Following the sensationally scary Ringu (1998) and Kairo aka Pulse (2001) Chakushin ari also known as One Missed Call combines a slick supernatural story with an accurate critique of our obsession with technology that is far ahead of its time, all the while totally terrifying the audience.
Based on the novel by Yasushi Akimoto the 2003 adaptation was so successful it spawned two sequels, 2005’s One Missed Call 2 and 2006’s One Missed Call: Final, a Japanese TV series and a Hollywood remake. Now thanks to Arrow Video the original trilogy is available on Blu-ray for the first time making it the perfect moment to revisit the first film.
Taking the idea of the yurei, a vengeful spirit that appears in many tales in Japanese folklore and using mobile phones as the means with which the murdering ghost moves and communicates is inspired and in the hands of extreme auteur Takashi Miike, famed for movies like Ichi the Killer and Audition, the story is transformed into a film full of gruesome gore and deeply disturbing scenes.
Opening with a set of teens obsessing over their phones while discussing phobias, ghosts and childhood trauma the conversation is broken when one of the group Yoko (Battle Royale’s Anna Nagata) receives a missed call that seems to be from her own number. The message that is left is listed as being on a future date and horribly confusingly it sounds like Yoko herself on the recording issuing a blood curdling scream before it cuts off.
Treating it as a silly prank or mechanical problem Yoko carries on normal life however 2 days later whilst on the phone to her friend Yumi (Ko Shibasaki from 47 Ronin) she is killed in a horrific rail collision. The police think that it is suicide or a simple accident however when another member of the gang picks up a message from his future self-scared stiff, Yumi knows otherworldly forces must be at work.
Perfectly paced One Missed Call, like so many of the other best J-Horrors of the period, combines the settings and characters of the late 90’s teen horror cycle that was so familiar and popular in Hollywood post Scream while revitalising the stories with a genuinely genius merging of old and new ideas to create scares no one had ever seen.
The classic J-Horror image of the ghostly female form in white with long black hair may seem overplayed now but still manages to freak audiences out regardless especially when handled by a fantastic filmmaker such as Miike who knows just when and what to show to increase the terror.
The slow build is brilliant with the spirit spreading through each victim’s phone via their contacts list with the next missed call marking the mobile owner for death. This concept leads to a particularly poignant scene where a future victim encourages other college friends to delete their number from her phone serving as a wonderful analogy for infection and social isolation.
You can terminate your contract and throw your mobile away but the monster still manages to find a way to strike, something that is spectacularly demonstrated when Natsumi (13 Assassins Kazue Fukiishi) ends up targeted and desperate to escape she appears on a TV show to take part in a live exorcism. The resulting chaotic killing is superbly shot climaxing in a mucked up murder that only Takashi Miike could pull off.
This pattern of one missed call, a cryptically creepy voice message and a countdown to the next death amp’s up the tension and as time ticks away Yumi rushes to discover what is really going on in an attempt to save the latest of her pals whose phone has been hauntingly hijacked. Teaming up with a Hiroshi (Space Battleship Yamato’s Shinichi Tsutsumi ) whose sister was also slain the pair start to uncover a twisted and terrible tale involving child abuse that closely parallels Yumi’s own past and current studies in child psychology.
Moving towards a more symbolic showdown than a straight battle of good vs evil, like many J-Horrors One Missed Call does not offer a clear explanation but this works fine as the final few twists and turns the film throws at its audience keep everyone on the edge of their seats.
One Missed Call is one of the best in the genre of J-Horror and with the amazing Arrow Boxset packed with the sequels and hours of extras it’s not to be missed. Ahead of its time in its vicious vision of how modern technology can take over our lives and end them, this is one horror movie you just can’t hang up on.