Noriko no shokutaku (2005)
A teenager called Noriko Shimabara runs away from her family in Tokoyama, to meet Kumiko, the leader of an Internet BBS, Haikyo.com. She becomes involved with Kumiko's "family circle", which grows darker after the mass suicide of 54 high school girls.
Noriko Shimubara lives in Toyokawa with her father, mother and younger sister. To escape from her unhappy relationship with her parents, Noriko constantly logs on to Haikyo.com, a BBS where she meets other high school girls like her. One of these girls, Ueno54, induces Noriko to run away from her house. Noriko does so and in Tokyo she meets a young woman called Kumiko, her BBS friend, who runs a "family circle program", where she takes in young girls who are unhappy with their lives and gives them new personalities and families - Noriko joins it and her younger sister Yuka does so eventually. But the circle grows darker after the mass suicide of 54 high school girls, and it spreads larger and larger under the unfeeling control of Kumiko.
- The film starts on December 12th, 2001 with a young girl named Noriko Shimabara (Kazue Fukiishi) arriving at Tokyo Station with a bag of rolling luggage. She walks upto Ginza, 'pretending to have returned from a long trip'.
Chapter 1: Noriko
Noriko describes her family: a father (Ken Mitsuishi), a mother (Sanae Miyata) and a younger sister named Yuka (Yuriko Yoshitaka). A 17 year old in Junior High School, Noriko conflicts with her father over her choice of college. While Noriko wishes to go to the city and lead a more urban life, her father wants her to go to a local university. This decision is encouraged by the fact that when two of Noriko's cousins went to Tokyo, they returned pregnant.
When returning from school one day, Noriko meets a friend from elementary school, nicknamed Tangerine (Yôko Mitsuya). After high school, Tangerine ended up going to an 'image club', where she performs for erotic photos and such things. Noriko envies Tangerine's bubbly nature and apparent happiness, and that the latter is already independent.
Noriko's father was a reporter for a local newspaper, where he reported trivial local news. Despite being uninterested in his work, Noriko begins writing for her school newspaper, published once a month. In her paper, she advocates unlimited access to the school computers, as her home only has one computer, which she has to share with her family members.
Alienated by her family, Noriko desires escape from her surroundings. Eventually, Noriko succeeds in hacing her teachers let students use computers uptil the evening. Under the handle name of 'Mitsuko', Noriko makes friends on an online site called Haikyo.com, where teenage girls talk about their problems. These become Noriko's best friends, especially a charismatic member of the group who goes by the handle 'Ueno Station 54'. As the girls are from Tokyo, Noriko too desires to go to Tokyo.
Noriko's father refuses to let her go to Tokyo, and midway during that conversation, the house's breaker switch goes off, plunging the house in darkness. In the dark, Noriko impulsively packs her bags and leaves home on December 10th, 2001.
Arriving in Tokyo, Noriko feels overwhelmed with life, but at the same time desires to experience and challenge it. In a cyber cafe, Noriko logs on to Haikyo.com to talk to Ueno Station 54, whom she idolises by now. The latter instructs Noriko to meet her at 11 am the next day at Ueno Station #54. Noriko stays at a cheap hotel that night, signing under the name of 'Mitsuko Shimabara'.
Waking up the next day, Noriko declares, "I am Mitsuko" and goes to Ueno Station. Unaware of what #54 would mean, she searches the station until she finds the station's lockers. There, she finds the locker numbered 54, and meets Ueno Station 54 (Tsugumi).
6 months later, on the 24th of May, 2002 at 7:29 PM, 54 schoolgirls kill themselves by jumping before a metro train on Track 8 at Shinjuku Station, causing a media sensation.
Yuka sits alone in her classroom and says in voiceover that she always wanted to laugh and 'be silly' like other girls her age, and that she never wanted to cry.
Chapter 2: Yuka
Yuka jokes with a schoolmate, wondering if her sister Noriko was part of the 54 girls who committed suicide. Yuka shows him Haikyo.com, on which an array of red dots represents female suicide victims, 54 of which appeared the night before the mass suicide. On the same site, she finds a question on a blank screen: "Are you connected to yourself?"
