not for him, the straightforward, linear, plot-driven film; going by his subsequent movies Strange Circus and, now, the long-awaited sequel to Suicide Circle, Noriko's Dinner Table, Sono's films are far more ideas-driven.  And, therefore, Noriko's Dinner Table, while superficially a sequel, really just riffs on the motifs in Suicide Circle and deepens the enigma, rather than resolving it, spreading the mystery out on a far wider scale.


"If you saw a lion eat a zebra, would you call it cannibal club?"

Noriko is seventeen.  She lives in a dull, humdrum town, massively over-achieving at high school as there's nothing else to do, and is intensely jealous of a girl nicknamed Tangerine, who's got a job – albeit in a strip club.  After discovering an online community at haikyo.com, she becomes aware of the mundanity of her own existence, and runs off to Tokyo to meet one of the board's moderators, Kumiko.

Kumiko herself is damaged goods; abandoned as a baby, she runs an agency which provides make-believe families for the lonely.  As Noriko casts off her real identity to assume that of her online persona, Mitsuko, she and Kumiko start working together.  Six months later, they find themselves at Shinjuku railway station.

Of course, if you're even vaguely familiar with the plot of Suicide Circle, you might recognise at this point that the website – haikyo.com – that both young women frequent was identified by the police as the key to the riddle of the suicide cults, and as organising the multiple suicide at Shinjuku station.  The portents are already quite bad...

Yet Noriko's Dinner Table carefully avoids most of the plotlines set up by its predecessor.  Instead, it focusses on the relationship between Kumiko and Noriko, the subsumation of Noriko's sister Yuka into the cult, and the desperation of their father Tetsuzo, who is slowly unravelling the mystery of the disapperance of his two daughters, and the relationship that haikyo.com has to them, and to the cult of suicide sweeping the nation.

If anything, Noriko's Dinner Table is even more frustrating than Suicide Circle. The purpose of the chapter-led structure of the film, initially focussing on indviduals, peters out midway through to become little more than an annoyance.  The direction – in comparison to both Suicide Circle and the flamboyant Strange Circus – is bizarrely visually moribund, as if, either, the budget was low for what is an exceptionally long movie, or to take away the visual distraction in order to focus more on the events and motives.  Yet Sono almost deliberately obfuscates the motivation of his characters – the only person with a clear purpose is Tetsuzo, struggling to understand the reasons why his daughters left home and why, now, they hide behind different identities.

And, if you were to boil this movie down to its essence, Noriko's Dinner Table – like Strange Circus - is a film preoccupied with the notion of identity; everyone is not who they always seem to be.  From Noriko's voyage of self-discovery from over-achieving school paper editor via haikyo.com to nihilistic, questioning young adult – the precise opposite of how she started out – to Kumiko's angst-ridden, personally invalidating life story, you could argue that while Suicide Circle depicted the institutional reaction to the cult of suicide, Noriko's Dinner Table shows us the personal side of the tale.  And, to that end, Sono's use of narration – an internal voice, similar to a novel in many ways, explaining (or, at least, attempting to explain) the confused, illogical thought processes of the teenagers involved – is key in showing us that this film is not really about why the events in Suicide Circle took place, but more how the situation developed.

Noriko's Dinner Table will not give you any answers to the riddle set by Suicide Circle.  Far from it; by focussing on individuals caught up in what is clearly some sort of organisation, it gives us a glimpse of the effects of the events shown in Suicide Circle's macrocosm at a microcosmic, far more personal level.  Yet, tantalisingly, it also gives us a view into the suicide club's hierarchy, its officialdom, if you like, showing us that there is, in all likelihood, some sort of plan, some sort of over-arching chain of command, even if the absolute confirmation (or not) is left deliberately vague.  It's bloody infuriating, but typically Sion Sono.  As is the notion that Kumiko may (or may not, indeed) be part of that self-same hierarchy.  And who may, or may not, in fact be the leader of the grouping – a grouping which seems to justify itself by using bizarre jargon involving lots of animal imagery.  You thought the "are you connected to yourself" questioning in Suicide Circle was perplexing?  You just try the deliberately oblique lion/zebra conundrums in Noriko's Dinner Table.

