One Missed Call (2003)
Directed by Takashi Miike
Written by Minako Daira
Starring Kou Shibasaki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukiishi, Anna Nagata, Atsushi Ida, Mariko Tsutsui
Media Blasters / Tokyo Shock
DVD Available Now
Yoko has just received a bizarre voice mail… from her own cell phone two days in the future. She can distinctively hear her own voice on the message followed moments later by a bloodcurdling scream. Yoko writes it off as some twisted prank, but two days later while talking with her friend Yumi, who had also listened to the chilling voice mail, the events of that foretelling message play out and Yoko is later found dead from an apparent suicide. Soon more of Yumi’s friends begin to receive similar phone calls, and similarly meet their predestined doom.
As rumors circulate through the teenage population, and a tabloid television show latches onto the phenomenon to make a quick buck, Yumi meets a mysterious young man named Yamashita, whose sister met the same fate as Yumi’s friends. With little to go on, the pair begin a frantic search for clues that could lead to the source behind the calls, and soon focus on the disappearance of a woman from six months ago. But when Yumi receives a soul-crushing voice mail from herself being murdered two days in the future, the young woman knows that she will be next, and nothing will be able to protect her apart from subduing the vengeful spirit that has been plaguing the phone lines.
By the time that One Missed Call rolled into theatres in Japan, both the Ringu and Ju-On series had already played out their welcome, The Ring remake had already scared up success in America, and the similarly themed Korean film Phone was making its rounds across Southeast Asia. Even with the versatile Takashi Miike behind the camera, who earlier that year had unleashed the memorable beast Gozu onto a welcoming audience, this hybrid entry into the oversaturated “long haired ghost” and “cursed technology” horror subgenres seems like a rehash of already available material.
Adapted from Yasushi Akimoto’s novel by first-time screenwriter Minako Daira, the entire film is covered with middle-of-the-road mediocrity. The set-ups are dull, the characters are rather flat, and even the scares leave the viewer wanting more. Now granted, having the next soon-to-be victim chosen at random from the previous victim’s saved list of phone numbers adds a little twist to the cursed technology, but take a step back and you’ll realize this is nothing more than the T-Mobile MyFaves Plan From Hell. Think your bill is tough to decipher as it is now? Try adding a masochistic spirit to the mix!
On the surface, Takashi Miike seems to be asleep behind the wheel during this entire movie, which was his fourth production for 2003. There are none of the usual camera flourishes or over-the-top antics that usually define his pictures, and his squirm-inducing approach to gore and violence is almost completely absent. He has a few shock moments, but the potential for what could have been is eerily visible on screen. Rather than bring on his trademark weird like a barreling train, his twisted vision of cinema seems consciously muted in order to appeal to a wider audience and please the suits at Toho.
But take a closer look. If Miike’s plan was to ape, mimic, and jab at the genre that had completely taken over mainstream Japanese horror, then his subtle criticism is completely spot on. The fear level never really raises the hairs on your arms, even as lead actress Kou Shibasaki does her absolute best to dish out one terrified scream and contorted face after another, just enough to give the average sixteen-year old girl the shivers. Though his use of shadows and darkness almost reaches the point of absurd, Miike has previously shown his aptitude for controlling light, so if the scenes are too dark, chances are he wants them cloaked in black. The greatest sequence in the film though, and perhaps the most telling of Miike’s hidden agenda to skewer the limited genre, is the blatant its-not-over-yet finale.
Is One Missed Call worth seeing? The short answer is, despite its repetitive nature, yes. Miike has put together a competent if completely and consciously forgettable spooky ghost movie that snipes at its own genre without waving huge red flags as if to say “look at all these things that have been done before!” The fact that no one has really picked up on it is the punch line. And it is on that note, with more than just a tinge of irony, that One Missed Call has become the latest, but certainly not last film to be strip mined from Southeast Asia and retooled for American audiences as another bland horror flick for the mallrat crowd. Perhaps that is the true punch line. If so, Takashi Miike and Minako Daira (whose only other credits include the Japanese sequel and American remake of One Missed Call) are truly mad geniuses to be feared and carefully watched for the rest of their careers.