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May 29, 2008

Noriko's Dinner Table

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Noriko no Shokutaku
Sion Sono - 2005
Tidepoint Pictures Region 1 DVD

The genesis for Noriko's Dinner Table was developed from Sion Sono's best known film, Suicide Club. Originally a novel by Sono, the film is literary in structure, beginning with its division into chapters. I have not read the novel, but the film seems like a blend of Ryu Murakami in the examination of the contemporary Japanese family, with Marguerite Duras's shifting of viewpoints and memories that can not always be trusted. The origin of one of the characters could well be a deliberate lift from Murakami's novel, Coin-Locker Babies. In the DVD interview, Sono discusses the influence of John Cassavetes which can be understood in how Sono's film is about dysfunctional families.

Noriko is an unhappy 17 year old high school student, looking for life beyond the small town of Toyokawa, that her father considers paradise. The sense of belonging missing at school or with her family is found online with a small group of girls, moderated by someone with the handle Ueno 54. Noriko runs away from home to seek out Ueno 54 in Tokyo. Under the guidance of Kumiko, the young woman known as Ueno 54, Noriko sheds her former identity, becoming part of a group who rent themselves out to act as family members for the lonely and alienated.

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A constant theme throughout the film is the idea of connection. Characters ask each other if they are connected to themselves. Even if the premise of the film is preposterous, the idea is that of discovering one's true self among the several false identities. The idea of connection is literally manifested by the screen of the Suicide Club, the members indicated by colored dots, a play on the concept of connecting the dots. In pretending to be someone's daughter or grand-daughter, Noriko finds herself feeling more emotionally attached to the strangers she is with for an hour.

There are several scenes of characters having dinner together, the acted dinners in contrast with those of Noriko and her family. The acted family gatherings have the appearance of warmth as well as more conversation than those that Noriko experienced at home. There is also a scene with Kumiko discussing how stray cats create there own families. What Sono is examining is the not unusual situation of people feeling closer to chosen families. Additionally, there is the question of how one defines one's self in relation to other people, and who chooses the roles we play (literally and symbolically) with each other.

More obvious symbolism may be found in the use of the tangerine. The fruit that needs its outer skin to be peeled off is a motif repeated with the characters shedding identities and costumes. This is repeated with one of Noriko's school friends, nicknamed Tangerine, who wears a costume while advertising for a sex club. That some of the symbolism may be a bit heavy handed is still preferable to those filmmakers for whom there is nothing beyond the surface. That Sono is interested in visual representations of his thoughts makes sense in viewing his filmmaking as an extension of his background as a poet. While the narrative of Noriko's Dinner Table is tangentially related to Suicide Film, one does not need to have seen the earlier film. For those looking forward to a heaping helping of J-Horror, Noriko's Dinner Table will defy those expectations. What Sono is more interested in, at least with this film, is the horror of an inauthentic life.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at May 29, 2008 12:06 AM


Best movie ever. We got to watch this in my creative writing class. Unfortunately, only me and one other person in the class seemed to enjoy it.

Posted by: Griffin at June 4, 2009 11:44 PM