Tuesday, January 8, 2008


With Hollywood’s take on Chakushin Ari having gotten its US release on January 4, I decided to resurrect this one for the World Wide Web. Enjoy.

Looking back…

Chakushin Ari (One Missed Call) is one of the latest films from the insanely prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike, and is the first of his films I’ve seen that is set squarely in the Asian supernatural horror genre.
The film revolves around Yumi Nakamura (Kou Shibasaki, from Norio Tsuruta’s Kakashi and Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale), whose friend Yoko, dies after receiving a call on her cell phone, a call that was apparently made from the very same phone: what sounds like Yoko’s own voice, speaking a few innocent words, then screaming. The call is dated two days in the future. Two days after receiving the call, Yoko dies, after uttering the same words on the mysterious call.
In the vein of films like Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and Takashi Shimizu‘s Ju-on, a sinister chain of deaths begins, all presaged by the receiving of a phone call, as the future victim speaks his or her last words, the impending date of death conveniently displayed on the cell.

Exploring the theme of the co-opting of modern technology by ancient, supernatural forces for their own malevolent ends (as was done in Ringu/The Ring, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo, and of course, its English-language remake, Jim Sonzero‘s Pulse), Chakushin Ari also delves into the idea of abuse as a cycle—a chain that must be broken, lest it revolve endlessly, its touch reaching out to others far removed from the initial victim, connected only through chance and circumstance.
And unlike Ringu, where the breaking of the chain was required simply because it would save a character’s life, in Chakushin Ari, not only would that prevent someone’s death, but there is also a broader context for which the breaking of the cycle is necessary. In that respect, there is a thematic cohesiveness in Chakushin Ari that is absent in Ringu.

As far as the mechanics of the “curse” goes, whereas in Ringu, anyone who happened to watch Sadako’s videotape would fall prey to her rage, in Chakushin Ari, anyone who is part of the cellular network is a potential victim, and these days, that’s practically everybody.
And shutting off your phone, disconnecting yourself from the network, canceling your cellular subscription, destroying and throwing your phone away, isn’t enough. Your phone will turn itself on, your SIM will reactivate, your phone will find its way back to you, intact and operational, and you’ll still wind up very dead.
Which is, on the one hand, proof of the power that supernatural force has, but on the other hand, is kind of a cheat.
And speaking of cheats, there’s one big fat one towards the film’s end that stretches the envelope of the audience’s suspension of disbelief to near-breaking point. It’s one of a couple of unfortunate lapses in what could potentially have been a much more substantial film than Ringu, given what Miike was apparently aiming for.

Another flaw is a subplot concerning a television show that manages to broadcast to viewers across Japan, a pivotal set piece in the film’s supernatural goings-on. Given all the build-up towards that particular sequence, as well as the bravura execution of it by Miike, with nice editing touches and masterful pacing, one would think this would lead someplace.
Instead, as soon as the sequence is over, the TV show subplot suddenly ends, truncated, as if in one of Miike’s more ultraviolent moments. We don’t see how this event, broadcast live, affects the general public. No reactions at all to indicate the impact this has on the citizenry.
If we had, I think it would have reinforced the notion of how an evil can permeate society with its malignant influence, a notion already inherent in the idea of a curse being passed on through the cellular network. Sadly, we don’t see that; following that sequence, we immediately return to the very personal tale of Yumi and her struggle with the evil that is calling out through her cell phone.

And, having mentioned Miike’s penchant for ultraviolence, it can be said that Chakushin Ari comes nowhere near the gore and splatter quotient of Koroshiya Ichi (Ichi the Killer). Nor is it as bizarre as Bizita Q (Visitor Q). Nor as disturbing as Odishon (Audition).
It is, in fact, one of the most accessible and mainstream films I’ve seen from Miike, alongside his moving adaptation of Shugoro Yamamoto’s Sabu.
Which is not to say it’s completely “safe.” Chakushin Ari has its fair share of creepy moments, and, despite its occasional lapses, is an effective work that can enter the annals of the on-going renaissance in Japanese horror (sparked by the global success of Nakata’s Ringu) with devilish ease. It’s certainly a far more effective chiller than Masato Harada’s Inugami, or Tsuruta’s Kakashi.

And, as with Nakata’s Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara (Dark Water), Chakushin Ari also attempts to be something more than just another horror movie. Though where Nakata succeeds, Miike falls just a little bit short.
Chakushin Ari shares another thing with Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara: the study of the mother-daughter dynamic, though the one displayed in Honogurai Mizu No Soko Kara is decidedly healthier and far more positive than those depicted in Chakushin Ari.
Of course, if oeuvres are anything to go by, Miike’s worldview is significantly more warped than Nakata’s, so this really isn’t a surprise.

Another possible weak spot in Chakushin Ari is its curiously ambiguous ending, which is open to interpretation and debate.
Even the plot twist towards the film’s end—taking a page from Dario Argento’s Sotto Gli Occhi Dell’assassino (Tenebrae), tweaking it, and giving it a supernatural spin—may not be such a twist, as you may see it coming, or at the very least, consider it as a possibility before the big reveal.

Ultimately, Chakushin Ari is a film to watch, if you’re into the Asian horror film scene, or just want a good scare.
Though as far as J-Horror goes, as much as Miike makes a good impression, Nakata’s still got the spectral crown firmly on his head.

Since then…

Miike has gone on to direct a gazillion more films since Chakushin Ari, some (like Zebraman and Yokai DaisensoThe Great Yokai War) more mainstream than others (his rambling, metaphysical samurai movie, Izo).
He also contributed “Box” to pan-Asian horror anthology Saam Gaang Yi (Three… Extremes) and the too-disturbing-for-American-cable “Imprint” to Masters of Horror’s first season. And then there was some good old fashioned Ultraman Max thrown in for good measure, as well as that great cameo in Eli Roth’s Hostel.
Notable in his 2007 output are Kurozu Zero (Crows: Episode Zero) and Sukiyaki Western Django.

Chakushin Ari was also followed up by two sequels, Chakushin Ari 2 and Chakushin Ari Final, neither of which had Miike in the director’s chair; 2 was directed by Renpei Tsukamoto, while Final was helmed by Manabu Asou.
Neither sequel was quite as good as Chakushin Ari.
Also, in 2005, the same year Chakushin Ari 2 hit theatres, a television series of Chakushin Ari invaded Japanese homes, all 10 episodes of which are available on DVD. Haven’t seen those though, so I honestly don’t know if the show was any good.

Looking forward…

Armed with that freaky-a$$ one-sheet, One Missed Call is helmed by French director Eric Valette, and stars Ed Burns, Shannyn Sossamon (last seen in Catacombs, review in Archive), and genre fixture Ray Wise.
I hope they retain that truly disturbing ring tone from the original…

(Chakushin Ari DVD cover art courtesy of amazon.com [Double Disc Edition] and amazon.co.uk [2007 UK edition].)

(The “Looking back…” section above is a slightly altered version of a previously published review entitled “Missed Opportunity.”)

No comments: