Skip Dinner tonight

Noriko's Dinner Table

on July 06, 2007 by Jay Antani
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Growing up has never felt so god-awful tedious. Watching Noriko's Dinner Table , a ludicrously overlong psychodrama-cum-thriller, one is aghast at the maddening artistic freedoms enjoyed by writer/director Sion Sono, all to the purpose of inflating a simple and simplistic self-discovery melodrama. Shunting between the present and the past (both the distant and immediate varieties), multiple points of view and film stocks (the grainier representing childhood memories—get it?), Sono fashions an unrelenting saga about Tetsuzo (Ken Mitsuishi), a workaholic father on a quest to reclaim his daughters, involved in a stranger-than-strange role-playing agency.

Sisters Noriko (Kazue Fukiishi) and Yuka (Yuriko Yoshitaka), both disenchanted with their ho-hum lives in a provincial town and so distanced from their clueless father (a reporter for the local rag), join an online community of like-minded teenagers and revel in donning their exciting cyber-personalities. Soon they run away to Tokyo, where they encounter the mysterious moderator of their online message boards, Kumiko (Tsugumi). Turns out, she operates a service in which she, and her fellow girls, impersonate whatever roles their clients wish them to.

It's more morbid than kinky, however: Kumiko's clients seem to consist mostly of grieving family men who wish for the girls to play-act the roles of lost wives and daughters or vengeful lovers eager to kill their cheating girlfriends. Indeed, if the role demands it, Kumiko's girls seem blithely willing to be killed, or even to kill themselves. The latter is illustrated in a mass suicide that Kumiko orchestrates, one that Sono keeps referencing, in which several girls willingly jump in front of an oncoming subway train. It's a gruesome episode, the knowledge of which leads Tetsuzo to suspect that Noriko and Yuka have joined a suicide club. He embarks on an exhaustive search for his daughters who by now are gleefully engrossed in their sexy cyber-personas.

Sono's subject matter, the pubescent desire to escape oneself and become someone better, is tantalizing, especially as it crosshatches the coming-of-age genre with the suspense melodrama. Worth noting too is the rare but entrancing dreaminess to Sono's imagery. The performances, particularly Fukiishi's coquettish coyness and Misuishi's flinty turn as the tenacious father, are appealing across the board.

But Sono bogs the movie (an adaptation from his own novel—someone stop this guy!) in drawn-out, dull-as-dishwater scenes, attempts at layering his characters with teenager clichés and, worst of all, voiceovers that serve only to over-explain and dilute the effect of what we already see. (Indeed, Sono's use of voiceovers is a textbook example of how not to do it.) Likewise, his baffling use of multiple POVs only adds lard to the sinew, accomplishing nothing that a modest, straightforward approach could not have done to more powerful effect. Skip every course Noriko's Dinner Table is offering—the meal looks substantial, but it's about as nutritious as Cheez Whiz.

Distributor: Laemmle/Tidepoint
Cast: Kazue Fukiishi, Tsugumi, Ken Mitsuishi, Yuriko Yoshitaka, Shiro Namiki and Sanae Miyata
Director/Screenwriter: Sion Sono
Producer: Takeshi Suzuki
Genre: Dramatic thriller; Japanese-language, subtitled
Rating: Unrated
Running time: 159 min.
Release date: July 6, 2007 LA
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