Noriko’s Dinner Table: alter-egoism and constant change

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Noriko role playing in her father's strange play

“There is no suicide club,” says a nondescript man in his mid-thirties.

Confused, the middle aged man accepts the answer and walks away, only to reflect later on another thing the man said “the actors play their roles, and if their roles require them to commit suicide, then they do it.”

The film focuses on a young girl named Noriko (Kazue Fukiishi), later in the film called ‘Matsuko.’ The young 17 year old girl is fed up with her life with her younger sister, her father and step mother, and has difficulty coping with living without her mother who is deceased. She also doesn’t understand her father, who has a modest job to which he is fully dedicated as a photographer for a newspaper. His assignments are mostly corny local events, which rarely bear any real newsworthiness.

Noriko meets new friends online and decides to run away, when she meets a girl at locker number 54 at Ueno station in Tokyo. Her life rapidly changes as she realizes that she is free to live as her alter-ego ‘Matsuko.’ She finds herself working in a strange job. Her job is to role play as various family members, one day a sister, the next a daughter.

Meanwhile, Noriko’s younger sister Yuka finds clues that Norkio left behind, and she follows in her footsteps and runs away to Tokyo. Yuka takes on the new alter ego ‘Yoko.’ Their father continues working as if nothing happened. Eventually he gets wise to what’s going on, and investigates the so-called suicide club which was thought to be responsible for the simultaneous suicide of 54 girls at Ueno station. It is then he learns about the job that his daughters have been doing.

Her father sets up a strange meeting. He buys a house in a random village that looks nearly identical to their home, and hires a friend to use their role-playing services, treating his daughters as his own, and the girls’ friend as his wife, while he silently watches through a slit in the cabinet doors. He surprises them by coming out and the girls continue sticking to their roles as if their father was a stranger to them.

This film has a long running time of over two and half hours, however during this time, the viewer sees all the main characters evolve and take on their new roles. It is full of symbolic imagery. There is a constant theme of tangerines representing forced conformity (her father would fold the peel how he liked, and it would spring back to its original shape). The act of pulling strings hanging from the girls’ jacket sleeve recurs frequently and represents cutting ties from a past character or alter-ego. And of course the job the girls do is symbolically representative of the entire idea of alter-egoism which permeates every aspect of this film.

The movie, in the beginning appears to be directed solely at young adolescent girls, however as the film goes on, it becomes clear that the film’s intent is far deeper. The film never fully resolves the question of “are you connected with yourself?” which frequently appears in the script. Rather, it seems that the director wanted the viewer to answer this question for himself.

Elements in the film such as suicide, the struggle to find one’s self, and forced conformity are ever prevalent throughout the screenplay. The drama isn’t straightforward, and the message isn’t obviously floating on the surface of the viewer’s mind; yet the ending, which I will not disclose does bring a sense of closure, through the theme of continuing change and alter-egoism.