Archive for November 3rd, 2012

Suicide Bus (1998)

The sign says “The Sunshine Club Okinawa New Years Tour.” Yet everybody sitting on the bus seems strangely somber. Everybody is accounted for and the bus is about to leave when a young woman joins the group. Her uncle has been committed to an asylum and she will use his ticket. Reluctantly the tour manager lets her join the tour. Eventually we find out that the passengers and tour manager all have a suicide pact to send the bus over a cliff so the families can collect on insurance.

Considering the story is about a serious and touchy topic in suicide which is a big problem in Japan, you would think it would be wrong to make a movie that makes fun about it but that’s what we get here……for the first half of the story that is. It was surprising to see that Office Kitano was behind the movie yet Takeshi Kitano himself has no involvement at all in the production. It’s quite an extraordinary little movie which mixes dark comedy and drama. It was all filmed by debutant director Hiroshi Shimizu. For a new director to tackle a subject that is no laughing matter for the Japanese and to pull it off so well has to be congratulated. The first 60 or so minutes introduces the viewer to the cast of characters and the beautiful scenery of Okinawa. The characters are a diverse bunch from an arrogant businessman to a man who doesn’t know when to stop playing jokes. They are seen to be arguing, playing games and questioning one another. Like any regular bus tour, there are numerous bus stops at tourist locations, toilet stops or to buy snacks. One such stop is at a place which advertises a snake fight between a cobra and a rattlesnake and this is where one of the group eager to meet his maker rolls up his sleeves willing to be bitten by one of the deadly poisonous snakes until the bus tour manager Aragaki smacks him on the head with a clipboard. It’s all funny to watch. Aragaki must prevent any of them from deviating from the plan of them being passengers when the bus off a cliff. All of their deaths must look to be an accident with no farewell letters or premature death otherwise their families will not be paid off. Aragaki’s main problem is with the young woman Mitsuki who has no idea about the suicide pact between the rest of the passengers. She’s a likeable young woman who is popular with the group but she cannot know about the plan. She can’t be ditched either so she has to die with them although this doesn’t go down too well with the group because they feel they’ll be accomplices to a planned murder. So they are told to keep quiet which isn’t easy for them.

As the hour mark passes in the movie, the laughs which were frequent before disappear completely as the group nears their destination and stay in a hotel for their final night together before their deaths the following morning. Tensions mount as Mitsuki does eventually find out what’s going on and the sullen Aragaki has a decision to make. Mitsuki tries her best to tell the group that they should carry on living. This does make some of them ponder whether they are doing the right thing or not. Her attempts to sway their minds is met with anger by Aragaki who makes sure she is knocked out by drugs as the group boards the bus in the morning for the final leg of the journey to their deaths. There’s a surprising twist to the tale as the story comes to the climax and it packs an emotional punch with it. It left me feeling a bit sad afterwards. I grew to like the characters over the course of the movie and the amusing situations they got up to. All of the cast are excellent in their roles.

A dark comedy about a suicide pact had the potential to go pear-shaped but in Hiroshi Shimizu’s capable hands and with the delicate balance of laughs and drama it turned out to be a great movie. It’s a shame that Shimizu has only directed 1 other movie after Suicide Bus. This movie is certainly worth your attention.

No trailer but here’s a clip from the movie

Sadako’s Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

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