Don't Miss This Call!

or else...

I really wanted to start this review with a fresh, hip and otherwise pleonastic introductory sentence that would grab your attention in the most extreme way possible. But that didn’t happen. Yep, I’m just going to have to take a ride on the cliche boat and say it: was this not a horror movie it would easily be in competition for title of my favorite film. No amount of acting or story can change the piece's genre and therefore it suffers from some inherent problems that simply cannot allow it to stand up to the likes of my favorite films. But enough about that for now, let’s start with a look at the movie shall we? Oh, I'm also proud to say this is spoiler free.

Some History

Takashi Miike’s films are an acquired taste. Much like equally hip Director Ryuhei Kitamura, Miike employs more than a few quirks in his works that tend to remind the viewer that they’re watching an imagined reality with the subtlety of a cinderblock to the face. There are few film buffs that agree on any sort of middle ground regarding the quality of Miike’s works. He’s either ‘unhealthily obsessed with nihilsm’ or ‘a genius deconstructionist’, take your pick. This is exactly why One Missed Call, (hereafter referred to by its original title Chakushin Ari),is a huge surprise. Forget for a moment that this is a horror movie and you will be shocked that this notch on Miike’s belt is a controlled and ‘realistic’ piece. This is his first major release in Japan that enjoyed heavy advertising and boasted a leading lady who was/is on everyone’s lips. Adapted from a novel by writer Yasushi Akimoto, Miike displays an amazing amount of self-control as he guides the viewer through not just a fantastic horror film but also an amazing story.


Actress Kou Shibasaki, one of the hottest young thesps in Japan as of this writing (2005), takes on her first leading role in a film with Chakushin Ari. Just for reference, you may not recognize the name but surely any Japanese film fan will remember, “That psycho girl from Battle Royale. Yes, Shibasaki Kou is indeed the scythe-wielding maniac Mitsuko from BR. Since then she’s refined her skills with roles in various films like Go and Drive, and in Chakushin Ari she emerges as reticent college Freshman Yumi Nakamura. Attending a singles’ party with her friends, Yumi heads to the bathroom to freshen up along with her classmate Yoko who had just come from a memorial service; recently a high school kouhai of her’s had died of asphyxiation during a scuba diving trip. No sooner does Yoko explain the cause of death than her cell phone begins to ring a chillingly eerie ring tone announcing a call. While Yoko is indisposed Yumi tells her that she is getting a call but a surprised Yoko states that the ring tone is not her’s. Upon checking the source of the call she finds the caller’s number is her own cell number dated two days in the future. Seeing a message left on her phone she checks: a train-crossing bell pings in the background and Yoko’s own voice can be heard, “Oh yuck, it’s started raining!”, followed moments later by a terrible scream. Nonchalantly brushing the occurrence off back at the table Yoko, Yumi and the others all exchange their cell phone numbers in order to prepare for a group vacation. Two days later while walking home from her part-time job Yoko gives Yumi a call to discuss shopping plans for the next day. Suddenly the connection begins to weaken and Yoko can barely hear Yumi, the panging train-crossing bell behind Yoko isn’t helping either. When a wet droplet of water falls on Yoko’s hand she looks to the sky and declares, “Oh yuck, it’s started raining!” Yumi hears the phrase and calls out to her friend but it’s too late, with a awful scream a force hurls Yoko through a metal grate and into the path of the on-coming train, tearing her body apart, yet somehow, her severed arm types away on her cell phone, dialing the next victim in what is soon to become a string of vicious murders.

The Plot Coagulates

All of the above happens within the first 12 minutes of this complex story which clocks in at just under two hours. I’m not crazy about this film because of its horror elements, it is the story which butters this film. I wouldn’t dare destroy any of the spoilers here but trust me, as contrived as the premise may seem, almost every scene and line of dialogue are overflowing with clues and important pieces of information that help the story come together for a fantastic finale (more on that later).

