While Yukihiko Tsutsumi is not a well-known name among Japanese cinema fans, the possibility that one has seen one of his films is quite large. He did not only direct Ranmaru: The Man with the God Tongue (2016), Sanada Ten Braves (2016) and Initiation Love (2015), but also all the SPEC movies with Erika Toda. With 12 Suicidal Teens, Tsutsumi present his version of Tow Ubukata’s novel Jyuni Nin no Shinitai Kodomotachi (2016).
12 teenagers have accepted the invitation to commit suicide together. On the day of the gathering, at twelve a clock, the start of the first assembly, they come to realize that there are twelve people plus a dead body of a boy present in the room. During the first meeting, they quickly come to realize that he was murdered and, thus, that there is a murderer in their midst. As the search for the culprit starts, our teenagers also begin to speak about their reasons for committing suicide.
12 Suicidal Teens is, as the above description implies, a mystery narrative. While the opposition between death and life is central to the narrative, the mysterious body puts another opposition on the foreground, the opposition between murder and suicide. It is the latter opposition that animates the narrative’s unfolding. This is plainly evident in the conflict that the discovery of the body causes. Suddenly, those who want to know the truth of his death and those who want to commit suicide as positions against each other. This conflict is, in fact, born from the group’s fundamental rule. As long as there is no complete consensus among our teenagers, as long as one person votes against committing suicide, the group of suicidal teens cannot proceed with fulfilling their wish.
The need for a consensus – and this is important – gives space for speech. While our teens share a desire to die, a desire to undo their birth, speech allows them to share their own psychological injury and hear the psychological injuries others have been subjected to. But speech is not only revealed as a means to communicate, to give expression to one’s subjective wound. What 12 Suicidal Teens ultimately shows is that sharing one’s wound, by speaking about what is mentally troubling, positive intersubjective encounters can come to fruition.
This importance of such intersubjective encounter is not only vaguely touched upon in the various conversations our teens have, but also made explicit in the narrative’s finale. Behind our youth’s desire for suicide, behind the variety of psychological injuries they express, resides another and more fundamental problem: the inadequacy of their social environment (peers, parents, entourage, …), the very fact that, in their social context, no one was there to take them seriously as subject. This intersubjective failure is present within each teen’s motivation to commit suicide, be it to exact revenge, to escape bullying or the exploitive dimension of the entertainment industry, to deal with losing a loved one, or as a way to make a name for oneself or impact society.
Some characters (the punk (chinpira), the gal, the emo-loli, …) of 12 Suicidal Teens are characterized by a caricatural aspect. While this caricatural aspect, of course, reveals the use of well-known tropes, it also makes these characters easy to differentiate. And by reducing this aspect largely to mere visual differential given, Tsutsumi avoids letting this potentially comical aspect interfere with the more serious story he is trying to develop.
Tsutsumi composed 12 Suicidal Teens in a very dynamic way, utilizing lots of cinematographical spatial as well as following movement. Yet, despite this pleasing dynamism, one cannot say that this narrative is faced-paced. 12 Suicidal Teens has, in fact, due to employing cinematographical movement in a rather slow and (often) lingering way, a consistent pace (cine-note 1, cine-note 2).
This way of composing with movement also has an additional effect. This lingering characteristic of the camera-movement, together with the rather mystifying music, creates an atmosphere of mystery and a sense of tension. This atmosphere is, furthermore, subtly supported via the visualization of the narrative space, i.e. the thoughtful way lightning, the play between shadow and light, is used.
But while mystery is always in one way or another felt, tension is not used that often. The sequences framing the investigation, for instance, are almost completely devoid of any tension, because these sequences focus more on the character’s motivations for committing suicide. It is only when the unfolding of the narrative approaches a minor or major twist that tension and a heightened sense of mystery is infused into the narrative’s atmosphere.
But these moments are not enough to turn 12 Suicidal Teens into a truly thrilling mystery narrative. In our view, the acting, while decent overall, ultimately fails to sustain the tension. This is, in part, because the cinematography is never applied to emphasize the tension as expressed by our actors/actresses. Tsutsumi’s choice to give the stage to the actors to make the tension for the spectator sensible has proved to be somewhat erroneous choice. It is only in the finale, where Hana Sugisaki’s performance surpasses the performance of the others, that 12 Suicidal Teens can redeem itself somewhat, but it is not enough to make the positive message of the narrative resound in a way that would impact the spectator.
While 12 suicidal Teens is a decent mystery narrative, it sadly fails to make its important message about the importance of intersubjective connections powerful enough for the spectator. The performances of the actresses and actors simply do not suffice to stage the narrative’s message. While the finale, due to Hana Sugisaki’s performance, redeems the narrative up until a certain point, 12 suicidal Teens still remains a rather forgettable experience.
Cine-note 1: The pace of the narrative is, of course, also influenced by the inclusion of static shots and moments of fixity.
Cine-note 2: The composition also features various slow-motion sequences painted with a kind of faded-sepia colour. While these moments have an artistic flavour, their inclusion has no added benefit to the unfolding of the narrative.