Takashi Miike is a master of wild, unpredictable cinema. The man regularly churns out multiple films each year which range from the ultra-violence of “Ichi the Killer” to wacky musicals like “Happiness of Katakuris” to odd children’s films such as the recent “Zebraman”. “One Missed Call”, however, is a truly unexpected turn from the director, as unfortunately it is a dull and incredibly derivative film. Although competently made, acted, and technically pushing all the right buttons, almost everything about the film is formulaic and has been seen several times before.
From a lesser known director, “One Missed Call” may have been an acceptable time waster, as it is entertaining enough in its own right. However, from an auteur that has consistently produced far more imaginative and original work, this is a real slap in the face. Of course, over in the West we are privy to only a percentage of Miike’s catalogue of films, and so it is hard to make too many generalizations about his output. Despite this, and all comparisons aside, “One Missed Call” is simply an unadventurous, uninteresting and above all, a needless addition to the already overcrowded genre of films about longhaired female ghosts who haunt people through phones.
The plot of “One Missed Call” begins in the expected fashion, as a young woman receives a mysterious phone call which foretells her death. The less than stunning twist is that the call she receives in fact comes from her own mobile and is dated three days into the future. Although she ignores the call itself, the ghost handily leaves a message on her answering machine — the message is her screaming and uttering a few cryptic words. Of course, the woman and her friends, including nominal heroine Yumi (Kou Shibasaki, recognizable to genre fans from “Battle Royale” and “Kakashi”), laugh it off before, unsurprisingly, the prophetic message is fulfilled, and she meets a gruesome, inexplicable fate.
One by one, the group of friends receives similar messages and die, apparently never thinking to simply ignore the calls or not listen to the messages. After she too receives a call from the ghost, it is left to Yumi to investigate and solve the sinister mystery, aided by a stranger who seems to have a link to the deaths.
I’m sure that even to viewers not familiar with the vast legions of similar films recently coming out of Asia, this sounds tired, predictable and lazy. Miike borrows liberally from a variety of films, most obviously the “Ringu” trilogy and “Phone”, but also from other Asian horrors such as “Dark Water” (from which the director shamelessly lifts an entire scene). With so much of the film being instantly recognizable, it becomes predictable from the start, and since viewers know exactly where the plot is going, there is no tension, surprises, or indeed, interest.
Matters are not helped by the fact that “One Missed Call”, clocking in at just under two hours, is woefully overlong, and starts to feel stretched long before the halfway point. This blatant plagiarism could perhaps have been overlooked had Miike at least made an effort to spice things up, or to inject some flair into the proceedings. Sadly, his direction here is by the numbers, and he appears to be every bit as disinterested in the film as the viewer. He displays none of his usual verve or style, going instead for cheap, predictable pseudo shocks, and the same tacky techniques which countless other films have employed.
There is very little actual horror on show, and none of the deaths have any impact, due as much as anything to the fact that there is no effort made to flesh out any of the characters. Although the acting is average enough, and Kou Shibasaki is competent enough as the ineffectual heroine, the viewer is never given a reason to like or dislike anyone in the film.
Perhaps the whole sorry affair was planned as some kind of po-faced spoof or commentary on the lack of originality in modern cinema, as it is hard to believe that a director such as Miike could make such an utterly anonymous and pointless film. If Hitchcock or Kurosawa had risen from their graves and directed “One Missed Call” the end result would, I suspect, still have been the same — a hollow reworking of tired material that seems purposely built to be average and unremarkable.
Overall, “One Missed Call” is simply a waste of time for fans of horror films, and especially for fans of the director. There is no effort here to create anything but a standard, unambitious clone of a genre film which long ago became tired and hackneyed. Although not actually badly made or offensive, this is the kind of film which should be avoided on principle.
Takashi Miike (director) / Hideo Yamamoto (screenplay)
CAST: Kazue Fukiishi …. Natsumi Konishi
Atsushi Ida …. Kawai Kenji
Renji Ishibashi …. Motomiya
Anna Nagata …. Okazaki Yoko
Kou Shibasaki …. Yumi Nakamura