When the official trailer of Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s latest movie, 12 Suicidal Teens, was released last November, it reached six million views in only 24 hours. It was the highest number of views for a trailer released by Warner Bros. Japan in the year, winning over mega-hits like Gintama and Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
The public attention, however, was not a random coincidence. The movie had the full package: a shocking title, a big cast, a mystery plot, and a well-curated trailer that leaves viewers with dozens of questions. It also had a theme that made people shiver — youth suicide, a grim topic that has, in recent years, stimulated the release of many literary and TV works. 12 Suicidal Teens explores this dark theme through multiple angles with a skillfully curated plot, a surprising twist, and a brilliant group acting. For those who are yet to watch it, here are 12 facts that will help you understand the movie and the messages it hopes to pass along.
1. It tackles a real-life social problem
For many years, Japan has been battling its grave problem with suicide — a modern-day disease that causes the lives of tens of thousands of Japanese people every year. Overwork, health concerns, inability to stand the societal pressure — the reasons why someone wants to take their own life are endless. Although the most recent data shows a significant improvement, Japan still has a high suicide rate. In fiscal 2003, national suicides peaked at 34,427, putting Japanese words like karoshi (death from overwork) in the global spotlight. Thanks to various suicide prevention plans, however, the numbers have gradually been declining, dropping to 20,840 in fiscal 2018.
The same year, however, recorded another alarming data: youth suicides had reached a record-high of 599 among children between the ages of 10 and 19. “School problems” was the most prevalent cause, followed by health concerns and family matters. Bullying, problems with friends, and uncertainty about the future were some of the reasons behind several of Japan’s most publicized youth suicides in recent years. In 12 Suicidal Teens, 12 teens from various backgrounds gather at an abandoned hospital with a shared mission to die together in a group suicide. After they begin to reveal their reasons for wanting to die, we come to realize that the problems teens have are, at times, far more profound than we could anticipate.
2. It’s a survival game with a surprising twist
The 12 suicidal teens come to the appointed gathering place one by one, each picking up a number in order of their arrival as instructed by Satoshi, the 15-year-old organizer of the group. As they arrive, however, each one of them notices something odd on the way — new cigarette butts, chairs blocking the elevators, a male shoe in the girls’ bathroom. There are signs everywhere that something is about to happen. When the 12 gather at their assembly room, they notice that there is a 13th person in the room: a seemingly dead teen who isn’t a part of their group. From here on, the movie turns into a survival game as our protagonists begin to realize that instead of dying by suicide, they may end up being murdered. By now, all characters seem suspicious. As the plot progresses, we come to realize that it’s heading into a different type of a survival game — one that none of the characters expect to happen.
3. It’s a collaboration of two of Japan’s most acclaimed individuals
The movie is based on Tow Ubukata’s 2016 novel of the same name, which was nominated for the Naoki Prize, one of Japan’s most prestigious literary awards. Ubukata is a famous Japanese novelist and anime screenwriter who has produced a long list of notable works, including Mardock Scramble, Le Chevalier D’Eon, and Psycho-Pass 2 and 3. The movie director, Yukihiko Tsutsumi, is the face behind over 30 Japanese movies and TV dramas, among which Trick The Movie: Last Stage, The Mourner, and more recently, The House Where the Mermaid Sleeps. After the success of his 2015 film Initiation Love, where the last five minutes change the entire plot, Tsutsumi wanted to make another “last-minute” plot twist movie. It is here where he comes across Ubukata’s novel and decides to turn it into his next film.
4. It has a cast of some of Japan’s fastest rising stars
To fit the movie’s purpose, Yukihiko Tsutsumi wanted a team of actors who had a robust and unique character and impeccable individual and group acting skills. He had already made a list of actors for six of his characters — Hana Sugisaki (Perfect World, Her Love Boils Bathwater), Mackenyu Arata (Chihayafuru Part 1, 2, and 3, Tokyo Ghoul S), Takumi Kitamura (Let Me Eat Your Pancreas), Mahiro Takasugi (Rainbow Days), Kanna Hashimoto (Kaguya-sama: Love Is War), and Yuina Kuroshima (Ju-on: The Final). Luckily, all six read the script and instantly accepted the offer. The remaining six actors auditioned for their roles: Kotone Furukawa for the part of Mitsue, Yuto Fuchino as Kenichi, Riku Hagiwara as Takahiro, Ryota Bando as Seigo, Ai Yoshikawa as Mai, and Aisa Takeuchi as Yuki. “Number 0,” whose entire act consists of sleeping, is played by actor and model Toman.
5. It helps us understand teens’ most profound problems
Each of 12 Suicidal Teens’ characters has a reason for wanting to die: hatred, guilt, greed, weakness, despair, revenge, insensitivity, obsession, fakeness, twisted habits, payback and, the inability to resist testing others. As we hear their stories, we sympathize with some of them and struggle to understand others. Bullying, one of the most common causes of youth suicide, plays vital role in the movie. One of the characters wants to die because of the harm he had caused to someone else — a boy he ended up pushing down the stairs in an impulsive snap. While most movies tend to demonify the bully, in 12 Suicidal Teens, we see a perpetrator who falls victim to his guilt. Another character helps us understand the other side of fame. In the shade of the spotlight, she feels “a constructed human being,” a victim to the glorious life she had worked so hard to build. The emotions 12 Suicidal Teens puts on the table for us to digest are real issues we need to understand to help teens like those in the movie.
6. It shows that suicidal teens are not always dark
One of the greatest misconceptions about suicidal people is that they look and act depressed at all times. Sadly, this misconception is also one of the biggest reasons why help is not provided when needed — because, as we often say, “who would’ve guessed.” The teens in 12 Suicidal Teens show us that suicidal people can look and act completely normal — until they vanish one day, leaving many unanswered questions. Kenichi, Mai, and partially Satoshi and Matsue, break this misconception and help us understand that laughter and seeming stability may also be signs of extreme vulnerability.
7. It’s a movie that makes us rethink — and appreciate — life
It is rare to watch a movie about suicide that leaves you thinking about life to this level. 12 Suicidal Teens’ plot ends with an unexpected twist that leaves viewers with an urge to leave the theater and start enjoying every minute of your life. As we watch, we come to view life from a brand new perspective — when it’s about to be taken from you, all you want to do is get it back. The last five minutes of the movie is all about celebrating life while we can. And that is, above everything else, the most compelling message that 12 Suicidal Teens sends to teens like the ones in the film.
Cast: Hana Sugisaki, Mackenyu Arata, Takumi Kitamura, Mahiro Takasugi, Yuina Kuroshima, Kanna Hashimoto
Director: Yukihiko Tsutsumi
Text by Rose Haneda