The Manual (aka Suicide Manual and Jisatsu Manyuaru) DVD Review
Written by Milos Jovanovic
DVD released by Screen Entertainment
Directed by Osamu Fukutani
Written by Osamu Fukutani & Hiroshi Kanno from Wataru Tsurumi's book kanzen jisatsu manyuaru
2003, Region 0 (PAL), 86 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on November 14th, 2005
Nozomi Andô as Miki Nagasawa
Kei Horie as Police Detective Nishiyama
Ayaka Maeda as Nanami Kumatani
Kenji Mizuhashi as Yuu Tachibana
Chisato Morishita as Rie Izumikawa
Yûko Nakamura as Rikki (as Yuuko Nakamura)
Hideo Sakaki as Keita Yashiro
To a random inhabitant of the western hemisphere, the word "suicide" carries almost exclusively negative connotations. Thanks to the centuries of predominantly christian teachings, common belief nowadays is that the person who would take his own life would be damned for ever and ever, deep-frying himself in the glowing hot crockpots of Hades until the end of time (and probably longer). But, the good folks far east have always had a somewhat different view regarding the venerated art of self-offing — where a westerner would be considered a coward for killing himself, suicide, for some, was a way of preserving that little honour you had left after commiting a rather foul deed or losing a tremendous amount of face (and no, I don't mean it as in "suffered third degree burns on your cheeks"). With Japanese film industry reinventing itself through the modern horror genre, it was just a matter of time when someone would tackle this subject and give it a supernatural twist.
In 2001, two years after Masayuki Ochiai's similarily themed Hypnosis (Saimin), Kyoshi Kurosawa brought us Pulse (Kairo), which dealt with young Tokyo residents depriving themselves of their right to live in order to meet dead people. The suicide craze took off in earnest a year later with Suicide Club (Jisatsu Circle), a nutty, over-the-top seppuku-caper directed by Sion Sono (whose primary vocation is gay porn director), telling a story of two ordinary police detectives investigating a series of highly creative suicides. Osamu Fukutani's The Manual (aka Suicide Manual, Jisatsu Manyuaru), which is the subject of this review, is another man's attempt to bring light to the wacky, wonderful world of group suicides, suicide pacts, internet messageboards dealing with suicides...oh, and cursed videos (how's that for being original).
The story is centered around Yuu (Kenji Mizuhashi, a veteran of aforementioned Pulse), a cameraman working for a small TV station. When Yuu's boss, Yashiro (Hideo Sakaki, a perennial favourite of Ryuhei Kitamura, who casts him in more or less all of his films), finds out about a case of group suicide in which four people poisoned themselves by carbon monoxide, he sends Yuu and his assistant Rie (Chisato Morishita) to find out a little bit more about it. While investigating, Yuu and Rie decide to enter the apartment where the deed was done, and accidentally run into a young girl who was supposed to die with the rest, but chickened out.
From her, Yuu finds out that there is a messageboard dealing strictly with people who are obsessing about suicide, and where the potential victims arrange things such as time, place, method etc. Person who runs that joint is better known as Rikki, and she sends a DVD copy of "the suicide manual" to all people who she deems are serious in their intentions. The girl agrees to lend Yuu her copy of the disc, which, as we later see, features Rickie (played by Yuko Nakamura, most recently seen in Blood and Bones with Beat Takeshi) explaining all sorts of suicide methods to the enthusiastic viewer.
Dissatisfied with his progress, boss Yashiro sends Yuu to a buddhist temple to talk with an "expert" on suicide spirits. There, Yuu is informed that spirits of the people who kill themselves are often left "floating" in our universe, and are known to possess the bodies of people they knew. If a person is possessed, (s)he will assume the suicidal tendencies that tortured soul carries, and will try to make the new "carrier" kill himself for some extra company. Their conversation is interrupted by a phone call, as the girl from yesterday calls up Yuu to casually inform him she's about to end her life by jumping off a rooftop. Too late to save her, Yuu arrives to the scene just in time to see her kiss the pavement.
The incident affects Yuu deeply, and he becomes more and more obssessed by cracking the case, or at least finding out who's behind it all. His further investigations will, however, bring him to some conclusions he's not ready to accept — and which may prompt him to risk his own life even. And who, exactly, is that Rikki person everybody's raving about?
