Though it sports a few grisly images of its own, Noriko’s Dinner Table borrows most of its bloodshed from its companion film, Suicide Club. Sono repurposes the opening of his breakthrough—during which 54 high school students jump in front of an oncoming train—several times here, first for context and later for impact. But rather than repeat himself, Sono fashions Noriko’s Dinner Table as a melodrama about the dissolution of family and the creation of oneself in the internet era. Its most harrowing moment finds a family on the verge of reunion as two runaway sisters—their ‘true’ selves lost to a cycle of performative self-discovery—enter a replica of their childhood home, while their father hides in a wardrobe, waiting to surprise his daughters and reunite his family after a two year absence. Were this film by another filmmaker, this potential reunion might be a source of joy for members of the family. Instead, Sono’s vision of a reunion is a horror movie scenario in which the monster in the closet threatens to destroy the lives the girls have found for themselves and force them back into the roles they were born into.
While it is a companion film—taking place before, during and after the events of Suicide Club—Noriko’s Dinner Table is only tangentially interested in explaining its predecessor’s mystery, instead using a rash of suicides to craft its own metaphor about the roles we play in relation to each other. “If some people are lions, others must be rabbits. Some must die for the rest to truly live,” a representative of the Suicide Club tells us, revealing that most members of the club don’t kill themselves because it is not their role. Out of this comes the story of sisters Noriko (Kazue Fukiishi) and Yuka (Yuriko Yoshitaka), who meet a girl from the internet, Kumiko (Tsunami), who may or may not be the leader of the Suicide Club. All we know for certain is that Kumiko’s past is a fabrication (she claims to have been born in a locker) and that she runs a family rental business through which lonely people can purchase the illusion for however long they can afford it. Noriko and Yuka join Kumiko’s business while their father, Tetsuzo (Ken Mitsuishi), frantically searches for answers about the club he believes his daughters are involved with.
Sono’s companion film to his Suicide Club crafts a metaphor about the roles every human plays in relation to one another.
But by the time Tetsuzo finds them, Noriko and Yuka have taken on new personalities entirely—they’ve found themselves through performing as other people. Both are unrecognizable as the girls that they once were, not only to their father but to themselves; the identities they first created as online avatars have extended outside of virtual space. Every major character in Noriko’s Dinner Table is given an internal monologue to emphasize the nature of both a perceived self and the self they project to others. Form further complements theme as Sono so often employs sustained takes to focus on the heightened performances of his subjects who, as per his film’s context, always seem on the verge of suicide. In the end, we are presented with the choice to either fall back into performing our given roles or go out in search of new ones. And in a film without easy answers, Sono ultimately doesn’t seem to prefer either.