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Noriko’s Dinner Table

Posted by martinteller on October 5, 2012

Noriko (Kazue Fukiishi) is a 17-year-old girl, feeling misunderstood, restless and isolated.  She spends much of her time on an internet messageboard, feeling a connection to other like-minded girls around the world.  She runs away from home and heads to Tokyo, to meet the forum’s moderator Kumiko (Tsugumi).  Her younger sister Yuka (Yuriko Yoshitaka) soon figures out where she’s gone and follows suit.  Noriko and Yuka are swept into Kumiko’s business, a service that provides actors to pretend to be the customer’s family.  They’ve taken on new identities, making it difficult for their father (Ken Mitsuishi) to find them.  But eventually he starts picking up the clues, and discovering a connection between Kumiko’s website and an incident involving 54 girls simultaneously leaping onto the train tracks.

This is Sion Sono’s sequel to Suicide Club.  Or is it a prequel?  It’s more of a companion piece, and one with a decidedly different tone.  It’s closer in spirit to his epic Love Exposure.  Like that film, this explores issues of youth desperately seeking an identity, trying to define their place in the world.  “Are you connected to yourself?” is a question that arises repeatedly, but answering that is tricky when you don’t know who you are, and when you pretend to be someone else.  By the end, personalities have been turned upside down and inside out, and identities have flipped… but there is a glimmer of hope, that in rediscovering and redefining family, in earnestly seeking connections, we can sort out who we are.

The film also has some structural and stylistic similarities to Love Exposure.  It is broken up into five “chapters,” one for each of the major protagonists (although no chapter sticks exclusively to one character) and the climax, which is where the small bit of horror appears in a film that otherwise little resembles Suicide Club.  There’s also the use of shifting viewpoints, as each character gets his or her turn at providing narration and revealing perspective.  It keeps the film — which, although not as long as Love Exposure, is quite lengthy — moving swiftly, switching up the point of view.  There’s also some wonderful use of mixed techniques, utilizing “home movie” style footage and brief flashes of memories.

The actors are superb across the board, and it’s a movie that requires complex performances.  Each character does some form of pretending, and each has a different emotional threshold where the facade starts to break down.  Mitsuishi and Fukiishi I’ve seen in a few other things, the other two are new to me.  I’ll be keeping my eye out for more.  Likewise, I will continue to keep seeking out more Sono (I’ve got a couple others lined up already) who seems more and more to me like a major talent to be reckoned with.  I may even give Suicide Club a second look, although I still feel pretty confident that this is a vastly superior film.  Not quite as dazzling or madcap as Love Exposure, but a really fascinating, inventive, insightful and sometimes moving piece of work.  Rating: Great (90)


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