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Of Love and Other Demons: ‘Suicide Club’ (Sion Sono, 2001)

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In Suicide Club, Sion Sono’s breakout film, mysterious suicides spring up all over Japan. The film’s opening scene features happy, chanting school girls who swing their arms playfully before jumping in front of a fast-moving train and their blood splatters all over the crowded platform. Darkly comic and horrifically bloody, Suicide Club hints at a bizarre cult targeting alienated youth. With as many musical sequences as horror set-pieces, the film balances a disjointed tone as it channels a society disconnected from its youth. The specific reasoning behind the suicide club and its mass popularity remains ambiguous. Why are so many teens happily cutting their lives short?

The suicides in the film are a direct confrontation with death. With no hope and no future, young people find faith in a cult that pushes them to obliterate themselves. With little connection to the previous generation and very little hope for the next one, what do they have to live for but a symbolic communal act? On the surface, the impulse seems like a need to escape, and, to a certain extent, it can be. Yet more crucially, this desire lies in wanting to be absorbed by something greater than yourself. Rather than being the desire to take the lives of others, or to lust after someone else, Suicide Club positions the film’s action from the point of view of the object and about the need to be consumed.

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In Blue is the Warmest Color (2013), Adèle’s hunger comes to represent her desire, a longing and lust expressed through what she eats and how she eats. We think of desire as a hunger, like a need or a longing to consume another person or object. This point of view positions desire in a place of power, the narrative pivoting the tension of longing on the protagonist’s ability to take hold of what they want and whether or not they can keep it. Channeling the opposite end of that desire — focusing on the void and the desire to be consumed by it — seems removed from normal dramatic tension. As filmgoers, we are more inclined to relate to a horrific monster (who wants something from the world and will transgress social norms to take it) than we are the willing victim who wants to be erased from existence. This might be tied to the forcefulness of capitalist inspired individualism that has come to dictate most Western filmmaking. But more primal than that, it counteracts all of our instincts towards survival. Suicide Club has thinly veiled leads, but the film ultimately works as a bizarre ensemble piece. In a world where characters want to cease their existence, to latch onto their individuality would be counterintuitive.

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Not really about sex, the film still has an edge of eroticism. Textural and loaded with deconstructed figures, Suicide Club depicts the human body with a twisted sensuality. Focused on transgression rather than arousal, the procreative aspect of the film lies in the power of suggestion and draws on the concept of an idea as an invasive virus. Just like in real life, rumours of suicide only breed more self-inflicted death as a single poisonous thought claims untold lives. In Suicide Club, life and the body has been cast aside in favour of the unending and appealing emptiness of the void.

Justine Smith (@redroomrantings) lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec. She has a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies and a passionate hunger for all kinds of cinema. Along with writing for Vague Visages, she has written for Vice Canada, Cleo: A Feminist Journal and Little White Lies Magazine.

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