The Suicide Manual – Review
by Miguel Douglas on April 29, 2010
After the group suicide of four people, journalists Yuu and Rie investigate the reasons behind an endless cycle of suicides, blamed on an infamous Suicide Manual, hidden in a tag-less DVD disk. Said manual is shot in an infomercial fashion, with examples of the best methods to kill yourself and demonstrations by real people. When investigating further, Yuu and Rie find out that in Buddhist beliefs, when a person kills himself, he or she is sent to a certain hell, from which they induce other people to commit suicide. But is this what is really happening?
Deriving inspiration from the 1993 book entitled The Complete Manual of Suicide —which has sold well over 1 million copies in Japan—director Osamu Fukutani’s The Suicide Manual raises questions and concerns regarding the act of suicide. In the book, author Wataru Tsurumi outlined and explained the various devious ways in which one could commit suicide, going as far as rating the effects of a particular suicide amongst others. While the film doesn’t elaborate to that degree, it does provide a great examination into the exploitation and marketing of suicide as a viable product, particularly within Japanese society. Similar to Tsurumi’s book, the profitable nature of suicide is presented both as a satire of contemporary Japanese society and as a look into the trendy nature in which suicide is performed and even encouraged for the sake of entertainment purposes.
It’s important to highlight the book not only as providing inspiration for the film, but also its relation towards the ever-increasing suicide rate within Japan. With this in mind, the film takes critical steps in updating the concept of a suicide manual by adding in elements that in turn modernize it for a digital age. The usage of technological means in which suicide is suggested is considerably highlighted within the film—most amply featured in the form of a DVD—but also that of Internet message boards and websites. Considering that the majority of such internet-related suicide pacts have been performed within Japan, the advent of social networking technology has opened a dangerously new door towards viewing suicide not solely as a singular experience, but rather that of a communal one. The film expounds upon this concept by showcasing how meet up groups are created on the Internet to seek out likewise individuals—individuals who want to commit suicide collectively rather than alone. The film diligently showcases that these events do occur, and with relative ease considering the technological means to do so.
It’s also important to note that the Japanese don’t necessarily view suicide the same way many Westerners do. While Westerners usually respond to suicide as a cowardly action, many Eastern traditions view it as a self-sacrificial and honorable way to die. Considering this aspect, and with the rising increase of suicides within Japan due to the current economic crisis, the film resonates even more so than it did upon its release. Quite dissimilar to the book itself, the film portrays suicide as something more akin to the Western view stated earlier. And while showcasing such real-world situations in the beginning lends the film a realistic tone, its latter half surprisingly offers a more personal statement regarding the individual and suicide. Here we begin to view the film as more of a personal journey of redemption and atonement, a sharp departure from the film’s earlier presentation of suicide and its profitable nature when viewed as entertainment. While the film does attempt to bring about a different perspective on suicide during this portion of the film, to abandon such an important statement on the profiteering of suicide seen in the first half presents a surprisingly odd juxtaposition. While the film does build up suspense throughout the course of its running time, the film’s first half easily outclasses the remainder of the film in terms of bringing forth new and interesting concepts rarely addressed in other films—especially that of Japanese ones.
Themes aside, The Suicide Manual was a direct-to-video release, more popularly known as belonging to the Japanese V-Cinema category. Considering its rather miniscule budget, the special effects and acting seem a little inadequate at times, which might discourage some viewer’s from appreciating the entirety of what the film has to offer. With this in mind, the film’s production values are not as abundant as one would hope, but the film fully allows it story to be at the forefront rather than relying on technical elements to make up for a lack of story. This was refreshing to see because we often times see the horror genre relying entirely too much on technical attributes purely for sensationalist purposes.
Overall, its important to appreciate what The Suicide Manual has to offer in terms of investigating the technological ramifications and popularization of suicide. While the film does somewhat fall short in its latter half, it still retains an interesting story that addresses topics not often extensively explored within Japanese cinema. While it’s true that other films have dealt with the topic of suicide, The Suicide Manual explores these notions in such a way that doesn’t downplay the significant nature of suicide. Considering the rather low budget feel that the film gives off, the story is still exceptionally well done, even if it does contain certain elements viewed—and done better—in other horror films. Like the book in which it gained its inspiration from, The Suicide Manual is a little to contrived for its own good, but is still a film that courageously explores our concepts of suicide and its contextual bearings within a modern, and more specifically, Japanese society.