This Japanese film is my closing film for this year's SIFF. It tells of a compelling family story, where "safe" is boring, and a child is off looking for that spark in life to spice things up. Turning her back to her family, Noriko makes her way to Tokyo to look up her internet friends, friends she came to know through an online forum. At first everything seems puzzling, until she realize that they are all "actors", folks providing "rental family" services to lonely people out there, yearning to belong.
It's ironic that Noriko had turned her back on her real family, only to join a surrogate one, pretending to be close knit to a lot of other strangers. She takes on her online persona, and forgets about "Noriko", the life she left behind. Which makes it really strange - why would anyone want to abandon their own family, and comfort zone, to make believe with others? It's a social exploration of alienation, and on a separate note, tries to look at the trend of suicide clubs in Japan.
One harrowing scene that was replayed, was that of 54 female students jumping off a train platform in unison. Taking on pseudo-security camera views, and plenty of blood with the smashing of heads on track (in full glory), it'll make you wince, yet wonder in astonishment, the question of Why.ß
Running parallel to Noriko's narrative, are a few others, like her dad's, her sister Yuka's (who also joined Noriko in her new role), and a forum founder Komiko. Taking on parallel and different points of view, it is no wonder that this film clocks in at slightly more than 2 1/2 hours. The father seeks Noriko and Yuka and wants to start afresh by welcoming them home, but find that the siblings have already disowned their lives thus far, preferring to pretend to be someone else, someone they have total control over, someone that they have created for themselves.
The movie started off strongly, but the pace sagged around the half way mark, before picking up again for the grand finale. It also helped that almost all the female cast in this movie are eye-candy, contrasting the seriousness of the issues presented, with their outward cuteness and pretty faces.
It's a pretty weird story, with strange characters, those who don't bat an eyelid over suicide, taking it as a form of higher calling. However you'll still be stuck at the Why question, as the movie doesn't offer any concrete answers, and somehow teased with an ending hinting of a possible sequel, that probably wouldn't be made.