Posts Tagged ‘Ko Shibasaki’

27-one-missed-call-2003

Director: Takashi Miike

Starring: Kou Shibasaki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukiishi, Anna Nagata, Renji Ishibashi, Atsushi Ida, Mariko Tsutsui

Ah, yes, the Japanese ghost story. Always so bizarre! I’ve noted how this may well be my least favorite type of horror movie (werewolves run fairly close), and yet… at least technically… I’ve already dealt with two of them just this month. However, neither should count as they were not produced by Japan. One (“Pulse”) was a remake set in America, while the other (“The Forest”) was an original story set in Japan but featuring an American protagonist. 2003’s “One Missed Call” is the real deal. As batshit crazy and existing outside of anything resembling reality as the rest of its ilk, “One Missed Call” remains my one and only exception to my prejudice against this little subgenre.

A college student named Yoko Okazaki (Anna Nagata) receives a call on her cell phone, which she notices is from her own number. It goes straight to voicemail. The weird thing is that it’s dated two days to the future. Yoko and her friend Yumi Nakamura (Kou Shibasaki) listen to the message. Instantly recognizable as Yoko’s voice, the message ends with Yoko screaming. Two nights later, Yoko is having a phone conversation with Yumi which quickly becomes familiar, as Yoko is repeating the words from the voicemail. Soon, Yoko screams as she is dragged by an unknown presence off the bridge she was standing on and dropped down onto the roof of an oncoming train. From her mouth a red candy emerges, while a severed hand calls a number. Some time later, Yoko’s boyfriend, Kenji Kawai (Atsushi Ida), meets with Yumi and tells her that he received a voicemail with the exact same ringtone. To Yumi’s horror, Kenji is pulled by that same unidentified down an elevator shaft. As he dies, Kenji spits out a red candy and calls another number.

Yumi’s friend Natsumi Konishi (Kazue Fukiishi), is the next target of the deadly voicemail. The ghost has decided to mix things up a bit this time, adding photos to the voicemail. By this time, you have to be thinking that the easiest way out is to simply get rid of her cell phone, right? Well, Natsumi tries that, but it doesn’t work, because any cell phones owned by people she comes into contact with will contain the same message.

Word of the series of mysterious deaths has spread, and a TV host is interested in sensationalizing her story with a live exorcism on his program. Wanting very much to help her friend, Yumi talks to a detective named Hiroshi Yamashita (Shinichi Tsusumi). Yamashita has a special interest in helping Yumi. His sister had died in a fire after receiving a voicemail from her own number. Oh, but let’s not forget about Natsumi! So, the exorcism completely fails. Yumi is helpless to do anything but watch as her friend’s body is unnaturally twisted before her eyes. When Natsumi breathes her final breath, Yumi is next to receive the voicemail with the creepy ringtone.

Turns out that Yamashita’s sister, who was a social worker, kept a journal. In it, she talks two children whose mother was accused of child abuse. The last anyone saw of the mother, it was at a hospital which is due to be demolished soon as the result of a fire. One of the childer, Mimiko, died of asthma one year earlier. Her sister Nanako is the only living witness, but she’s unlikely to tell anyone her story as she hasn’t spoken a word since her sister died. She does have a doll which plays the same tune as the mysterious ringtone, though.

Following the one lead they’ve got, Yumi goes to the hospital, where ghosts harass her and scare the bejesus out of her. Finally, Yamashita shows up. In a dark room, Marie’s body is found, severely decomposing. Surprise, surprise… she’s holding a cellphone. The body suddenly reanimates and knocks Yamashita out of the room. At this point, Yumi starts thinking back to her own abusive mother, and this causes her to hug the grotesque corpse in front of her, which has returned to being little more than a rotting stiff.

Back at Nanako’s orphanage, Yamashita finds a nanny cam which proves that it was Mimiko, not her mother, who harmed Nanako. On this particular day, this is what caused her mother to leave Mimiko to die from her asthma. Understanding the truth, Yamashita tries to make it to Yumi’s apartment in time to save her from Mimiko’s ghost. However, when he gets there a possessed Yumi stabs him, and he falls to the ground. Not dead, Yamashita has a vision of himself saving Mimiko from her deadly asthma attack. When he awakens, he finds himself in a hospital with Yumi standing over him. From behind, we can see she is holding a knife, indicating she is still possessed. She spits a red candy into Yamashita’s mouth, and then smiles.

I don’t know if I can adequately explain why most Japanese ghost stories don’t interest me. By comparison, explaining why I feel “One Missed Call” works where others fail is fairly simple. You take the standard ghosts in the machine plot, hand it over to one of THE great Japanese filmmakers of the modern era, and let him do his thing. The surreal direction of Takashi Miike is why “One Missed Call” is in a class by itself. Far less disturbing than “Ichi the Killer” or “Audition,” it’s still one of Miike’s best. Kou Shibasaki is a talented lead with understated range. If you don’t believe me, check her out in “Battle Royale,” where she plays a deliciously villainous role. About the only thing I might change about this movie is to make the ending slightly easier to digest. It is a bit of a headscratcher, but doesn’t do enough to take away from the overall entertainment factor. If only more movies like it were this visually engaging, I might be able to change my mind about the genre as a whole.

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