Sion Sono is a poetic director; his works often mystify, puzzle and bewilder his audiences. One thing no one can deny about this director is that his films are engaging with their uninhibited and visceral themes whether you like them or not. NORIKO’S DINNER TABLE is the long awaited sequel/prequel to Suicide Club (aka. Suicide Circle). I know, most folks are probably dreading a sequel to the cult hit, but Sion Sono delivers, well, not exactly in the way you may expect. “Noriko’s Dinner Table“ is more a companion film to the first film than a solid sequel. Too visceral to be a melodrama, and at the same time too mild to be horror; just what is Sono’s intentions with this film. Maybe to deepen its underlying enigma?
A 17-yr. old teenager named Noriko Shimabara (Kazue Fikiishi) leaves her tiny provincial town and moves to Tokyo to find an internet cult group called Haikyo.com There she meets up with the site’s webmaster; a young pretty woman named Kumiko (Tsugumi) and loses herself in the unusual ways this cult group practices, which includes a very unique approach to prostitution and mass suicide. As Noriko grows closer to her new friends, her sister Yuka (Yuriko Yoshitaka) decides to follow her suit. Now, both sisters must decide if abandoning their old life is worth dying for…
Now, to cut to the chase; is “Noriko’s Dinner Table” a better film than “Suicide Club”? Yes and no. Yes, The film is structured in a way as a melodrama would, slowly uncovering its mystery. The film is slow-paced and quite frankly the film really takes its time that draws on its marginalized-restrictive world. Its sense of purpose may equally alienate some viewers as with its predecessor. The events of the film does bring the idea of an organization on a very personal level and it puzzles more than it entertains. However, it is also inferior on some levels; the film looks very constrained by a limited budget and looks a bit too simple when compared to Sono’s other film “Strange Circus” when it comes to cinematography. The characters are indeed intriguing but it is very difficult to form an attachment to them. They are decently developed but for some reason, their puzzling purpose just didn’t sell the idea to me, except maybe for the father. His goal is pretty straight-forward as they come, he wants to find his daughters. It also does open a plot hole unfortunately, and Noriko's brainwashed state by the 'cult' lacks a some credibility that it may be a little difficult to buy into.
The film has a very different storyline than “Suicide Club”. It’s timeline is parallel but at the same time it also takes place after. The fragmented style of the proceedings are interesting with a narration of different points of view from its lead characters; Noriko, Yuka, Kumiko, and Tetsuzo. These narratives attempt to explain to a degree just what is occurring but also serves to annoy at times that the film loses a lot of its effect and visual “punch”. Sono never does specify as to where and when the narration is coming from. It may be safe to assume that they were part of the mass suicide that occurred in the first film, but this assumption never becomes validated. Seasoned watchers will not have any problems following its sequences and dialogue but those unadulterated to this style will no doubt be lost and (perhaps) be a little bored. In some ways this film may be a little more frustrating than Suicide Club, it doesn’t really offer any explanations or closure but instead reinforces the mystery behind Sion Sono’s first film and opens more questions.
The film is somewhat similar to Sono’s “Strange Circus”. Both films deal with the idea of identity and individualism. Not everything or everyone is as they first seem to be. This film shows us the personal idea of the cult, from Noriko’s goal of discovering her own identity and the denial of some truths. The film gives us the idea that all people are actors in a play, that more or less people either succeed or fail in their roles in life. Another theme it explores is the failure of reaching out to your love ones. “Lions and Sheeps” are expressed as the philosophy behind the cycle of life. Now don’t get the wrong idea that this film focuses more on philosophy and melodrama. The film does represent a lot of shocking ideas and proves quite disturbing to the core. Members of the brainwashed group would fulfill their roles at the cost of their very lives. Noriko was present as an observer when the 54 schoolgirls jumped off the railway as part of her “training”. Kumiko is the most intriguing character since she remains so cold but at the same time, so capable of expressing emotion in a very subtle way. It was a very interesting sight when she allowed an “actress” get stabbed to death for the satisfaction of one reliving a lost opportunity.
In its own way, “Noriko’s Dinner Table” has all the potential to be a better film than “Suicide Circle” but it just doesn‘t realize it. It’s more personal approach to certain themes about family, dependence on technology and its lasting effect on youngsters; the influences of our experiences that make us who we are and failure to communicate. Hidden from all its motifs and darkness is a very effective portrayal of intense human drama. You might say that this sequel (of sorts) is the heart and soul of Suicide Circle since its theme may well be the root of the obsession/influences of pop culture. It is a harder film to comprehend than its predecessor, and despite its faults, it will encourage the viewer to take another look-see.
Don’t expect the film to have the same style as “Suicide Club” or you will be very disappointed, this film is a totally different animal. "Noriko's Dinner Table" was never meant to give explanations to "Suicide Circle's" mystery; the film just enlarges the context of the “cult”, it widens its mythology and reinforces its enigma.