From this point on, the story switches viewpoints frequently: Noriko in December 2001 in Tokyo and Yuka in May 2002, after the suicides.
Noriko meets Ueno Station 54, who goes by the name of Kumiko. She introduces Noriko to her family, consisting of her dad, mother and younger brother. Yuka, missing her sister, explores the latter's belongings and finds this diary. Noriko also suspects that a member of Haikyo.com under the handle 'Yoko' is actually Yuka.
Kumiko takes Noriko to Ueno Station's Locker #54, where Kumiko shows her an array of belongings, each representing a happy memory of Kumiko's life. In truth, the objects were all picked up after being left behind by someone else, and Kumiko came up with stories linked to them. As Noriko narrates, Kumiko has "no genuine memories." Noriko philosophises that her life uptil now consisted of fabricated memories preceding her coming-out as a woman named Mitsuko. She gives Kumiko a loose thread from their jacket, which she called "Mitsuko's umbilical cord" and places in Locker #54.
Noriko's father Tetsuzo becomes distracted after Noriko's disappearance, but tries not to show it. Yuka reveals that she became Yoko to "be connected to herself". She leaves a clue for her father behind a poster in her room. "Hearing her sister's voice like a radio" all the time, Yuka runs away as well.
Tetsuzo is devastated that Yuka has gone as well, and quits his job. He searches for the two, but according to Yuka, "lacks any understanding of the two". Tetsuzo searches for clues in the girls' room.
Cut back to Yuka, who writes a diary in her classroom, speculating what her father would do if she disappeared. After finding the clue left behind by Yuka, her father and mother would check every website visited by their parents and draw out the lives they led. Eventually, Tetsuzo would find the link between Noriko and Ueno Station 54, and guess correctly that the handle refers to Locker #54. He stops sharing information with his wife, aware of how outlandish an outcome his investigations are revealing.
Tabloid headlines begin to warn of a "Suicide Club" responsible for the mass suicide at Shinjuku Station, which makes Tetsuzo's own conclusions regarding Noriko and Yuka.
December 11, 2002 - after 3 months of investigation, he concludes that the Suicide Club exists, its members meet on Haikyo.com and that the dots on the site represent suicide victims.
While writing this speculation, Yuka tears out her writing, deliberately leaving behind an imprint on the next page and decides to leave Toyokawa for Tokyo.
Chapter 3: Kumiko
After meeting Kumiko at Ueno Station, Noriko goes with the former's family to meet Kumiko's grandmother. Despite being unrelated to the family, she finds the environment "cozy" and describes them as the "epitome of happiness", in complete contrast to her own Shimabara family. Noriko wishes badly to be a member of that family. The next day, they go to another grandmother's house.
Noriko continues to envy the seemingly perfect family, with each member of the family fulfilling their role perfectly. She wonders "Could there be a more family-like family anywhere in the world?". When the grandmother refers to Noriko as Mitsuko, Noriko declares in her post to Yuka that she became a member of that family under the name of Mitsuko. She instructs Yuka that the most important thing is to be connected to yourself, and tells Yuka that she is connected to herself, as are the other members of Kumiko's family.
Kumiko's family visits a grandfather's house, where Kumiko asks "Mitsuko" to wait in the car for 5 minutes before entering the house. The family members treat her as Kumiko's sister, and she finds "her" dying grandfather who dies before Mitsuko, and everyone in the family begins grieving for her. Kumiko secretly smiles at Mitsuko during the grieving and suddenly, her grandfather wakes up and says that "the new girl is good", referring to Mitsuko.
Kumiko shows Mitsuko a wide array of toothbrushes and perfumes, saying that you need to pick a new toothbrush for each client. Kumiko tells Mitsuko a story about a baby born in a coin locker, and the baby's mother went to meet the baby many years later, but was a bad actress and "sucked at playing a mother". Mitsuko tells Noriko a story about a family of parents and two daughters who were seemingly happy. Kumiko takes over from Mitsuko, saying that the although the father was hard-working, he could not understand his daughters' individuality, which is why they ran away.
