Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Noriko's Dinner Table (2005) - review

This film is supposed to complement the previous controversial film "Suicide Club" (2001).

It revolves around a middle class Japanese family living in a pastoral coastal village. The father, TetsuzĂ´ (Tetsu), is an editor-in-chief workaholic at a local newspaper. Mother, Taeko, is a dutiful housewife who enjoys painting. Elder daughter Noriko is in her senior year of high school. Her sister Yuka is a few years younger. Noriko runs away one night during a power outage and meets Kumiko, a mysterious girl around her own age who runs an internet BBS which has been connected to the previous suicides in the first movie. Kumiko runs the Suicide Club (Circle) and has a business where her employees and her pose as family members for clients. Eventually Yuka also runs away and joins them.

Kumiko has serious psychological problems, she lives in a fantasy world, you can fool others emotionally but sooner or later the fake memories and contrived emotional world will come crashing down.

Noriko and Yuka display enormous selfishness and total lack of regard for their parents' feelings. Perhaps this is an indictment of Japanese culture where parents don't show as much overt emotion and affection to their children, but they clearly didn't know how  good they had it. Maybe their father was distant, but we saw several times how he genuinely cared for his children and worked hard to provide them with opportunities in life. These kids were not abused nor living in some sort of hellish reality they needed to desperately escape. The callousness and ease with which they abandoned their parents is very troubling.

Noriko is so deluded she tells herself that a fake father figure, a paying client, is her real father. And the motif running is that she can create her own reality. Yet her existential crisis and the resolution to it seems so contrived and unnatural that it's hard to feel any real sympathy for her. I found my sympathies resting with her parents (and I don't have any kids myself). She cries for a fake father, yet not a single tear or thought for her real father who is frantic trying to find Yuka and her. She has accepted an illusion for reality and the false for truth. This will damage her.

"Are you connected to yourself?" - this runs throughout the film and the prior one, "Suicide Club". This existential question is something I think any mature adult with any sort of spiritual development and thought life has considered. One doesn't need to run away from home, sever all families ties, or take on a multiple personality disorder to be in harmony with themselves. This film could have dealt with this issue in a much more profound way so ultimately it is a disappointment with the director.

Kumiko and the Suicide Club bringing on the "collapse of civilization" is absurd. As usual with cults they grossly inflate their own self-importance and look for extreme solutions to human problems.

The rationale given is that since people fail in their social roles the answer is to "lie openly and pursue emptiness". This is really simplistic sort of thinking and nihilistic. It ignores the reality of the human condition and our emotional complexity and purpose in life.

These girls drove their mother to suicide, but they are so deluded and caught up in their fantasy world they probably don't care.

Yoko says when finally meeting Mitsuko again, "I knew she wasn't my real sister anymore." YES SHE IS YOUR REAL SISTER! Your very confused sister. Ugh lines that like just really irritated me.

I see what the film maker is trying to do in this narrative but it goes against the way people really are and is more a caricature than a genuine human portrayal.

Mitsuko is a heartless bitch. The way she treated her real mother who wanted to reconcile was infantile and deplorable. She needs serious psychiatric help.

The way this film deals with existential pain is to run away, to escape into an imaginary role. Not very insightful or healing.

The way Mitsuko casually watched with utter indifference as Broken Dam is murdered by a client shows she is sociopathic. She has disconnected herself from humanity. Her words about helping people are shallow and false. She has no interest in people beyond how they can assist her in playing out roles and spreading her diseased nihilistic philosophy.

The scene of the 54 high school girls committing suicide by jumping together in front of a train is done in a mocking way. It trivializes the pain and suffering of people who are depressed and take their own life. They don't cheerfully smile and yell happy slogans as they end their life. There is nothing profound in this narrative. It is an affront in fact to genuine human pain and psychological trauma.

After Tetsu's emotional plea during his reunion with Yoko and Norito they bitterly reject him and keep up their delusional roles. He then kills the four men from  Mitsuko's organization and Mitsuko returns calling for them to make dinner and stupid Yuka and Norito happily oblige, oblivious to their father's extreme anguish and the blood now all over the room. Yoko and Norito are not liberated, they are extremely mentally ill and need help.

At the end Yuka runs away (again), ostensibly forever this time, and we're expected to believe she has had some sort of cathartic moment of cleansing. Really dumb. She is not dealing with her problems in a mature way, this is how I'd expect an 8 year old to deal with an issue not a 16 year old.

Overall this was a good film, solid acting, a definite narrative (though not a terribly interesting or redemptive one), good cinematography, but it trivializes some serious issues and deals with them in a childish way. This film offers a nihilistic picture of family dynamics and an escapist resolution. Nihilism is an empty philosophy for fools. Perhaps Japan does have such a high suicide rate because of films like this. It certainly does not help anyone who is feeling lonely, depressed and suffering. In fact this film is even dangerous in that it glorifies the abandonment of all family and social ties, ignores spiritual development completely, and extols a fractured, unhealthy, self-deceptive emotional state.

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