[I’ve been sitting on this review for ten months waiting for myself to finish my review of Sono’s Cold Fish. Then I realized…I haven’t been posting two new reviews on the same day regularly for, what, five months now? Duh.)
Noriko no Shokutaku (Noriko’s Dinner Table) (Shion Sono, 2005)
Shion Sono casts another jaundiced eye over moe culture (for those unfamiliar, think “highly-specialized teen subculture, specifically appealing to girls, that emphasizes cuteness/adorableness) in this loose prequel to Suicide Club, but in Noriko’s Dinner Table, rather than looking at an entire subculture, Sono gets uncomfortably personal with his tale of the annihilation of identity.
Plot: Noriko (One Missed Call‘s Kazue Fukiishi), a disenchanted high school student, becomes obsessed with the Internet message board that the suicide club used in the original film, and befriends Ueno Station 54 (Screwed‘s Tsugumi), its mysterious operator. Soon, she runs away from home, meeting Ueno Staion 54—whose real name is (or is not) Kumiko—in the flesh. Kumiko believes that identity is fluid—that you can be, in essence, anyone you want to be—and she re-christens Noriko as Mitsuko. The two of them go off on a series of absurd adventures, portraying others at will, and life is fine until Noriko’s younger sister Yuka (Snakes and Earrings‘ Yukito Yoshitaka in her screen debut) follows her, falls under Kumiko’s influence, and is similarly rechristened Yoko. Their father Tetsuzo (Audition‘s Ken Mitsuishi), a disgraced journalist, goes looking for the girls, and discovers Kumiko and the business she operates with Mitsuko and Yoko, and decides to try and get them back, no matter what the cost.
I haven’t seen anything close to Sono’s complete output (IMDB lists thirty-five titles as I write this in January 2013), but of the Sono films I’ve seen, this was my favorite; it is the best-paced of the bunch, with the most intriguing storyline, and it’s the only one where Sono’s trademark absurdity felt like it was reined in in service to the story, rather than overwhelming it. Not to say it’s a perfect movie—it’s still probably half an hour longer than it needs to be, with a couple of subplots that weren’t really necessary and a bit too much repetition as Kumiko and Mitsuko set up their business—but it’s all exceptionally well-shot and well-acted, and it’s a treat to watch as long as you can handle the outrageous amounts of gore that pop up in a few scenes. This is Sono at his best, wicked and witty at the same time. *** ½