Strange but suggestive, “Noriko’s Dinner Table” reps less a sequel to helmer Sion Sono’s previous horror satire “Suicide Club” than an existential parallel. “Table” follows two teenage sisters who shed their identities to join a quasi-prostitution ring. Although told through a cascade of flashes forward and back, the puzzle doesn’t quite form a complete picture by the end, which may leave genre fans frustrated but the arthouse crowd intrigued. Either way, pic — which won special jury mention at Karlovy Vary — is too long by half and will serve meager B.O. portions, but heartier meals on ancillary.
Pic is divided into five chapters, four of them named after major characters. Although each of the characters contributes a lengthy, overextended voiceover spiel explaining his/her thoughts and feelings, storytelling is highly fractured. Shots and scenes from different points in the story are jumbled together throughout to create a kaleidoscopic overall narrative — and what was probably an editing room nightmare.
The story, in correct chronological order rather than how it is actually told, goes something like this: The Shimabara family — journalist father Tetsuzo (Ken Mitsuishi), wife Taeko and their two daughters, 17-year-old Noriko (Kazue Fukiishi) and her younger sister Yuka (Yuriko Yoshitaka) — live in Toyokawa. Shy and vaguely unhappy, Noriko becomes obsessed with a Web site called Haikyo.com (literally “a deserted or abandoned place”), where she makes online friends with other teenage girls.
Noriko decides to run away to Toyko to meet Haikyo’s queen bee, Ueno54, who turns out to be a young woman named Kumiko (Tsugumi), a member of a bizarre group called Family Circle, semi-amateur actors for hire by clients in complex games of pretend.
Adopting her online nickname “Mitsuko,” Noriko joins Family Circle and begins to forget her former identity, especially after Kumiko forces her to watch the mass suicide of 54 schoolgirls at Shinjuku station, the key event in Sono’s “Suicide Club.”
Final act, much too long in the waiting, turns into a Grand Guignol bloodbath, involving the dining table of the title along with other household objects, resulting in a bizarre open ending that hardly answers the most pressing questions but has a compelling mystery about it.
Overlap between “Noriko’s Dinner Table” and the gorier “Suicide Club” extends not just to the Shinjuku suicide scene and preoccupation with shadowy cults, but also to thematic interest in alienation and the generation gap. New film, which is big on the nature of role-playing and memory, feels a bit more pretentious, although the occasional scene or image manages to deliver a hefty wallop.
Thesping is mostly OK, though a little hammy, suggesting the helmer is more interested in moving characters like chess pieces around his board.
Lensing by Souhei Tanigawa, on what looks like a mix of DV and 35mm, is strikingly composed, although transfer is only so-so. Rest of tech credits are just average.