The Suicide Manual Review
I’m going to refer the reader to my review of The Suicide Manual: Intermediate Level, where I briefly address the social issues of suicide within Japan and the history of the films. See, I’m not going to do that this time. It’s a little strange seeing the first film after reviewing the second one, in fact I wish I’d seen this sooner - I probably would have reviewed both together. Certainly they share the same thematic elements, but they’re entirely different films for many reasons; I can now say that the follow up to The Suicide Manual is infinitely better than its predecessor. A say follow up because it isn’t strictly a sequel to the film currently in review, but a companion piece that shares common ground but explores an entirely separate narrative. So let’s look at Osamu Fukutani’s original, taboo-y flick.
Yuu (Kenji Mizuhashi) is a director for a local TV station who has been asked by his boss Mr. Yashiro (Hideo Sakaki) to cover the recent spate of teen suicides. Rie (Chisato Morishita) is Yuu’s secret girlfriend and an assistant director at the station. When she and Yuu go to check out the abandoned apartment in which a recent group of internet users perished, they run into a young and troubled girl named Nanami (Ayaka Maeda), who they learn also suffers from suicidal tendencies. She informs the pair of a woman named Rickie (Yuuko Nakamura) - a hidden instigator who is highly respected by those who frequent her suicide board. Rickie has also created a DVD entitled “The Suicide Manual”, which she sends only to those who are serious about ending their own life and need to discover effecting methods of carrying out the task. Yuu borrows the DVD from Nanami and is thrust deeper into his investigation, and as he seeks answers he’s drawn into the world of the spiritual. But his boss is getting angrier with him for not coming up with the real goods, and after lambasting him for the last time Yuu becomes increasingly despondent and weaker. Trapped in his own investigation and harbouring a deep secret he finds himself on the cusp of death, with no one to turn to but Rei.
What makes The Suicide Manual and its sequel so similar to one another is that they try in vain to find reasoning behind one’s decision to take their own life. This first film attempts to do so by making the subject the prime goal of a documentary team, while the follow up was far more focused on driving the narrative toward character interaction, producing a subtle social commentary, with far greater sincerity. As we see in both cases neither film truly gets to the heart of the matter though, they never could, but they present realistic likelihoods, such as bullying and peer pressure. The differences are that The Suicide Manual is woefully misguided and becomes too convoluted for its own good, throwing away early signs of promise in favour of employing a series of ironic and dire twists; a victim of its own cleverness, it ends up forgetting the importance of crafting a solid storyline, which ensures it progressively gets dumber by the minute - kinda like Superman 4: Good thirty minutes and then, whoosh, complete drivel (except for that good scene between Kidder and Reeve in his apartment).
The only thing of worth that we actually gain is that it does raise these painfully relevant issues to begin with and morbidly touches on the media sensationalism that stems from suicide cases: the victim never being as important as the story. This gives the film a strong edge early on and it works the angle quite effectively when the two leads go around town trying to record people’s opinions and concerns on the matter. Once that’s out of the way The Suicide Manual tosses aside much of what it’s worked toward by introducing an absolutely ludicrous turn of events when Yuu becomes a victim of bullying at the feet of his boss Yashiro. See what they did there? It’s so poorly staged and out of the blue that it reeks of a screenwriter struggling to draw parallels between the reality of the situation and the drive of the story’s central characters, when it really doesn’t need to. From this point onward everything becomes desperate in equal measure, and more about characters that we’re not particularly supposed to be interested in. We’re suddenly meant to buy into the fact that Yuu has been secretly suicidal since he was in his early teens, and yet it all feels so convenient, while we’re expected to indulge in the further tirades that blossom during the final act. Soon enough the film gets back to basics and then concentrates on the websites that are exclusively set up in order to entice manic depressives, eventually following how these groups get together, only when they do eventually meet half of them have no clear idea of why they want to die - one girl says “I have no reason.” There is no point in trying to make sense of something by supplying nonsensical statements such as this, unless the intent is to make the situation all the more frustrating, tenfold. When Yuu is caught up in the whole messy situation things get sillier as other suicidal characters begin to go after him and attempt to kill him for being outspoken, despite the fact he was caring toward them; but after a sudden shock he ends up discovering two of them dead, high up in a tree, covered in blood. Don’t worry, there’s plenty more plot holes to discover along the way.
