Friday, December 14, 2012

Suicide Club

I spent much of the morning helping my wife install new fixtures in our upstairs bathroom, and moving around stereo equipment in our living room.  To unwind I watched one of the latest editions to my collection of Asian Horror movies, a Japanese film called Suicide Club.  See Mandi Apple for a fine review.  It opens with a mass suicide of 54 school girls (average age 14.5, we are later told), who link hands on a Tokyo subway platform and, with a one, and a two, jump in front of an arriving train.  The scene is appallingly graphic, as are several others.


Why do I watch this stuff?  First, I am incurably fond of spooky stories in film and print, and this one is plenty spooky.  Second, such films offer a lot of clues to cultural differences between Christendom and Buddha World, as well as much subtle commentary on the state of Asian societies.

Suicide Club incorporates a lot of anxieties haunting modern Japan.  Police investigating waves of youth suicides discover a website that seems to predict the numbers involved in each incident by adding red and white dots (boys and girls) to its screen just before the thing happens. The film becomes more impressionistic and incoherent as it approaches the end, but the general idea seems to be this: a group of children is orchestrating the mass suicides.  Their main instrument is a cheery singing group of young girls called Dessart (depicted below).  Exactly what their motive is, beyond some freakish will to power, is unclear.  But this much is clear.  The adult world is self-involved and totally clueless.  The kids are on their own, and the implications of that are horrific.

I was wondering about the roots of this angst as I did my pre-blog survey of the world press.  I found this piece in the British Guardian
Sunrise in Tokyo heralds the start of yet another hellish day at the office for Terumasa Yoshida. The married father of two has just spent the night sleeping in a single bed in a tiny room rented by his employer, away from the creature comforts of home and the company of his family in nearby Yokohama.
"On a busy day, I turn up for work at about 5am and don't finish until 2am the next morning," he says. "It's not that we don't want to go home - we just can't. We have to think about the people around us at work. I know that's a very Japanese way of thinking, but that's the way it is."
I don't know how much attention Mrs. Yoshida is giving to the two kids, but she is doing most of it without her hubby.  This is bad.  Worse is the fact that so many Japanese couples don't bother to have children at all. 
The health ministry estimates that the birthrate will drop this year from 1.28 to 1.26 per couple or even lower, said the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. If the trend continues, Japan's workforce will become too small to support its greying population, the tax base will shrink and the pensions system will come under increasing strain.
Overwork is one of the most commonly cited reasons why young Japanese couples shy away from having children. Last month, the government said that Japan's population had shrunk by 19,000 - the first decline since 1945.
This has prompted Kuniko Inoguchi, the minister charged with boosting the birthrate, to insist that companies must allow men to spend more time at home and help women return to work after giving birth. "The next five years are crucial," Ms Inoguchi said in an interview. "We have the second baby boomers who will remain in their 30s for only another five years, so I am up against the clock."
That's 19,000 new dots added to the display of all the children that were never born.  What's most disturbing, though, is the bottom line of the government's thinking.  They have a minister in charge of increasing the birthrate.  Think about that.  Why do they care about the birthrate?  Is it because they feel some obligation to the next generation?  No.  Children are here valued only as potential workers to support Japan's growing population of retired persons.  Future generations exist (in so far as they do) only to support the comfort of the existing one.  

Suicide Club got it right.  The adults are clueless.  The children are on their own.

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