Directed by Miike Takashi, 2003, 112 min. starring Kou Shibasaki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukiishi, and Renji Ishibashi.
It's hard to imagine Japanese cinema without Takashi Miike. All sarcasm aside, the man has become synonymous with the ever-growing new wave of Japanese films. If he's not shocking us with gorefests like the Dead or Alive series or dysfunctional cinematic glimpses with Visitor Q or Happiness of the Katakuris, he's impressing us with moving or quiet or just plain strange films like Sabu, Audition, and lately Gozu. But for all his forays into cinema, he has never made an outright horror film. Perhaps it's his lack of confidence with the genre or the fact that he considers himself an auteur who won't touch the material with a ten-foot stick. But every director I guess needs a horror movie in their portfolio, wanted or not.
So, with the release of Chakushin Ari, a couple of questions come to mind: Why now? And does it deliver the goods? The "why now" question is still up for debate. It's been said (either by his party or by the press) that he wanted to bring new life into the genre, bring something original to the plate. That is seriously up for debate, which I will discuss a little later. As for delivering the goods - well, that's something I can be sure to discuss in this review.
A horror film should work on several levels. One is credibility in the midst of ghoulishness and fantasy. Another is pure and utter on-screen terror. And I guess the final test is endurance - how long a horror film can stay with you long after you turn out the lights. A lot of films have achieved this (most of which are given glowing reviews on this site), while some you just completely ignore and hope there will never be more of. Miike, as a cinematic wunderkind of sorts, tries to have this film work on all levels of horror. A steady plot, twists and turns, and a surprising revelation are all here. Yet for all its slickness and style, the film becomes just another horror movie, one that you watch for the experience, but easily forgettable right after.
A young girl, Yoko, gets a strange message on her cellphone - strange because the call has come from her own number and is dated two days in the future. What's even stranger is that the message seems to have been left by her – all it says is "Oh no, it's raining", immediately followed by a bloodcurdling scream. She lets her friends listen to the message, including Yumi (played by Kou Shibisaki) who along with everyone else, assumes it was a prank of sorts. Still, something eats away at Yumi, who can't help thinking it's more than that.
Two days later, Yumi receives a call from Yoko as she is walking home one night. During the conversation it starts to rain, causing Yoko to say "Oh no, it's raining". Sure enough, Yumi remembers that phrase as the same message from two nights previously, but before she can warn Yoko, Yoko screams before mysteriously plunging off a bridge into the path of an oncoming train. Yumi sits in shock on the other end of line, as, unbeknownst to her, Yoko's severed arm mysteriously dials an unknown number.
At Yoko's funeral, Yumi overhears a group of schoolgirls talking about a mysterious rumour about a vengeful spirit killing people through their cellphones. This spirit gets to its victim by the numbers stored in the phones and then gruesomely kills them in a myriad of grisly ways. Yumi is unsurprisingly a bit worried about this and proceeds to warn all her friends, including Kenji, a guy that Yoko has a crush on. Kenji then lets Yumi listen to a message of the same mysterious quality, Kenji saying "Oh s**t, that was today"” Only this time the message was for a few minutes from now. She panics and tells him to stay put, but he scoffs at this and proceeds to the elevator. Sure enough, a classmate of his calls to him and reminds him of a group study session they were supposed to have. To this, Kenji groans "Oh s**t, that was today?" The elevator opens to an empty shaft and Kenji gets mysteriously pulled down to his death. As his smashed body lies twitching at the bottom of the shaft, his fingers dial the unknown number and we see him spit out a small red ball of candy.
With all the deaths occurring around her, Yumi becomes protective of her friends, but while she and her friend Natsumi spend the night together, Natsumi hears a familiar ringtone, the one that seems to precede all the deathly phone calls. She checks her phone to find not a message, but a photograph of her with a strange woman behind her. The date of the photo? The day after tomorrow.
Hoping to avoid the curse, Natsumi proceeds to have her phone contract cancelled and her number rescinded, even going as far as throwing away her phone once all that is completed. Yet, as word got around that she was the latest pending victim, a camera crew appears and offers to have her exorcised on national television. Fearing for her life, she agrees to it, much to the disdain of Yumi.
