Noriko's Dinner Table

English Title: Noriko's Dinner Table

Original Title: Noriko no shokutaku

Country of Origin: Japan

Studio: Mother Ark Co.

Director: Sion Sono

Producer(s): Takeshi Suzuki

Screenplay: Sion Sono

Cinematographer: Sohei Tanikawa

Art Director: Toru Fujita

Editor: Junichi Ito

Runtime: 159 min. minutes

Genre: Cult film

Starring/Cast: Yoriko Yoshitaka, Ken Mistuishi, Kazue Fukiishi, Tsugumi .

Year: 2005

Volume: Japanese

Synopsis:

Seventeen-year-old Noriko, who with her frumpy clothes, thick-rimmed glasses, a slouch, seems like someone who would rather spend time with her computer than with her classmates, runs away from her suburban home in the Aichi prefecture in the hope of finding the administrator-guru of haikyo.com, a BBS for angst-ridden teenage girls. In Tokyo, Noriko, who now goes by her screen-name of Mitsuko, meets her web-pal Ueno54, who goes by her presumably real name, Kumiko. She manages The Family Circle, a bizarre gang of ‘actors’ who rent themselves out to men whose wives and children have left them, grandmothers whose offspring do not properly appreciate them, and psychotics who want the ultimate revenge on their cheating girlfriends. Soon, after Noriko joins the troupe, 54 members act out their assigned roles by jumping in front of a speeding train from a platform in Shinjuku Station. After Noriko’s sister Yuka follows her to Tokyo, Noriko’s father, a journalist for a local publication, afraid that his daughters might be part of a suicide craze, tracks the girls to the big city and contrives to hire them. The finale, a kind of Grand Guignol family therapy session, involves very big butcher knives...and lots of blood and tears.


Critique:
Noriko’s Dinner Table was poet-provocateur Sion Sono’s follow-up to his Dionysian stream-of-content shocker-cum-cop-drama-cum-JPop-musical Suicide Club (2002), and it was awarded the Don Quijote Prize at the 2005 Karlovy Vary Film Festival. For anyone who has seen the earlier film, the spectre of the events narrated in Suicide Club hang over Noriko’s Dinner TableNoriko’s Dinner Table, though less formally radical than Suicide Club, is still decidedly non-linear, recursive, and digressive, structured as five segments, each with a focal character, each of whom contributes an idiosyncratic voiceover. But Noriko’s Dinner Table is also more nuanced, more aesthetically assured, and lighter than its antecedent - even in its grisly, blood-soaked climax. like an ominous cloud, the storyline is only tangentially related to its precursor.

 

Thematically, Sono’s film feels more akin to his Strange Circus and Yume no naka e, both of which, like Noriko’s Dinner Table, premiered in 2005. While Suicide Club concerns itself with the broad philosophical problems of ‘the nature of being’ in a world full of others, the trio of films from 2005 is focused on more specific questions about the relation of that ‘being’ to literature (Strange Circus) or to acting (Yume no naka e, Noriko’s Dinner Table). In Noriko’s Dinner Table, for example, Kumiko collects keepsakes in the Ueno station left luggage locker in which she claims to have been abandoned as a newborn, an allusion, perhaps, to Ryu Murakami's brilliant and Sono-esque 1995 novel Coin Locker Babies. But her souvenirs are phony, and the alternatively poignant and cutesy stories that she invents for them seem contrived to mimic the most manipulative moments of mainstream cinema. She, like her charges in The Family Circle, creates a ‘role’ for herself and then plays it. She becomes, as she tells Noriko/Mitsuko “the person I always wanted to be”, the star of her own self-scripted J-Drama.

 

The production of the project echoed the volatility and precariousness of Noriko's journey. Sono and Tanikawa shot the logistically complex feature with mini-DV cameras and a tiny crew, on a micro-budget, in only two weeks. The resulting film, nonetheless, feels more tonally unified than Suicide Club. Surely one of the wonders of the filmmaking here is that Sono and his team were able to combine the vapidity of the high school girl’s diary and the excess of the gore-fest into such a perfectly modulated lyrical poem.

Author of this review: Robert W. Davis