Friday, March 13, 2009

REVIEW: The Suicide Song

伝染歌 (Densen uta)

Released: 2007

Masato Harada

Ryuhei Matsuda
Yusuke Iseya
Hiroshi Abe

Yoshino Kimura
Yuko Oshima

Running time: 128 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

You know how sometimes you watch a film and you simply put your trust in the hands of the director? There are moments where you aren't sure what's happening or you don't fully understand a character's actions, but you don't worry - you trust the director will pull everything together. "The Suicide Song" is NOT one of those movies.

The film has good intentions - it's set up as a horror movie, but toys with those conventions and occasionally pokes fun at them. We learn early on that there have been a rash of suicides and the latest one (of a young schoolgirl) points at a song being the root of all the problems. You sing the song, you kill yourself. So there's plenty of room here to play off the idea of suicide being "fashionable" for young people against the horror tropes of a combination of "Ringu" and "Suicide Club". And maybe that's the problem - there's too much room. Director Masato Harada (who has made some fine films like "Inugami" and "Kamikaze Taxi" which also subverted expectations) never makes a coherent follow through on promises built up in the film.

The song in question is heard by Anzu as it is sung by the schoolgirl just before she kills herself. With lyrics like "why was I ever born into this world", it is assumed to trigger the suicidal impulses that everyone has at some point. Hearing about the story, a group of reporters from a trashy magazine want to get to the bottom of the "legend" (they even make several other girls sing the song as an experiment to see what happens). A pretty singer from an all girl pop group also gets involved in the investigation. She was a friend of the suicide victim and blames the death on Anzu since she has been accused of bullying. In the mean time it is revealed that there are suicide businesses that actually invite others to kill themselves. As well, the police are ineffective, the teachers at school are meek and the girls are cynical beyond their years. With all these societal issues and potential criticisms lined up, Harada fumbles the execution. His editing choices are, at best, odd - occasionally using jittery jumps and dropped frames, sometimes doing quick cuts between characters that completely go against the rhythm of the script and frequently jumping between stories at awkward points. He goes backward in time to reshow scenes from different angles (though rarely uncovering anything relevant) and simply never puts together a flow that you care to follow.

Some of the scenes are effective at building tension or even adding some creepiness, but they each exist as stand alone moments. The trips into the hall of mirrors, the white ghostly woman and a couple of dream sequences show not only some flair, but well thought attempts to convey mood. Unfortunately the follow on scenes usually abandon what's been built and never add any layers. Late in the film one of characters says that if you are thinking about death, you must also be thinking about life. It could have been a great moment - one that could have unified several of the themes of the movie along with bringing out a different spin on the suicide song itself. However, it's too late to make up for the mess that preceded it.

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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