Kumiko and Mitsuko go to Tokyo's Suginami Ward, where they spot a number of stray cats. Kumiko says that stray cats can form families instantly and are 'tough'. She tells Mitsuko that they must relate to each other like stray cats.
Dressed like trashy punks with leather jackets, Kumiko and Mitsuko arrive at a "client's" house in Suginami Ward. The client, a middle-aged man with unkempt hair and an unshaven face berates the two and lets them in. In the house, Mitsuko spots a number of mortuary tablets representing the man's family. The man plays the role of an alcoholic and smoking-addicted father while the girls are his estranged daughters that have returned home. Mitsuko for a second, recalls her father as she was Noriko, but discards the thought, thinking that her real father is sitting in front of her.
The "father" breaks down before the girls, saying that he deeply missed them after they disappeared. Kumiko, after being slapped by the man, leave the home, but Mitsuko begs to return "home". Together, the two girls embrace "their father". Together, the three share a family dinner. The father declares his intentions of 'starting over' as a family after a string of gambling victories. Mitsuko is deeply moved by the session losing control of her emotions, becomes a part of the act. Abruptly, the session's 'time' is up, and the man begins to pay Kumiko. Mitsuko asks to stretch the session longer, but Kumiko kicks the man away and leaves the place with the money owed, dragging an emotionally overwhelmed Noriko with her. In her post to Yuka, describes the business as "family rental".
Mitsuko reveals that the Kumiko was the baby born in a coin locker, and that she will be turning 25 soon, and the two are wondering which family to share the birthday with.
1 Year Later
Tetsuzo finds Kumiko in Tokyo after staking out Ueno Station. She gives him a card asking him to contact the number on it if he has need for her services. Tetsuzo arranges to meet a representative of Kumiko's organisation in a restaurant. The reprentative asks Tetsuzo if he is connected to himself and tells him that there is no such thing as "Suicide Club", describing it as a 'circle'. He asks Tetsuzo to imagine if Amaterasu were born in a coin locker, and that the collapse of civilization began in Locker #54 in Ueno Station.
The representative describes Kumiko's business, named 'I.C. Corp' as a family rental business, whose members spend time with clients and pretend to be family members, sometimes for decades. Tetsuzo speculates that because Kumiko, who was born in a coin locker, wanted revenge on society, she wanted to 'turn every kid into a Kumiko' and caused the mass suicides.
The representative asks Tetsuzo if he really is connected to himself and accuses him of being unable to play his roles in life as a reporter and a father. As the world is full of such people who have failed at their roles in life, the representative says that the only path forward is "to lie openly and pursue happiness" and survive the desert of loneliness. The crowd in the restaurant, who has by this time, been following the conversation, stands up and claps.
Tetsuzo has a dream about being in a museum corridor, looking at his daughters as museum exhibits, away from his reach. He dreams himself in the metaphorical desert and vows to find his daughters.
Chapter 4: Tetsuzo
Tetsuzo reads the story left behind by Yuka. After her disappearance, Tetsuzo continues going to his job as usual, and quits his job 2 months later, after his wife kills herself. Tetsuzo beats himself up for being a worse father than Yuka had imagined, for choosing his career over his family.
Tetsuzo describes Toyokawa as a 'perfect town' and writing pieces about the town was like painting a pastoral picture. His wife Taeko sketches a painting based on a photograph of the family, but changes their daughter's indifferent expressions to more lively ones.
When Tetsuzo reads Yuka's words that "the only thing he understood was that he didn't understand them at all", he breaks down and thrashes apart his room full of investigation notes. A month later, his wife, Taeko kills herself by slashing her wrists in the rain. Tetsuzo reads Yuka's notes repeatedly, regretting that although she could see right through him, he never understood his daughters.
