Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Noriko's Dinner Table

Those of you who've read Asia Shock know how much I dig Shion Sono's unforgetable cult film Suicide Club. The mysterious rolls of human skin, the weird little kids, the showers of blood, wicked glam rocker Rolly camping it up to beat the band! So you can imagine how intrigued I was by the release of Sono's sort-of prequel/sequel, Noriko's Dinner Table.

Oh my, it's bad. And not in a good way. 2 1/2 hours of meandering, ponderous, uninspired, dreary, indecisive, boring non-action. It's as if Sono set out to make the polar opposite of Suicide Club, filmwise; all the kinetic outrageousness of the prior film has been swapped out for endless, repetitive internal narrative, primarily in the minds of a couple of provincial high school girls. While teenage girls are not without their own unique appeal, being trapped in the mind of one is not where I want to be.

Noriko runs away to the big city, where she meets the mysterious Kumiko (sexy mononomial actress Tsugumi). Kumiko was behind the 54-girl mass suicide at Shinjuku station (we learn this way late in the film, far beyond the point of caring). She also has her own surrogate family business; she and her colleagues rent themselves out as make-believe family members to old people, creepy lonely guys, whoever. Noriko and her younger sister Yuka get recruited into the business and the payoff comes (again, way late) when their estranged father hires them for an uncomfortable, staged "reunion." Along the way there is the occasional bloodletting, but not enough to save the film from itself.

Some directors can do slow burn, some can't. I applaud Sono for the attempt -- always good for an artist to challenge himself. But there's something to be said for knowing your strengths and playing to them. In this regard, Sono has made a serious misstep. Here's hoping he returns to his own singular gift for movie madness.

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