It would be easy to write this off as a Ring rip-off. Let’s face it; we’ve got killer technology catching victims in a chain-mail-of-death again. Been there, done that right? Wrong. The introduction of supposed vigilante investigator Hiroshi Yamashita (Shinichi Tsutsumi who previously worked with Shibasaki in Drive) adds a few clues to unraveling the mystery which, believe it or not, actually starts to reveal itself with the rolling of the opening credits. This brings up another excellent point, Chakushin Ari is a film that demands multiple viewings. Normally horror films lend themselves to characters figuring out clues by dues ex machina. None of that here folks, writer Akimoto has done what I thought was impossible, planted every clue and every scenario with tender loving care. You can only pick up on some of them through several viewings but every time it dawns on you why the characters are doing what they’re doing or exactly why they have the connections they have, you’ll be sure to grin and say a silent ‘thank you’ to Miike and Akimoto. But then again, for you horror buffs, this isn’t what you’re looking for now is it?

What You Really Came For

As far as the genre goes I’ve traditionally shirked away from horror because of its lack of brains behind the blood (no pun intended). However, since Ring I’ve been sucked into the modern Japanese horror film scene. In my humble opinion, after viewings of what Japan has to offer with the likes of Battle Royale, Juon Series, Ring Series, Uzumaki, Tomie, etc. I may not have enjoyed staring at the awful events on screen at times, but I’ve never been ‘scared’ to watch. As I sat in Minami Hikone’s Viva City Theater by myself on the day of Chakushin Ari’s public premier on January 17th 2004, I’m not ashamed to admit I watched most of the last 20 minutes of the film through my hands and squinted eyes. I won't play macho and you’re welcome to mail me about how “brave and l33t” you were if the film didn’t scare you. It freaked me out. If you’re a casual horror fan that can let yourself get caught up in the movie, the final major segment of the movie in an abandoned hospital is horror genius. Sure they employ a few tricks we’ve seen before but all except for one predictable scene with a mirror, they’re all pulled off when the audience least expects it, at times with a ferocity that left me begging for mercy.

And for you gore fans, this film isn’t oozing as much blood as, say, Ichi the Killer but it holds its own. Rather than playing with exploding heads or something traditionally ‘Miike-esque’ there are a lot of scenes which are simply difficult to watch AND listen to. I’ll just say the faint of heart may want to don some ear plugs during a scene on a television set that contains the most awful sounding death in a film ever. Kudos to the sound crew.

Wrong Numbers

Thus far I’ve sung nothing but hymns of praise yet I told you this could never be one of my absolute favorites. That’s because no matter how you look at it this is still a horror movie, and as such suffers from some of the weaknesses such movies are known for. Overacting is the order of the day as Tsutsumi plays his role a little too strongly, seemingly prone to adult male temper tantrums which in one scene leaves him screaming at a mute orphan. The whole situation is supposed to be intense but verges on hilarious as a grown man clears his lungs on a tiny girl who obviously isn’t going to reply. Shibasaki on the other hand, does a superb job as Yumi. She never smiles and remains the strong but somewhat traumatized young woman we come to know her as throughout the film. Once again, thanks to the clever placement of events, there isn’t a moment where the audience feels the need to yell at her, “DON’T GO IN THERE!”, because every instance of horror stereotype is challenged by a reasonable setup. She has plenty of screaming but mercifully never betrays her character and calls for help. She takes on plenty of difficult tasks on her own and never lets slip any helpless damsel in distress moments. Pay close enough attention to the story and you’ll even see her challenge more than one skeleton in her closet by the end of the film.

Something you may not be too happy with. It would be dishonest to say the entirety of this movie is without any touch of classic Miike. He stuck some of his usual tricks in at the very end of the film leaving the viewer with the oh-so-unsatisfactory feeling of, “wait huh?” What can I say other than I would highly suggest you accept the fact that Miike has left a significant part of interpreting the ending up to the viewer. If you want to be told exactly what happens in the end you won’t be a happy camper but use your brain for a few minutes and you’ll probably arrive at a reasonable explanation. I’d like to write my feelings down here but where would the fun be in it for you then? Go see the movie yourself and see what I’m talking about.

The Bottom Line

Stick with the film even if you find yourself comparing it to Ring after the first 20 minutes. You’ll find many similarities between the two at first, especially with scenes like Yoko’s memorial service and high school students giving up the latest gossip; forgive those necessary vehicles of information for the viewer and you’ll be able to see the rest of the movie as the unique thriller it is. As I said earlier, you won’t find me spilling the beans here, but there’s a surprise waiting at the end of the film which takes what Ring had to offer and gives it a hearty beating.