The question has to be, though, is Noriko's Dinner Table actually any good?  Well, in a particularly Sono Sion-esque way, yes.  And no.  And maybe.  Yes, in that, while this is a movie which looks cheap, answers nothing and which puzzles more than entertains, it is, exasperatingly, more than the sum of its parts.  It looks terrible, and the visual direction is fairly uninspired, albeit with flashes of genius towards the movie's bloody climax and in the fantasy sequences.  The characters, while beguiling, are entirely unlikeable and it's very difficult to get emotionally attached to any of them.  In that respect, it's a very cold, analytical movie, dispassionate, almost impossible to make sense of, or, indeed, to connect to.  And, yes, it's a good 45 minutes too long.

But. Despite its shortcomings, potentially Noriko's Dinner Table is a better movie than Suicide Circle.  No, it's not a Snowblood Apple Favourite, not by a long way, but hidden within the obtuse details is an intensely human drama.  Like Suicide Circle, the pain of a man who has lost a daughter is intensely felt throughout.  But while that was but a small part of Suicide Circle in many ways, it's the crux of Noriko's Dinner Table.  It's the very human heart of the suicide circle mythos.  Thing is, Sono Sion has made it more realistic in a way, by making it as illogical and random as human emotions invariably are.

Engrossing, tiresome, mesmeric and lacklustre in equal measure, Noriko's Dinner Table will no doubt polarise audiences in even greater number than Suicide Circle did.  This is a much harder film to "get" than even its predecessor.  Yet it gives the viewer, the devotee if you will, more of a look into the unique world of Sono Sion's filmmaking style and the recurrent themes that seem to run through his movies.  Yes, Noriko's Dinner Table is self-indulgent, even hideously so in places, but somehow, despite its flaws, it's a movie that will draw you back for several repeat viewings.  Do not watch this film expecting another Suicide Circle, for you will be wretchedly disappointed; instead, think of it as a broadening of the myth, and you can't help but be sucked in.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment: 7/10
Chills: 6/10 - but really, only if you're familiar with Suicide Circle
Sex: 0/10
Gore: 6/10. Really only gruesome towards the end
Noriko's Dinner Table: Is not people, folks!
Answers: -1,000,000/10
Questions: 1,000,000/10
Tenuous lion/zebra/cannibal metaphors: Mrh?/10

Films in a Similar Style: Mrh? Umm, none, really.

*** Recommended to those willing to put in the effort ***

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Noriko's Dinner Table Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.

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Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2007

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Sono Sion


http://www.noriko-movie.com/ is the official Japanese site (Japanese only), with http://www.elevenarts.net/Feature/Titles/NorikosDinnerTable/index.html being the site of the US cinematic distributor. Both have trailers and the like.
http://www.tlamovies.com/details/product_details.cfm?v=1&sn=2930&id=229447&enable=true - looks like TLA are going to release it in the US. If you can't wait, you can buy the Japanese DVD with English subtitles at http://www.cdjapan.co.jp/
http://www.haikyo.com/ - it exists! Perfect replica of the haikyo.com in the movie, complete with messageboard. No doubt great if you can speak Japanese.
http://www.sonosion.com/ - Director Sono Sion's official site
http://www.twitchfilm.net/archives/006651.html - Twitch update for the movie, notable for collecting trailers for pretty much any Sion Sono film you can name
http://www.blisty.cz/art/24059.html - incisive review on a Czech site (in English)
http://www.variety.com/review/VE1117927671.html?categoryid=31&cs=1&p=0 - Variety sums it up pretty well
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADrgRPygNEc - footage of the cast at a press conference about the movie

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