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Noriko's Dinner Table

One disc; Facets Video/Tidepoint; $24.95

By Steve Palopoli

Director Sion Sono's mysterious Suicide Club earned him comparisons to David Lynch, but he says his favorite contemporary directors are Todd Solondz and Martin Scorsese. With the nearly three-hour Noriko's Dinner Table, that suddenly makes sense. While it has its Lynchian moments as well (especially in the way it finds a sharp contrast between shiny, happy surface reality and the darkness beneath), this follow-up to Suicide Club basically takes the story of one screwed-up family and explodes it to epic proportions. It's not a sequel or a prequel, but more of a side-quel, looking at the original film's strange outbreak of suicides in Japan from a bottom-up rather than a top-down perspective. That means it doesn't feature the same characters, and it doesn't answer many of the questions left at the end of Suicide Club (Sono says he will make a third film that solves those mysteries, but I'll be interested to see his definition of "solve"). Instead, the film begins with the story of Noriko, a teenage girl in a small Japanese town whose biggest dream is unlimited Internet access. She finds a website where she connects with other 16- and 17-year-old girls, which leads her to Tokyo in search of her cyber-BFF, "Ueno Station 54." Her younger sister soon follows, much to the torment of their mild-mannered reporter father, who attempts to find out if they were part of the mass suicide (featured in the first film) and who or what is behind the Suicide Club. Many filmmakers who are writers themselves, as Sono is, like to write about the craft, and this film is all about storytelling: most of the dialogue is narration from different viewpoints; it's divided into chapters; journal entries are laced throughout; and the characters are obsessed with their identities (real and fictional) and with role-playing. There is far less gore and horror than the first film; but Sono's sprawling approach (you really know a movie is going to be long when it features an introduction from the director explaining that it is) is vindicated by his talent for characterizations, themes and symbols. Noriko's Dinner Table's shocks are in its depth, and in the way it captures the anxiety, excitement, melodrama and unleashed power of growing up

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