Tetsuzo meets an old colleague of his in a hotel in Tokyo. Tetsuzo tells him the events of the past one and a half years and asks if the latter has heard of the Suicide Club. He instructs his colleague to meet Kumiko in the room later and rent a family, stressing that Noriko and Yuka should be played by Mitsuko and Yoko, and Kumiko must play Taeko.
Ikeda meets Kumiko, who shows him a photo album from which he picks Mitsuko and Yoko to be the elder and younger sisters.
"Yoko", i.e. Yuka in I.C. Corp, meets Mitsuko, who does not respond to Yoko's greetings. Kumiko stresses taht the two are Yoko and Mitsuko, and not Yuka and Noriko. The two are given a map to memorise, as the client wants the family to pretend to have lived there for 20 years. Kumiko narrates that she was already aware that Tetsuzo was 'behind this'.
Yoko asks to see the coat Mitsuko wore when she disappeared and asks her to put on her glasses and imitate Noriko. Kumiko warns the girls to be careful, as this isn't a "normal client". Kumiko narrates that five years ago, she met a woman claiming to be her real mother. Kumiko calls the woman a terrible actress and claims that a coin locker is her mother, ignoring the woman's constant crying and pleading. Kumiko agrees to take her in their organisation and train her to play a mother. The mother keeps referring to Kumiko as 'Mitsuko', as that is what she had named the baby.
As they are travelling to the client's location, Kumiko tells Mitsuko and Yoko that if they are successful in the following session, they will have become "the real you". She cautions the two to not get confused.
At 8:29 pm that night, Tetsuzo is waiting with his colleague at the predetermined house. He has brought along the pocket knife his wife killed herself with. As Kumiko and company arrives, Tetsuzo hides in a cupboard.
Tetsuzo searched for a house that resembled his own, and transported everything from his old house to the new house, placing the belongings of his family members to their standard locations.
Ikeda welcomes the three girls home. The girls are shocked to see a home so obviously similar to their own old home. Tetsuzo watches them from behind the cupboard. The calendar shows the month of December, 2001. Kumiko deftly breaks the freeze, and the session continues as usual.
Tetsuzo wonders if the girls' corny acting is what all the clients wanted. Ikeda remarks that he forgot to buy meat and Kumiko volunteers to go buy it. Ikeda also asks her to buy Cherry cigarettes, finding which would buy Tetsuzo the time he needs.
Ikeda asks the girls to put their bags in their room - which looks exactly as the girls' old room did. The girls are visibly affected, but continue to pretend to not notice.
Kumiko, in the streets, remarks that she made up her past and stuffed it in a coin locker, but that it was all a 'cardboard box' that could dissolve in the rain. One of the members of the organisation, Broken Dam, received a request from a client who wanted to kill her. She delivers a lecture to the organisation before the session, narrating how when a bully played the role of a victim, he never bullied anyone again. She explains that although people "want the champagne and not the glass, the flower and not the vase", the roles of the glass and the vase still have to be filled. She hypothesizes that everyone has to reverse their roles and find out who they really are. She describes this as the 'circle of life' and that like the never-ending digits of pi, no circle is ever a perfect circle, but with a compass and a thick outline, a suitably perfect one can be made. She stresses that while tigers and lions cannot switch places, humans can and should.
Kumiko further philosophises this in a monologue delivered while walking down the street. She says that she is "sick of shameless outlines of people seeking happiness", who just want to "eat rabbits" and not be them. She remembers that when the Circle expanded, many of the members from the old Haikyo.com site died, some killing themselves and some being killed.
Kumiko remembers going with Broken Dam to the latter's final session. The client is a mentally unstable husband who wants to kill his wife for adultery, despite the latter's apologies. The client stabs Broken Dam repeatedly while Kumiko watches on amused by the "act" and the song 'Bara ga saita' plays in the background on a radio. After the murder, the client hads over his payment to Kumiko and talks insanely to his dead "wife". Kumiko remarks that Broken Dam fulfilled her role perfectly. We see that on the night of the mass suicide at Shinjuku Station, three members who were friends of Noriko from her Haikyo.com days, took part in the mass suicide while Kumiko made Mitsuko watch, under the expectation the latter would undertake a task of such a magnitude. Kumiko believes however, that Mitsuko would transcend even this.
