Friday, October 15, 2010

The Red Eye Report's 2010 October Horrorthon #15: "Noriko's Dinner Table"

Noriko Shimabara (Kazue Fukiishi) is like any other 17-year-old girl. She's pressured to do well in school, isn't that popular, and feels distant from her own family. So what does Noriko do instead of seeking help from a professional counselor? Why, she tags along with an Internet cult, of course. After visiting a site frequented by lonely teens like herself, Noriko is taken under the wing of its creator, Kumiko (Tsugumi). If convincing over 50 schoolgirls to leap to their deaths off of a subway platform wasn't enough, Kumiko introduces Noriko to her specialty business, which provides clients the luxury of surrogate family members on demand. Noriko's sister Yuka (Yuriko Yoshitaka) soon follows suit, but with his family crumbling before him, their father (Ken Mitsuishi) sets out to reclaim his flesh and blood, no matter the cost to what's left of his life and limb.

To be clear, Noriko's Dinner Table isn't a horror film, strictly speaking. Writer/director Sion Sono meant it as a companion piece to his cult favorite Suicide Club, with a number of its events woven throughout this one. It'd probably help if I'd seen Suicide Club before, but give or take a few moments that stand out, I was never all that lost. Noriko's Dinner Table is its own beast, addressing the troubled teen angle not from Suicide Club's sensational perspective but with a somber, low-key touch. Images here are meant to shock but on a different level, by way of Sono challenging viewers with concepts we usually take for granted. Does just being around make you a good parent? How well do you really know your children? What is it like to perform all the functions of a family unit without any of the commitment? Sono has a firm grasp of what he wants to get across and does so without allowing his ideas to fall prey to exploitation.

So with this good of a premise and mature of a philosophy, why do I hate Noriko's Dinner Table with the intensity of a million exploding Kryptons? Well, as much as I hate disliking a film based on one factor alone, it's a real doozy in this case: plain and simple, the characters do not shut up. I'm not talking about a little extra dialogue here or some unnecessary narration there. If Kumiko has suspicions about a customer, she talks about it. If Yuka is writing a story, she details what she's writing while she writes it. If Mr. Shimabara is plotting to get his daughter back, he takes us through every step of doing so. There's rarely one moment on God's green earth in which we the viewers are allowed to study body language, listen to dialogue, and -- GASP -- form our own damn interpretations of what's going on! True, you could see it as an abstract way of commenting on how teens like Noriko constantly confess their turmoils, but it's taken to such an extreme (an agonizing, repetitive, 159-minute extreme) that no matter the intelligence Sono began with, his results feel as emotionally resonant as a Justin Bieber groupie's LiveJournal.

You really have no idea what a chore it was to sit through Noriko's Dinner Table. Decorum dictates that I give it merit for introduction the concepts it does and, in the scant moments where Sono isn't yanking you around by a thematic choke chain, enabling them to come through to a fascinating effect. But the fact that so many characters run so rampant with their internal monologues so often is what makes Noriko's Dinner Table less a slice of social commentary and more a battle not to end up wearing your flatscreen as a wristwatch.

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