During this commotion, Yumi meets a man who has been following these strange deaths looking for some answers. He has been following these deaths since his sister, a nurse at a local hospital, seemed to have suffered the same fate and who therefore is somehow tied in to the mystery. The two then decide to jointly investigate the mystery, which leads them to visit an abandoned hospital, an orphanage, a very strange mortician, and several twists and turns in the story that is just too spoiler-heavy to get into at this point. But can all their investigations bring an end to the terror - and a possible solution to save Natsumi's life?
Miike tries his hand at horror and, well, succeeds in a way. He set out to do this movie for two reasons. One - to bring something original to the genre (or so it's claimed) and two - to scare the viewer. In terms of originality, he fails - at least in the execution. The formula has been tried and tested and perfected by Ring and this feels very much like that. It's all familiar stuff - right away from the funeral where the main character finds out about the curse to the investigation via the inevitable showdown all the way to the you-think-it's-over-but-it's-not final scare,. Even the look of the film has been done in countless Japanese horror films - long-haired vengeful ghost? Train-related death? Ghost in the shower? It's all here, with even a death scene very reminiscent of the final scene in Uzumaki.
Though the film suffers heavily from lack of originality in terms of execution, the film remains truly Miike. I say that in the sense that all familiar elements of his films are here. Abusive childhoods, masochism, murder, and mayhem still feel very much like typical Miike to me - even with a nensha curse into the mix.
What I did like about this film is that it still managed to keep a sense of identity. I don't know how to describe it, but I couldn't bring myself to all it a rip-off. Maybe it's because the final revelation, when you discover what the ghost has been looking for, got to me. Maybe it's the fact that it made a better use of horrifying cellphones than Phone did. Or maybe it's just that cheesy, completely out-of-place pop song at the end credits that made me smile. Regardless, the movie worked for me. It even got a few decent scares out of me and my friends while watching it together. And, in all fairness, there's enough of a plot to keep you interested in the movie right until the end.
But, like I said earlier, the end really brings you that. A film that is easily forgotten until perhaps the next time you pop it into your DVD player. It's good popcorn fun while watching it, but like the ever-changing cellphone market, it could easily end up as obsolete as yesterday's model.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 8/10 - cheesy, unoriginal fun - totally unchallenging, but fantastically entertaining
Chills: 8/10. Lots of BIG JUMPS
Violence: 4/10 - for Miike, it's rather restrained, concentrating on scares
Plot: Taken from the I-Spy Book of Jyapaneezu Horaa
Typical Miike moments: 0. Thankfully, as a cow-headed man would have been well out of place
Films in a Similar Style: in order of
rip-off value homage: Ring, Ju-on, Dark Water, Phone. And wasn't Phone a rip-off homage in itself?
*** Recommended ***
Discuss this movie here at the Snowblood Apple Forums!
Chakushin Ari Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Larry D Burns, 2005
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.destroy-all-monsters.com/chakushinari.shtml - Destroy All Monsters do their usual excellent and thorough job with a great indepth review
http://www.foutz.net/movies/chakushinari.shtml - Scott Foutz has actually drawn up a table of similarities between the Big Three Japanese Horror Genre Movies as compared to Chakushin Ari ;-)
http://nofreelist.com/review/?movieid=922 - a short but succinct review by Mino
http://kou-shibasaki.nihon-zone.com/movie/chakushin_ari/chakushin_ari.html - castlist, short plot outline and soundtrack details at Kou Shibasaki's Unofficial Fansite
http://outnow.ch/Media/Img/2003/ChakushinAri/ - a small gallery of hi-res images from the film
http://www.fjmovie.com/horror/t9/82.html - full cast details at fjmovie.com/horror
http://www.walkerplus.com/movie/asx/mo2298_56.asx - lo-res trailer at MovieWalker
http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/round-up.shtml#one-missed-call - a very short and rather pointless "capsule review" at Midnight Eye
http://www.stardust.co.jp/rooms/kou/ - Kou Shibasaki's official website
http://kou-shibasaki.zanlius.com/ - Kou Shibasaki Fandom, Barry Zanlius's sister-site to Chiaki Kuriyama Fandom