June 30, 2009

Noriko's Dinner Table

It may seem like Sion Sono’s quiet, meditative family drama Noriko’s Dinner Table is restrained; compared to Suicide Club’s flashy, messy, head-on approach in particular. But Noriko’s, billed as the “prequel” to Club, is actually utterly self-indulgent. Take a look at the 159-minute runtime, for instance, or the way in which Sono completely basks in his own pet concept—the suicide club website and cult—like a grad student writing his thesis on it. It seems he, probably due at least in part to the success of Club, had full creative reign with no one forcing him to cut or reshuffle anything. Naturally, this is both good and bad.

The only thing linking this film to its notorious J-horror predecessor is the mythos of the “club” itself—so let’s get it out of the way right now. The website (red dots for female suicide victims, white for males) and the schoolgirl train-splatter incident are both further explored, but none of the previous characters return (that I can recall, but it has been awhile since I saw Club). Luckily, that includes the deranged glam-rock dude from the bowling alley, who is nowhere to be seen.

Instead our protagonists are the titular Noriko, a withdrawn and repressed high school student who longs to attend college in Tokyo, and her father, mother, and sister Yuka. They lead a seemingly peaceful, carefree existence in a small seaside village that most of us would envy. However, her father’s disapproval of her big-city plans soon leads Noriko to seek refuge online—you can guess which website—with other girls her age. Before long, she packs up and runs away, planning to stay with the leader of the bunch, known by the online handle “Ueno Station 54” (played by the awfully charismatic Tsugumi).

From here, the narrative jumps between Noriko’s perspective, her sister Yuka’s, and then her father’s. Noriko and her sister become actors for a hire-a-family business (like prostitutes without the sex, lonely clients hire them to act out vital roles missing from their lives), and their father tries to track them down and prove he’s capable of understanding them—an ever-elusive goal for the parents of teenage daughters, I’m sure.

More often than not, the film hits all the right marks tonally. The inner monologues of the characters are pretentious at times, but usually touching and poignant. The mise-en-scene is fantastic, with each of the three perspectives strewn together seamlessly. This allows their stories to make up a fluid whole, instead of a fractured puzzle. It only loses steam a bit during the final act, which is the only portion of the film that could have benefitted from some tighter editing. There’s a lot of crying, confessions, and confrontation—yet the emotional payoff seems to be lacking. Still, it’s completely fitting that—like the baffling behaviour of some of its protagonists—Noriko’s Dinner Table offers no easy solutions.


  1. Interesting take. Yet I'm not seeing any mention of 'near masterpiece'... But yeah, the hotel room and kitchen recreation scenes could have been fitter and have had 60% less yelling & weeping.

    At one point the sister and father seemed resigned to simply find her, having sort of come to grips with her leaving and maybe just needing to hear it from her own mouth, but the emotions poured out upon finding her; for such a sheltered family, I gave Sono a pass and actually applaud the methods they both used to cope. Well within the realm of possibility.

    Where will/might he go for the trilogy...

  2. I see what you mean. I really was with it 100% until near the end. It just veered off the rails a bit for me, but even then it was still a very thoughtful, worthwhile film. Is there really going to be another suicide installment? I remember hearing about "Suicide Manual" and always thought it was by him. But I googled it the other day when writing this, and I guess it's just a rip-off...

    You should check out All About Lily Chou-Chou since you liked this. They have a lot of similarities.

  3. I actually saw 'Chou-Chou' a while ago and thought it was just o.k. It felt a tad too esoteric to me. Amazing looking though.

  4. Oh, I recall reading an interview in Asian Cult Cinema Magazine (I may have the issue still if I look: asiancult.com, Issue #59) about his intentions to complete a trilogy, yet there was never a concrete vision...even for Noriko's! I should find that.

  5. One of my all time favorite films. I don't mind the overly dramatic or expository parts. Sono creates such a virtual world that everything seems to eventually come out in the wash. I especially love the scene where Tsugumi lies nonchalantly next to her friend who's being stabbed to death. I've never seen anything like that.

    I'm with Shaun re: LilyCC, nice looking but it didn't engage me.

    Might I recommend the film Shunji Iwai 'acts' in: Ritual (Shiki-Jitsu). Not without its many faults but it's an impressive film to look at.

    Have you seen "Love Exposure"? I enjoyed it very much.

  6. I have not seen Love Exposure, though I'm very intrigued by what I've read. I don't know if I could handle four hours of it in the theater, but it's one I'll definitely watch at home when possible!