Review: The Suicide Song

By kevin on July 07, 2008 at 12:31am EDT

The Suicide Song Japanese movie poster

We could be buried in Yasukuni.

Um, what’s Yasukuni? A supermarket?

The Suicide Song, written by One Missed Call author Yasushi Akimoto and directed by Masato Harada, is a movie that doesn’t just belie expectations; it completely tosses them out the window.  One need look no further than the theatrical trailer to see how this was marketed as a straight-forward horror flick about a cursed song that forces people to commit suicide, but in reality it’s more of a social satire and vehicle for Jpop unit AKB48 that happens to have a horror sub-plot tying it all together. Ultimately this movie is far, far more likely to introduce people to Jpop than it is to appease horror fans. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is up to you. Personally I had no problem with it, other than the fact that they killed off my favorite member 6 minutes in.

A little background info: although extremely popular today, AKB48 began as sort of the scrappy underdog of the commercially-created Jpop units. They were assembled in 2005 and have their own theater in Akihabara where they perform nightly (hence the name: Akihabara, 48 members). Because this location is dead smack in the middle of dweeb central they have a lot of male otaku fans and charge guys a lot more money for tickets than women or children. They’re split up into 3 teams: A, K, and B that usually consist of 16 members each, depending on graduations, dismissals, etc. Because they didn’t exactly have the financial backing of established acts like Morning Musume at the time, you’d often see their members appearing in limited release indie movies or quirky late-night TV shows to get their media exposure. So if it seems odd that a group of girls from such an image-conscious industry would appear in a movie with such a seemingly controversial tone, now you know why.

The story begins in a girls’ high school. After a brief outburst in which Kana (Atsuko Maeda, team A) questions her English teacher for prattling on about pointless things and then skipping the works of Chikamatsu,  Kana’s friend Anzu (Yuko Oshima, team K) thinks she hears something in an empty classroom. It’s Kana singing a strange song. Suddenly she pulls out a long knife and stabs herself in the throat right in front of Anzu’s eyes.

When Riku Nagase (Ryuhei Matsuda), who works for the sleazy second-rate tabloid called “Monthly Masaca” hears about this mysterious song that can cause people to commit suicide he decides to investigate.  Of course he goes to one of AKB48’s shows and we get to witness a rousing rendition of Aitakatta—which gives a whole new meaning to the film’s literally translated title, “infectious song” (note: although the girls appear as AKB48, their actual characters are fictional). Following the show and an oddly out-of-place paintball war, Riku consults his twitchy mentor Taichi (Yusuke Iseya) and the two approach the Kana’s friends to tactlessly probe for info. Most of the girls are creeped out by them and leave, but a childhood friend of Kana named Shuri (Sayaka Akimoto, team K) decides to see if they can possibly help her figure things out. Eventually their investigation leads them to the apartment of Kana’s boyfriend where they find him dead and meet up with the rest of the girls in one of the more slickly-edited scenes of the movie. This is one of two instances where we see a scene from one perspective and then get a rewind and immediately see the same scene over again from a different perspective. It sounds annoying but it’s actually a pretty effective narrative tool.

Later Taichi convinces the girls that they should all just sing the song with him to prove that it has no power over them, but in truth it seems like he’s just kind of a psycho and wants to see what will happen even if it kills him. For some reason they agree to it and sure enough, after a karaoke session they start to off themselves. Riku takes it upon himself to protect the remaining girls and make sure they all prevent each other from committing suicide at all costs. Meanwhile the song is still spreading, even to his own coworkers who discover some new information about its origin. Just when it seems like the end is nigh for all of them Anzu remembers something from her childhood that sheds new light on how the curse started, as well as the true meaning of the song. I won’t spoil it, but I will say it’s so improbable and flat-out weird that I’m still not 100% convinced it wasn’t a joke.

Sure, that all sounds par for the course for a typical J-horror flick, but believe me it’s not. There are so many superfluous scenes of bizarre dialogue crammed into the 2+ hour running time that it’s hard to even describe beyond the basic plot points. Yusuke Iseya plays Taichi in such an over-the-top way that he seems like a manga character on amphetamines. In fact, aside from the main AKB48 girls everyone in the movie from teachers to cops to Riku and his coworkers seem kind of insane and not particularly protective of their own lives before they even sing the suicide song. In a way I think this tongue-in-cheek approach was just a round-about way to comment on the absurdity of suicide and how sometimes the line between being perfectly happy and wanting to off yourself for the smallest reason can be unreasonably thin. Over 30,000 people kill themselves in Japan every year, and far too often the problems that drive them to it are solvable.

Given the fact that this movie has been, and will probably continue to be marketed to horror fans it seems important to point out that it’s completely devoid of any scares whatsoever. There are three or four scenes that are probably supposed to be scary but they all end up being dreams or fake-outs for comic relief. But hey, who wants to be scared by a movie when they could be humming catchy little ditties like Aitakatta and Boku no Hana instead?

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