ONE MISSED CALL (CHAKUSHIN ARI) (Takashi Miike, 2003)
ONE MISSED CALL (CHAKUSHIN ARI) is the most conventional and accessible film I've seen from the prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike. That doesn't mean it's without merit. Who better to exploit an ominous ring-tone, the thunderous crunch of toenail clipping, an inhaler's whoosh, and a peephole phobia for scares than one of the preeminent Asian extreme directors?
In ONE MISSED CALL young people receive cell phone messages from themselves in the future. They soon learn that these missed calls are omens of their impending deaths. Try as she might, Yumi (Kou Shibasaki) cannot avoid getting one of these messages. She and Yamashita (Shin'ichi Tsutsumi), whose sister was one of the first to fall prey to the deadly dialer, race against the clock to solve the mystery before Yumi becomes the latest victim.
Miike reins in his anything goes impulses--there are no random claymation sequences or other giddily insane developments that made THE HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS constantly surprising--but still smuggles in his sense of humor and flair for the grotesque, often at the same time. This includes a severed arm dialing a cell phone, a decapitated head in the foreground and the body stumbling around in the background, and a reanimated corpse with chunks of wet flesh sloughing off of it. For good measure, he throws in a vicious criticism of reality television when one of Yumi's doomed friends is whisked away for a live special counting down her final seconds. (As over the top as the show is, it plays like something the Fox network would do in the blink of an eye.) This is what passes for a straightforward Miike film. No wonder this will be the first of his films Hollywood will try to remake.
In ONE MISSED CALL tension builds within scenes and creeps from scene to scene. Miike prefers for most of the scares to come gradually, with a select blast of unexpected jolts to keep the audience off-guard. The film ends with a flurry of frights--and probably a false ending or two too many--that have been laying in reserve.
As tends to be the case with other J-horror films, I'm not sure that everything in ONE MISSED CALL makes sense. Actually, I'm certain that it doesn't. If anything, the ending confuses matters rather than clarifying them. Rarely has a sunny end credits pop song sounded so incongruous with what preceded it. The overall theme deals with the inability to outrun abuse even through the distance of years, but as the story becomes more muddled, the statement about abuse passed through generations also is less clear. Regardless, Miike's dread-inducing skills and handling of tone trump any mystifying narrative turns.
(Review originally appeared in a slightly different form as part of my Deep Focus Film Fest day 3 coverage)