Noriko’s Dinner Table (and the Suicide Club)

8/10 - high points for development of idea, symbolism, and feeling. Loss of points for length, being almost too convoluted and plot inconsistencies. 

Just finished watching it and man, it was the most bizarre, disturbing, out-of-this-world thing I’ve ever watched. After the ending, I was just like “What the hell did I just watch?” I’m not sure what to make of it, really, but, my mind is just… blown away. I had to really think and talk to myself about this film because it’s just hard to digest and it felt like everything was so convoluted and ambiguous, I had to straighten out my thoughts about it.

All I can say is, it is something absolutely, infinitely different from any Hollywood drama you will EVER watch. Or probably any Japanese film you will ever watch. I feel like it’s a lot more deep and profound than some people say it is. It really strikes a chord with a certain part of me, emotionally and intellectually. I can see how some people may completely dislike it… it’s one of those films that’s either a hit or miss.

It’s slow, plot seems unrealistic, nonsensical, predictable and shallow, not too much action but can get really gory and some scenes are just messy (like, you’re not sure why it happens). It’s one of those movies where you can easily totally dismiss the message they’re trying to portray (either because it’s too much brain work, it seems superficial or it seems “they’re trying too hard”). It’s also one of those movies where cultural societal values plays a large role in establishing the context for the film a lot. So don’t go into it with a Hollywood mindset. 

I probably won’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t have a penchant for foreign films (particularly Asian films as I feel that the transition from the Western culture to Eastern culture is a HUGE difference and especially hard to relate/grasp unless you’re familiar with it, and having an Asian descent, I can put myself in the cultural context pretty well). Or if they don’t like horror or heavy disturbing drama stuff. 

Anyways, I feel like both films emphasizes the themes of identity, coming-of-age, familial relationships, generational gap and apathy vs. sympathy. I’m not an expert in Japanese culture but from the collection of literature I’ve come across, these themes are common issues that the Japanese society is concerned about.

Moreover, if one puts themselves in the perspective of the heavy societal pressure individuals in Japan are subjected to (the Japanese experience a lot of pressure to conform and society places high expectations in terms of “achievements” whether in the workplace, family or school, and there is also a strong emphasis on suppression of ones thoughts and speech if the situation societally does “approve” of it), one can see why the characters are portrayed the way they are. 

The film portrays an age where the youth are indifferent and void of compassion and willingness to understand/relate to others and their surroundings, completely absorbed by the internet. While the adults desperately attempts (they realize their feeble bonds all too late) and fails to connect and understand their children (and even other adults).

One of the main themes is disconnection. Repeatedly, the characters think they know and understand the other characters around them but they realize that the relationship is actually very weak. Combined with the gory, symbolism, absence of speech and lack of emotional expression (at times), the disturbing feeling of complete alienation from the surrounding characters in the film gradually becomes concrete. 

The youth struggles with identifying themselves. The most famous quote, “are you connected to yourself?”, I interpret as “do you know yourself? Are you yourself?”. What is the relationship you have with yourself? How do you know what that relationship is? How do you know that relationship exists? What happens when you sever that connection and even create a new one? Is it even possible?

After watching both Noriko’s Dinner Table and the Suicide Club, I feel like the two films need to be watched together and viewed as a whole (not individually, the Suicide Club is quite overpowered by the sickening acts of gore). The two films are very different from each other. The Suicide Club really only sets up the idea for Noriko’s Dinner Table (NDT) and provides the “external” perspective on the philosophy whereas NDT really gets into the “internal” perspective.

As well, NDT is a lot more coherently pieced together than the Suicide Club. However, I think NDT drags it too long, I was waiting for the climax for too long and some of the narration was a bit dry. On the other hand, the Suicide Club was 90% horror and tackled a question too hard to wrap up satisfyingly.

I wished for a bit more exploration of characters in the Suicide Club and I wished for a bit more action in NDT. Furthermore, there were a few plot inconsistencies and confusing (seemingly unneccessary) scenes. I think if we mash the two films together into one or interweave it more, it might’ve portrayed the philosophy a lot better. 

I feel that both films are subtle in terms of coaxing emotions (deeper than disgust at the gore) out of the audience. The entire two films, I felt like there was something even more dark underlying the already disturbing emotions on the surface. I couldn’t quite pinpoint the emotion at first until I read a review on imdb (reviewer):

"The film has a completely paranoid feel to it. And leaves you very depressed and hopeless. You can’t help but feel that something about what you’re seeing is dangerously real. That it is close to a true human apocalypse somehow, exposing that there is something entirely defenseless inside us all. If we’re so weak that we need movies to even tell us how to feel, maybe happiness is just an illusion."

Unlike Hollywood films, I feel like the entire effect, the themes, emotions, mood is done a lot less explicitly; there is a certain suppression or masking of everything in the film but there are small tremors of terror that pierces through surface. 

In terms of cinematography, it’s not exactly “artistic”, it feels very gritty and low-budget but it almost contributes to the atmosphere of the film (being a cult horror). However, I feel like the focus of the movie isn’t necessarily the characters or the plot, but the idea and symbolism. 

All in all, it’s mind-blowing and disturbing. In its extreme, unconventional subject, it’s almost a masterpiece and I commend the director taking on such a simple but difficult, big topic; he tackled many ideas all at once that some things were sacrificed along the way. Thus, the film isn’t flawless. 

I just realized, that I actually like the films a lot more after I wrote this review than before. 

Posted janvier 28, 2012
Filed Under: personal - reviews - my movie life -