THE SUICIDE MANUAL opens with a sober disclaimer, advising us that the film does not encourage suicide - rather, it is a warning against it. That's a relief.

As the film begins proper, we meet Dr Kodera (Yurei Yanagi, RING 2; JU-ON), who joins police on a riverbank one morning as they recover the body of a teenaged girl from the water.

At the girl's autopsy, Kodera advises the police that she most likely committed suicide. While checking her belongings, the cops find an unlabelled DVD - and forensic detective Yosuke (Yochiro Saito, TOKYO EYES; WILD LIFE) becomes our focal point (and narrator) as he determines to find out why a succession of young people have been taking their lives after apparently watching an identical DVD.

Yosuke visits his girlfriend, Masae (Yuuko Daike, ZATOICHI), who seems happy and carefree, while he on the other hand is clearly preoccupied with comprehending his latest case. A flashback of his helps to explain why - one year earlier, when he was a street cop, Yosuke discovered the pretty Masae in her apartment with her wrists slashed. He saved her life, and has cared for her ever since.

Later, Yosuke and his colleagues gather round to watch the offending DVD. The onscreen title is "Suicide Manual: Intermediate Level". An attractive Asian woman appears on the screen, talking us gently through various popular methods of suicide. Her instructions are accompanied by several grisly shot-on-video demonstrations. The cops pause the disc during a bathtub drowning demo, remarking that this is the fifth time one of these DVDs has been recovered from the belongings of recent suicide victims. Naturally then, the police are eager to learn who is making these discs.

When Masae tries once again to take her life, Yosuke visits Dr Kodera for advice, who suggests a counselling session with someone he recommends.

Masae begins to attend her group therapy sessions, while in the meantime the suicides continue as DVDs are passed around youngsters looking for the thrill of watching something "sick" ...

Things get hairy when Masae gets handed a copy of the aberrant DVD!

THE SUICIDE MANUAL handles it's disturbing subject matter well, in a cold, calculated and considered manner. There are no attempts to over-stylize proceedings, allowing the story instead to unfold in a leisurely, controlled manner. This assists the film in getting under your skin and achieving an element of creepiness, that a lot of contemporary Asian horrors have been lacking recently.

Superbly shot, lit and edited, THE SUICIDE MANUAL benefits also from mannered performances from the likeable leads. With a spooky piano-led score from Masatoshi Nishimura (CONCRETE) to boast of too, it is a well-made film.

Despite it's obvious low budget, THE SUICIDE MANUAL delivers the goods on both an aesthetic level (see above) and in terms of genre crowd-pleasing ingredients - graphic suicides, necrophilia and dark twists all feature.

Released by Terra (who, I suspect, is Screen Entertainment under another name), the disc offers the film uncut and in a nice sharp 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The cover says 4:3 Letterbox, so be aware. Images are clear, sharp and bright.

The 2.0 Japanese audio is similarly problem-free. Removable English subtitles are available.

Animated menus include access to the main feature via 20 chapters.

Extras include two original trailers for the movie - one Japanese, one British. The former is in Japanese with no subtitles and lasts for 3 minutes. The latter is an abridged version of the Japanese trailer, cutting all the dialogue scenes, presumably to overcome the costly matter of subtitling it! The UK trailer lasts for 2 minutes.

A Behind-The-Scenes featurette offers some interesting on-set footage, set to a loop of the film's haunting soundtrack. Again, there is no dialogue in this 8-minute montage.

The best Asian horror film I've seen for a while, on a serviceable disc from Terra. Well worth a look.

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Terra
Region all PAL
Rated 18
Extras : see main review