As you can see, The Manual is hardly original material. Part Suicide Circle, part Pulse, part Ringu, The Manual still manages to keep the viewer interested for the duration of it, and therefore can't be that easily dismissed.
Shot on DV on an assumedly minuscule budget, The Manual has been largely inspired by Tsurumi Wataru's 1993. bestseller "The Complete Suicide Manual" ("Kanzen Jisatsu Manyuaru"), a book which argues about the "right" to kill yourself and explores the manners of doing it. While technically it would be correct to call this film a "younger brother" of Sono's Suicide Circle, The Manual's director Osamu Fukutani gives his creation a rather different outlook. Where Suicide Circle was a grand-scale affair, with hilariously grim set pieces of group suicide making that feature strictly splatter-driven, The Manual operates in a much more low-key way, letting the plot take the centre stage instead of theatrical scenes of random violence and self-induced bloodshed. Fukutani's approach to the subject is pretty minimalistic, complete with a brooding soundtrack, and it pays off — while Suicide Circle ran out of steam once the viewer got used to the fact that teenagers will randomly cap themselves in an outrageous fashion, The Manual manages to push through well until the end. Fukutani almost overplays his hand in the final 20 minutes of the film, but the stylish-yet-inconclusive ending somewhat saves the feature before the proverbial hanging rope became too tight for comfort. There is one lingering question about this assessment — did Fukutani shoot the film this way due to budgetary constraints, or he consciously opted for this way of filmmaking, beats me really.
The acting in this film is in accordance with the tempo and subject matter — low-key and minimalistic. There are no jovial teenies jumping in front of oncoming subways here, or policemen giggling while reading suicidal notes. Both Mizuhashi and Morishita do just enough to advance time smoothly, Mizuhashi looking decidedly downbeat throughout with his Garfieldesque eyes. Only Sakaki stands out, but a bit more lively behaviour is required from his character.
To sum up, The Manual is nothing new for the established asian horror fan, but will still offer you 90ish minutes of satisfaction. That said, people who are already tired of oriental ghost stories should stay away, and just in case someone gets this whole gig too serious, the movie opens with a disclaimer that its intention is not to inspire suicidal thoughts, but rather to divert them elsewhere. As witnessed by this very text, the disclaimer worked for me, however I will confess that some of the suicidal methods were quite, well, attractive from aesthetical standpoint.
Video and Audio:
The Manual is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio, with Screen World giving it a letterbox treatment on this disc. The picture is as good as you can get from a low-budget flick shot on DV, although poor lighting hampers the darker scenes. People unused to DV cinematography will likely be irritated by it, but the effect wears off after a while. The problem here, however, is in subtitles — if you're opting for a letterbox transfer, for Pete's sake, do not place the subtitles in the letterboxing. The owners of 16:9 television sets (such as, eh, me) will have to stretch the image outside of its intended aspect ratio so the subs would get visible, or just watch the film in 4:3, with mammoth letterboxing both above and on the sides. Unless you speak Japanese that is, then simply ignore this little rant. The only audio option on the disc is DD 2.0, and there are no complaints about this one — it's clear and crisp. The film itself has been partitioned in 18 chapters, which is quite decent for its 86 minute running time.
The extras on the disc are scarce and unimaginative. There is a five-minute Behind the Scenes Feature (1.33:1), in which we are subjected to some of the backstage material — with no commentary or anything, just music. Also, tossed in are two trailers — UK trailer and the original Japanese trailer. Both are slightly over one minute long (1.85:1 letterboxed), and feature more-less same footage, with the Japanese trailer being richer for some dialogue soundbites missing from its UK cousin. Frustratingly, the Japanese trailer is presented without subtitles, and the UK trailer doesn't bother with translating Japanese captions next to actors names. Finally, there is a "Other Attractions" feature, with Screen World plugging about fifty-odd of their other releases, some presented with only a cover sleeve, others honoured with that and a trailer.
|– You could do much worse than renting this on a rainy day.
|– The subtitle cockup takes this one down a full star.
|– Very satisfactory.
|– Few and nothing special.
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