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The Suicide Manual   D

Benten Entertainment

Year Released: 2003 (UK: 2005)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Osamu Fukutani
Writers: Osamu Fukutani, Hiroshi Kanno
Cast: Chisato Morishita, Kenji Mizuhashi, Yuuko Nakamura, Ayaka Maeda, Hideo Sakaki, Nozomi Andô, Kei Horie.

Review by Jim Harper

Like Sogo Ishii's Angel Dust (1994) and Kiyoshi Kurosawa's acclaimed Cure (1997), The Suicide Manual examines the rising tide of violence in Japanese society, specifically the wave of teenage suicides. However, the similarities end there. While the former efforts are singular artistic statements that make few concessions towards filmmaking fashions, The Suicide Manual is a clear attempt to cash in on the success of Wataru Tsurumi's controversial nonfiction book of the same name, as well as Sion Sono's chaotic but memorable festival hit Suicide Club (2002). Tsurumi's book has been blamed for a surge in the suicide rate among teenagers, so there's an "anti-suicide" disclaimer tacked onto the associated film, while the UK distributor of this film coyly changed the title from The Suicide Manual to The Manual, presumably to avoid the same kind of controversy that pushed the book onto the best-seller lists. Perhaps it's unsurprising then that the finished article is toothless in the extreme.

Kenji Mizuhashi plays Yuu, a television cameraman whose life is slowly heading down the drain. He's deep in debt, he hates his job, and his boss (Hideo Sakaki, from Ryuhei Kitamura's Versus) is a tyrannical bully. He has formed a relationship with his charming anchor Rie (popular "race girl" and model Chisato Morishita), but that's about the only thing going for him at the moment. When his boss hands him an assignment about the recent spate of group suicides, Yuu is understandably wary; it's something that has crossed his own mind recently. Rie encourages him to take the task, and they head off to snoop around one of the crime scenes. They meet a teenage girl there, who tells them that these groups are formed on Internet message boards. Once you've been established as a serious suicide candidate, you're contacted by "Rikki," who then sends you a DVD that helpfully describes the various ways of ending your life. Yuu and Rie are able to convince the girl to give them her copy, but their contact kills herself soon afterwards. The pair sets out to track down the mysterious Rikki and determine exactly what role she plays in the mounting number of young suicides.

From the outset it's clear we're not moving into particularly original territory. Suicide Club and Masayuki Ochiai's Hypnosis (1999) both featured a shadowy figure or group orchestrating suicides, while the unmarked DVD is just one of several hangovers from Hideo Nakata's Ringu (1998). The cast has been carefully assembled to appeal to fans of the new wave of Japanese horror. Kenji Mizuhashi is the first victim in Kurosawa's excellent Pulse (2001), while lesser parts are played by Kei Horie (director of Shibuya kaidan and one of Takashi Shimizu's many Ju-On victims), Nozomi Andô (star of the fifth Tomie film), and Chieko Misaka (the enigmatic female lead from Versus).

Even with the lack of originality, The Suicide Manual could have been an entertaining effort, were it not quite so dull and lifeless. Despite a fairly brief running time (86 minutes), there isn't enough material here, so the film is padded with scenes from the "suicide manual" DVD itself. Entirely free of gore or shock value, these interludes quickly become very tiresome indeed, as do the plot tangents that lead absolutely nowhere. Frustratingly, the ending provides no resolution to the mystery, just a feeble connection to the sequel. Needless to say, there's no real attempt to explore the reasons behind the suicides (most of them are simply put down to bullying) or to actually deal with the issue. Although he received good reviews for his performance in Sasayaki (1999), Mizuhashi does not fare so well here. He mopes through the part, providing little reason to care about the character and ultimately alienating the viewer. The rest of the cast is solid, but they're fighting a losing battle. The viewing is not helped by the film's look: shot on digital video with poor lighting, all the interior shots are murky and tinged with yellow.

Whether it's a noble ambition or not is another thing, but The Suicide Manual fails to successfully exploit its sensationalist subject matter. Hypnosis and Suicide Club both presented a series of increasingly gruesome deaths that at the very least helped distract attention from the shortcomings of the plot, but The Suicide Manual has no such convenient cover. With the main focus of the film -- the suicides themselves -- stripped of its power to shock and titillate even on a base level, there's really very little reason to bother with this.

Review published 01.12.2006.

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