Noriko's Dinner Table

"Good"

Noriko's Dinner Table Review


In 2002, Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono reacted to his country's high suicide rate with a cult horror classic called Suicide Club. Roughly three years later, Sono introduced this sequel, the second part of his planned trilogy. A 2-hour, 40-minute curiosity, Noriko revolves around the same concept, as Sono trades terror for emotional despair using the same horrifying sequence as a focal point.

That scene is relived about 30 minutes in as teenage Noriko, the girl narrating the film's first chapter, says over a black screen "Then, that happened." That is a mass suicide conducted by 57 uniformed schoolgirls who leap simultaneously onto a Tokyo subway track in the world's 2nd-busiest train station.

Rather than fill the sequel with more acts of blood and death, Sono tells the story of a family peripherally affected by the event. Noriko lives with her parents and younger sister Yuka in Tokoyama (Sono's hometown, by the way), longing to shed her shy exterior in the big city, away from her father's provincial, conservative thinking. Noriko (Kazue Fukiishi) sits quietly at dinner, narrating her father's fears that all young women heading to Tokyo meet city boys and get pregnant.

With a dropped chin and sad eyes, Fukiishi draws us in to Noriko's restrictive world, where her only joy is IMing Tokyo girls on a cryptic website. Desperate to be "connected" to her life and herself -- a common theme in the film -- Noriko runs away to meet her online friends in Tokyo. In a later chapter, her more outgoing sister follows suit.

The central character in each act -- first Noriko, then Yuka, etc. -- narrates her own story, so we get multiple points of view as the film progresses. An effective tension lurks beneath the surface of the first couple chapters since we can't determine the storytellers' locations. Where are they narrating from? Perhaps Noriko and Yuka participated in the subway suicide and are telling their story from the beyond; with a variety of styles and a layered flashback narrative, Sono doesn't let us discount the idea.

Either way, the sisters get involved in a bizarre business, a sort of prostitution for the emotionally stunted. With an experienced online friend nicknamed Ueno54 (Tsugumi), a cadre of young girls act as family members to lonely people lacking their own. Soon, Noriko and Yuka are brainwashed to believe they're not actually blood sisters; then they're paid to act like they are, just to please sad, single men craving company at dinnertime.

In these bizarre set pieces, Sono pulls and pushes at his characters' emotions, and some of it rings false. Noriko and Yuka admired each other enough to enjoy their sisterhood, so their willingness to ignore it appears inconsistent. The film has instances of disaffected girls doing anything to fit into this odd society -- including risking life -- but Sono doesn't show enough of Noriko's transformation in this "club" for us to buy into it.

Once the girls' father (Ken Mitsuishi, Audition) begins searching for them, Noriko Dinner's Table becomes part investigative mystery, part cultist drama, and you can pretty much guess where it's all going. Sion Sono's artistic touch does bring depth to many scenes, but the more emotional sequences are overwrought to the point of melodrama. I know this is commonplace in many Asian films, but it's tougher to swallow when a lack of character development gets us there.

Aka Noriko no shokutaku.



Noriko's Dinner Table

Facts and Figures

Run time: 159 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 23rd September 2006

Distributed by: Tidepoint Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 67%
Fresh: 8 Rotten: 4

IMDB: 7.3 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Sion Sono

Producer: Takeshi Suzuki

Starring: Kazue Fukiishi as Noriko Shimabara, Tsugumi as Kumiko - Ueno Station 54, Yuriko Yoshitaka as Yuka Shimabara - Yôko, Shirô Namiki as Ikeda - Tetsuzô's Friend, Sanae Miyata as Taeko Shimabara, Yoko Mitsuya as Tangerine, Tamae Ando as Broken Dam, Naoko Watanabe as Cripple #5, Chihiro Abe as Long Neck, Hanako Onuki as Midnight, Kazumasa Taguchi as Kumiko's 'Father', Takako Kitagawa as Kumiko's 'Mother'

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