Suicide Manual: Intermediate Level did go on to expand the mystery DVD side story, only really offering alternative methods of killing oneself. This was something that I initially had little problem with, while it illustrated various pros and cons and above all was meant to shock and deter. The first film does much of the same, but still I have to wonder if there’s some form of communication breakdown here. For a film that stresses in the pre-opening credits that its intent is to prevent suicide and not encourage it it’s awfully detailed in demonstrating how to perform various acts with a 100% success rate. But this pointer’s guide also becomes increasingly bizarre when it starts to introduce custom made suicide contraptions that make so little sense in the real world, baring no real purpose other than to deliver naff extremities. They also look as if they just came off the set of SAW. The DVD in question is the actual “Suicide Manual” - a handyman’s guide, but it surprisingly has little impact on the overall structure of the film and comes across as being mere padding with no major investment. Although few of the suicide methods lack impact, including the tip “Getting lost in the woods”, Fukutani does know how to deliver set pieces. He doesn’t get many opportunities to do so, but he can create an effective atmosphere, which sure enough make some of these scenes unsettling, not only from the DVD standpoint, but also in the real life excursions such as a traumatic shift involving Nanami later on.
But things do get worse when the film tosses in a spiritual curveball, as if it wasn’t already having a hard enough time clutching at straws. Sure enough all credibility is thrown out of the window. This forced angle sees our leads visit a spiritual healer of sorts, who informs them of “Suicide Spirits”. Thus the rambling ensues and things begin to make even less sense. You see, it could just be that the souls of poorly treated individuals come back to haunt their tormentors, forcing them into suicide as an act of revenge; a never-ending cycle. It becomes so condescending that it’s impossible to take anything seriously any more. However, credit when credit’s due, the religious nature of this underlying possession nonsense does at least reach a moot point where all is concerned. It brings into play the futility of suicide by pointing out that those who take their own life are destined for a worse fate within the layers of hell, and that’s a widely regarded sin no matter what faith you belong to. But again, that’s all the film ever seems to do - touch upon things and speculate; it throws out far too many ideas and loses focus of its own objective. This and its follow up are both strange oddities, ones that have considerable merit and attest to a higher purpose. In the case of this first Suicide Manual it feels torn between providing a public service announcement and offering a genuinely intelligent, neigh, frightfully psychological experience.
At this point I’m wondering why I’ve written so much about the film. Well you know what? I’m going to stop, because I can. So I’ll be quick. The acting is quite decent, Ryuhei Kitamura fans will be happy to see Hideo Sakaki, or maybe not ‘cause he doesn’t do much; Chisato Morishita is cute and Kenji Mizuhashi, the most prolific actor on set has some really nice moments to shine. The directing is all over the place, in case you didn’t get that impression already and the music is annoyingly hum-able and doesn’t always deliver, except for the end song by HIROKO, which is quite beautiful in a depressing sort of way.
The Suicide Manual is part of Terra’s “Red” label; a re-release of the previous Hardgore/Screen Entertainment disc, which originally went under the banner of “The Manual”.
Despite the fact that this is another standards conversion, presented in a non-anamorphic ratio of 1.85:1 The Suicide Manual is one of Terra’s better looking discs. Shot in digital it naturally retains a sterile and clean look, with very little in the way of manipulation. Detail is pleasing for both close and wide shots and the colour palette is very natural looking, with good contrast and deep black levels, only being let down at times by under-lit scenes, which I can't blame the actual transfer for. Sadly there’s some high frequency halos (I don’t think it’s edge enhancement, but more a by-product of the source) and a spot of patchy compression artefacts on darker scenes, along with some infrequent aliasing. For the record I view these films on a 32 inch HD TV, and while some standard conversion transfers are quite painful to watch this one isn't too problematic, though by no means am I trying to justify this method of authoring.
Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 is the only track on offer. I really have no complaints here. The score is just about the main selling point, coming across quite dynamically, while the less demanding dialogue remains clear throughout. There are no distortions, which makes it a rather pleasant audible experience.
Optional English subtitles are included and as per usual with Terra releases they offer solid translations, with good timing and no errors.
Unsurprisingly light, we have a UK trailer, the original Japanese trailer and a behind-the-scenes montage, backed by Masatoshi Nishimura’s hypnotic main theme. Running for little over five minutes it shows brief glimpses of various scenes as the film goes from location to location. Not a great deal to take in; there are no interviews or dialogue.
The Suicide Manual is a poor film, with some good bits. It wastes its chances within forty minutes and then mutates into a stunningly bad exercise built up of confused metaphors and woefully inept scripting. It simply is all over the place; the ideas are there, the execution is poor. The Suicide Manual: Intermediate Level ended up kicking it multiple times in the face while it was down and proved to be an intelligent follow up. It’s a shame because I guess it means well. So if you want my advice go and rent or purchase that film instead and if you are still curious about this one then wait for it to go into the bargain bin or pay another visit to the rental store.