This rather blatant rip-off of RING (1998) manages to stand on its own by virtue of its satirical approach. Taking the familiar clichés and pushing them as far as they will go, ONE MISSED CALL borders on parody; the intent seems to be to drive a stake through the heart of the J-Horror genre, leaving behind nothing but a desiccated corpse from which all vitality has been sapped. The result is reasonably effective as a horror film, but the quirkiness of the approach – rather than the genre trappings – are the real appeal.
The premise is lifted from RING, which contained dialogue references to a supernatural phone call warning of impending death but ultimately settled on a videotape as the icon of horror. Dropping the videotape, ONE MISSED CALL features a series of victims who receive messages on their cell phones: the gimmick is that the calls come from their own cell phones – a day or two in the future – and the messages appear to have been recorded at the precise moment of a violent death. The story involves a young woman trying to track down the source of the calls, with the aid of a man whose sister was the first to die. The rather thin trail of clues leads them to a hospital where a young girl died of an asthma attack; her (apparently) abusive mother (it is rumored) intentionally waited too long to seek treatment, resulting in her daughter’s death. The mother, who mysteriously disappeared, is eventually found, dead, and the malevolent ghost apparently put to rest – until a twist ending keeps the horror alive.
Director Takashi Miike – more known for violent gangster films – is perhaps too distinctive to make a straight-ahead horror film. He cannot resist including a tough police officer who poses in the shadows as if he thinks he were in a film noir; the ultimate source of horror turns out to be a sadistic psycho who might have fit into one of his other films; and the director occasionally resorts to graphic imagery (e.g., a severed hand dialing a cell phone; a headless body stumbling before collapsing to the floor) normally eschewed in Japanese ghost films. Miike carefully choreographs the horror sequences, achieving a level of stylization that sometimes evokes humor in its exaggeration (e.g., a slow dolly in on a victim, whose eyes go abnormally wide at the prospect of approaching doom). The approach adds a touch of distinction to what might have, otherwise, been a routine genre thriller.
The highlight comes when a reality television show talks the next victim into appearing live at the appointed time of her death. With a panel of experts debating the topic, and an exorcist trying to save the girl, the scene is a three-ring circus of absurdity, with the television show’s producers clearly exploiting a potential tragedy for ratings. Miike actually manages to trump the satire with some genuine horror – showing the ghostly antagonist, unhindered by the television trappings, claiming her victim right in front of the TV cameras.
Unfortunately, this sequences happens midway through the movie, which then degenerates into more typical fare; there is even (surprise, surprise) a corpse that comes to life, menacing the heroes. The makeup, effects, and staging are all well done enough to supply the expected thrills, but they offer little that one could not see in other, similar movies.
The resolution never adequately explains the mechanism by which cell phones became the ghost’s medium of choice; the dialogue offers only the briefest lip service. And the attempt to link the heroine (who was abused as a child) thematically with the ghost is only partially successful. Film ends on an ambiguous note, with evil apparently alive and well, but the imagery (a friendly smile, a bright blue sky) suggesting a happy – if temporary – truce.
The U.S. DVD release from Tokyo Shock is a two-disc set. The first disc offers an adequate transfer of the film, divided into twelve chapter stops. The image looks a little dark, and the contrast is too low, so turning up the brightness on your television washes out the black areas of the screen, turning them gray. Still, the transfer is better than the Region 3 import disc. You get English and Japanese audio tracks in Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 stereo, plus optional English subtitles. There is also a collection of trailers, including ONE MISSED CALL and previous films directed by Miike (ICHI THE KILLER, etc).
Bonus features include a Making Of documentary; Cast & Crew Interviews; an Alternate Ending; TV spots; an exclusive interview with Takashi Miike; footage from festival screenings; “A Day with the Mizunuma Family;” and “TV Show Special.”
The documentary follows in the tradition of those seen on many DVDs of Asian horror films: it consists mostly of B-roll footage of the cast and crew on set, with only the occasional subtitle or interview snippet to offer any context. The result is uninformative and dull, only occasionally offering a glimpse of something interesting (such as a mechanical arm for when the ghost twists one of her victims, breaking her bones).
The Cast & Crew interviews are also mostly uninformative; much of the material is redundant, having been used in the documentary. Few of the actors have anything substantial to offer, beyond describing the characters and remarking on what it is like to work on a horror ilm.
The Alternate Ending seems more like a deliberate joke never intended to be included in the film. One of the people responsible for the ill-fated television show is shown in bandages, receiving a call foretelling his death in a few seconds. Then a wash bin falls out of nowhere and conks him on the head, followed by an apologetic subtitle (“Sorry”), as if the filmmakers were embarrassed by their own Three Stooges style gag.
The Miike interview is a little more interesting, as the director talks about taking on his first horror film and adapting himself to the genre while resisting the urge to make a film in his usual style. The “Screenings” bonus feature shows the cast answering questions from the audience at film festivals. The answers have little to offer that is not already in the Cast & Crew interviews.
The last two features – “A Day with the Mizunuma Family” and “TV Show Special” – contain lengthy video footage of scenes shown in bits and pieces in the actual movie. The first is the “hidden camera” footage of the child abuse the heroes discover while searching for the source of the haunting. The latter is the ill-fated show that appears midway through the film; the footage here consists only of preliminary interview material, not the horrific, special-effects filled climax.
RELATED ARTICLES: One Missed Call 2 (Film & DVD Review)
CHAKUSHIN ARI(“One Missed Call,” 2004). Directed by Takashi Miike. Screenplay by Minaka Daira, from the novel by Yasushi Akimoto. Cast: Kou Shibasaki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukishi, Anna Nagata, Atsushi Ida.