Based on a novel by Yasushi Akimoto, Miike brings in a cinema friendly horror film that owes quite a debt to Ringu.
Yumi (Kou Shibasaki) is at a party in an Izakaya when a friend named Yoko (Anna Nagata) gets a strange voice message on her cell phone. The message is dated two days in the future and from her own phon. The message contains the Yoko’s voice as she complains about rain then suddenly screams. Yumi is spooked. A friend named Kenji (Atsushi Ida) offers to take the party to a hotel his parents own so the group swap phone numbers. Two days later Yoko dies. Yumi wonders if the mysterious call had anything to do with it and when discussing events with Kenji she discovers Kenji got a similar mysterious message. Yumi is now in a race against time to stop the death-messaging call.
Far more accessible and audience friendly than Audition One Missed Call is like Ringu in that it hinges on haunted technology as ghosts use modern everyday items to torment people. In this film victims receive mobile phone messages from the future that predict their death. Cue a set of gloriously inventive and blackly humorous death scenes as characters get bumped off in a series of unexpected ways.
What unfolds initially seems like a mystery based on familiar familial discord but there are enough red herrings and a psychological twist to make it feel so much more fresh and entertaining than many of its contemporaries. Miike takes many familiar J-hora elements and throws them at the audience in unexpected ways, staging scenes wonderfully so that clichés become unfamiliar.
Simple sound design is used to raise tension: silent, empty corridors and rooms plunge into the supernatural when a cell phone’s ringtone or simple growling and hissing are heard. The phone messages themselves start off innocuous and mundane before tailing off into horror.
Familiar J-hora imagery such as white-gowned yurei and long hair creeping around is mixed with some of Miike’s extreme graphic delights like a dismembered hand dialling a phone and rotting corpses. He knows how to stage these deaths inventively and when to cut from gruesome death to a reaction shot sometimes stabbing the horror with black humour in the process.
There are a plethora of brilliant sequences my favourite being a TV show offers to perform an exorcism, the verisimilitude of it mixes the banality of reality TV with a venomous ghost and produces explosive results. Whereas Ringu explicitly had the curse continue One Missed Call ends on a wonderfully ambiguous note, the beautiful Kou Shibasaki offering us nothing but an enigmatic smile as we wonder whether the curse has been stopped. Whatever the meaning it’s a smile I’d die for.
Romaji: Chakushin Ari
Release Date: January 17th, 2004 (Japan)
Running time: 112 min.
Director: Takashi Miike
Writer: Yasushi Akimoto, Minako Daira (Screenplay),
Starring: Kou Shibasaki, Shin’ichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukiishi, Anna Nagata, Atsushi Ida, Mariko Tsutsui, Renji Ishibashi