Last Chapter: The Knife in the Pocket
Ikeda asks to Tetsuzo to come out while Mitsuko and Yoko are at the table. Tetsuzo overcomes his nervousness to emerge from the cupboard and except for Ikeda, the three remain frozen. Mitsuko call Tetsuzo a stranger and deliberately stress their new names to him, while Yoko is too paralysed to react. Ikeda implores the girls to listen to their father and prepares to leave. He asks Yuka to recognise her father, but the latter refuses. Kumiko returns home and Ikeda throws her out of the glass-paned door to prevent her from interfering, warning her to stay out of the mess, taking him with her, as he is the customer.
Tetsuzo draws the pocket-knife as Mitsuko lies on the floor crying and imploring the 'stranger' to get out. Tetsuzo gestures at her with his knife, calling her by the name 'Noriko', while the latter insists she is Mitsuko. Tetsuzo stabs wildly in the air, confused and angry, while Yoko remains sobbing in a corner.
Men from the circle arrive home and start to savagely beat up Tetsuzo, who attacks them with his knife. Mitsuko stands stunned at the window, calling herself a "nameless girl in a nameless town" and hallucinates Tangerine in the snow. She sees Yoko crying in a corner, while Tetsuzo stands alone in the room, having killed everyone else with the knife.
Kumiko arrives home; she, Mitsuko and Yoko resume their act, ignoring the bloody room, dead bodies and Tetsuzo standing paralysed with his knife. Kumiko continues, assuming Tetsuzo as the father. She suggests Testuzo that he wanted that they both die that night. She implores him to kill her, and calls Mitsuko by the name 'Noriko'. She asks him to kill her and then go away with Noriko and Yuka, even as Mitsuko protests and insists her name is 'Mitsuko'. Yuka breaks in crying, declaring that the two just 'want to avoid pain'. She asks if Tetsuzo wants to extend the session or wrap it up. She says, amidst sobs, that everyone in the room is a lion, and asks for everyone to become rabbits again, asking to extend the session.
The family sits at the dinner table, eating dinner and pretending everything to be normal, the blood and dead bodies apparently having been cleaned up. Tetsuzo remembers the representative's words that there is no Suicide Club, and that the world itself is the Suicide Club, with far more suicides than the members of IC Corp. The representative says that only the ones with suicide written into their roles commit it, and asks that if one saw a lion eat a zebra, would that be called a Cannibal Club? He calls it a circle of life.
Tetsuzo announces to his "family" that he wants to start over and redo everything, which brings Yoko and Mitsuko to tears. Kumiko calmly tells him that the family is sick of his selfish ways, which Mitsuko agrees with. Tetsuzo privately remarks that had Noriko said something like that to him in Toyokawa, he would have hit her; he apologises to her. He proposes the family 'die once and come back to life'.
Yoko narrates that three hours later, she was feeling incredibly happy being in the family environment. She reminisces about her childhood with Noriko and has a bath with Mitsuko in the bath. As the latter laughs over reminiscences, she remarks that she does not know if the person is Mitsuko or Noriko. Yoko privately remarks that she wants to thank her father for setting the session up. She watches her sister sleep after a long time and feels happy about it, wanting to tell her sister "never to stop acting, even in her sleep".
Wearing the jacket Noriko wore when she left home, Yoko thanks her father in his sleep and exits her home, noting the time to be 6 am. She finds a loose thread in her jacket and tears it off. She starts walking down the street towards the city, "wanting to go somewhere completely different". She claims that she was through with Yoko, but wasn't Yuka either, but just another nameless girl.
Mitsuko/Noriko wakes up and remarks that "your heart is a glass in which if you pour too much emotion, tears will spill out". She bids goodbye to Yuka, adolescence, Haikyo.com and Mitsuko. Finally, she declares that she is Noriko.