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Last Viewed:2004.11.17
Last/Last Reviewed:2004.11.17/2004.11.28

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According to the BoxOffice numbers in October and November 2004, Japanese horror films draw American crowds to the theaters. After the surprise success in 2002 of The Ring with $129M, this year sees another remake of a Japanese horror movie, The Grudge, raking in close to $105M after four weeks in the theaters. So, Japanese horror films have translated their success in Japan fairly well with remakes here. The strange angles, how the entire film frame is used, and the traditional Asian ghost and horror imageries provide a freshness and unfamiliarity that makes the material even more potent for the western audience.

If you look at the palette of promising Japanese directors, no one is as eccentric, disturbing, prolific, and versatile as Takashi Miike. He is definitely one of my favorite directors with movies as wide ranging as the horror shockers Audition or Ichi the Killer (both reviewed), the disturbing and offensive Visitor Q (reviewed), the multi-cultural yakuza actionner The City Of Lost Souls, the hilarious horror musical The Happiness Of The Katakuris (reviewed), or the sweet and touching The Guys From Paradise or The Bird People Of China. I simply do not know of any other director, living or dead, with such a range, such prolific output (he directed over 20 movies in the past 6 years alone), and such a consistent quality, including films that some people consider masterpieces in their genres.

One of the problems with Miike though is that he is more noticed for his over the top, ultra-violent and controversial films, than for his more mainstream ones. These crazy, insane films make him a difficult person to work with in the context of a box office hit. Maybe this is the reason he made One Missed Call, a completely mainstream Japanese horror film that inscribes itself well in the recent Grudge or Ring craze. But, for any Miike fan or Japanese horror fan, this is the biggest problem of this movie. Although very well done from beginning to end, and full of interesting frights, it is a giant rehash of all the successful Japanese horror films of the past 5 years, without the Miike touch, the insanity and creativity that fans have come to expect from him.

Don't get me wrong, this is a very well done movie, and it maintains a serious level of creep and scares. But the overall story and writing are average at best, not because of their quality, but because of their commonness. You have all the traditional formulaic ingredients:

  • super cute Japanese girls in their late teens early 20's,

  • ghosts with their long black hair (a typically traditional Asian imagery... if you see in an Asian film someone with long black hair covering the face, you can be pretty sure it's a ghost),

  • plenty of troubling dismemberment,

  • serial murders,

  • supernatural things,

  • and a strong connection to a modern consumer thing.

    For those of you who have seen Ring and Grudge, this movie is basically a mix of the two, with cell phones being the modern device through which the traditional ghost takes form and perpetuates its killings. The story is simple: a ghost hops from cell phone to cell to kill their owners one by one. 48 hours before the death, they each receive a voice mail message that takes place at the time of their murder, 48 hours later.

    Kou Shibasaki, whom you may remember from the modern Japanese classic Battle Royale, plays the main role. One night, her friend (Anna Nagata, also seen in Battle Royale) receives a strange voice message where she can hear herself mumbling something, and then screaming. The message has a date of 48 hours in the future, and 48 hours later, she dies, leaving Kou completely shaken. But then, the murders continue, killing one by one some of her close friends, until she receives a voice message from the future. What follows is a fairly common investigation leading to the revelation that, guess what, a ghost with a serious grudge towards the world of the living, is committing all those murders. We end up with the traditional Asian exorcism, which is quite different from western exorcism: rather than a fight against evil, Asian culture sees ghost as people that remained on earth because of unresolved issues, so, exorcisms become empathic experiences to figure out, and then resolve those issues so the ghost can be freed.

    As i said before, this movie is really well done, with a tight script, good direction and visuals. The problem is that it is so formulaic, which is disappointing for a Miike film. Nevertheless, the movie is interesting because it does sum up the genre in one package. The duality of old and new, the symbolism of new consumer electronics providing a passage for the old traditional supernatural forces to emerge in our world of today, is very important in the context of the Japanese culture. In Ring, it was a video tape. In this movie, it's cell phones: it's more interesting because of their social nature, and the automation they enable. The ghost hops from one cell phone to the next, like a modern computer virus, through the contact list. The movie is also well done in that it repeats, again in one package, some of the main visuals associated with Asian supernatural elements. If only this movie had been made 3 years ago.

    So, is there a chance for this movie to have a remake done in the US? It is certainly mainstream enough that it could translate well. In addition, Miike is truly one of the most important directors alive today, so this could be his attempt to enter the US. However, the rehashed material that makes up this film is its main drawback and may not satisfy most people, even if it is well done overall technically. The story is all too common, and the writing all too uninventive, to attract anyone but the Miike fans or the Japanese Horror fans, the more general audience will see through the subterfuge and not get into the film.

    Finally, and this is a first that we'll try to do more often here at RatingMovies.comŽ, we present to you a simple selection of images from the film. Although this feature makes the review page load slower, we hope it will provide you with visuals to accompany the review, to hopefully make you want to see the movie even more. Please, give us feedback here.

    > > On to another Japanese film, the supernatural period spectacle of Onmyoji > > >

    - Laurent Hasson