Last but not least, I dare not end this without some fanboyish praise of the film’s trademark, Death’s Ringtone. The moment I left the theater I was clicking away on the Docomo network searching for it but could only find the movie’s main theme Ikutsuka no Sora sung by Shibasaki herself with lyrics by the original novel’s author, Akimoto. Luckily, when I tried to get the ring tone again some time later, not only was I able to find the ring itself, but remixes of the tune! Once you see the flick with a few friends the possibilities for mischief with the melody are endless. Hint: Make the ringtone your alarm clock melody and set it to go off at 4AM. Simply leave the cell in your friend’s room overnight and prepare for a nasty call the next day.


As I finish writing this review, Chakushin Ari 2 is preparing to descend upon Japan on February 5th 2005. The director and most of the original cast have been dumped and changed although the trailer apparently indicates it keeps some of the mythos and at least one character from the original. The jury is still out on whether changing up someone like Renpei Tsumkamoto for Miike was a good idea. Renpei's latest work is actually the Ghostbuster's-like comedy Ghost Shout, which is one of his few works as a Director. I certainly won't condemn or criticize his work as a Director because I haven't seen any of it, only the TV Drama At Home Dad which he Produced. Everything about the sequel seems exactly like a sequel which worries me. We now have three main characters, a blood-pounding musical score and apparently some kind of overlapping love story to pull in the female viewers. Once again, not a bad thing, but the original was a success because it traded the gradiose for a killer story with just one very long and terrifying segment. The female high school students that have seen advanced showings have already been saying it is scarier than the first. How you read that depends on how well you trust Japanese school girls.

Don't forget to keep your eyes open for a Goro Kishitani cameo, (he played the villain from 2002's Returner and also of TV's Rasen) as a comically demented embalmer.

I'm not a big fan of dissecting films, particularly Japanese film. Chinese film is another story but much of what Japan offers is fairly straight forward so long as you have a solid understanding of Japanese society. Miike is one director whose films are fun to play with though. Miike likes to break Japanese rules of cinema and because of that his work tends to receive luke-warm success in Japan while enjoying a red-hot status in almost every other corner of the cinema world. Now I'm not about to start creating ideas about what Miike "feels" but I would like to point out a rather simple message Miike has put into the film. Chakushin Ari, whether the Japanese audience realizes it or not, is a vicious attack directed at reliance on cellular phones. The film begins with a brief montage of city streets singing with ring tones. While it helps set the mood, it is also a true depiction of what Japan has become, a nation of zombies reliant on cell phones. If this sounds like I'm drawing an unrealistic interpretation just wait till you experience one scene that literally realizes this comparison. The cellular phone, in so many unimaginable ways, has created a medium of escape for Japanese society. Prolonged silences on trains are now non-existant for anyone with a cellphone, yet it can still be deafeningly quiet for anyone who doesn't have one to click away at. The online community constructed by cellphones has allowed for a wildfire-like spread of illegal activities, not the least of which is underage prostitution services. Much like the chain phone calls in the movie, the cellphone has spread from person to person like a virus. According to an article in the Mainichi Shimbun by Kenji Kawabata in 2001, 50% of Japanese citizens owned a cellular phone. Now I apologize for sounding so glum. I dare not cast any fingers and say this is 'wrong' per say, in fact when living in Japan from 2003-2004 I was known to make over 200 e-mails per day from my cellphone; however it is somewhat sad as viewed through my own set of biased values that people are more interested in a tiny keypad than the world around them.


Note: If you do not want to spoil the film's fantastic twists avoid reading the review posted on Destroy All Monsters (link not provided). It blows the lid off of everything. Of course it you want to ruin it then by all means. Also be wary of other online reviews. Many reviewers have watched the film with either poor subtitles or the inablity to differentiate between different Asians' faces causing them to confuse certain characters.

Chakushin Ari Official Site- The official Japanese Chakushin Ari website now mainly dominated by Chakushin Ari 2 info. Inlcudes trailers.

JDorama Message Board Topic: Chakushin Ari- Includes photographs of the cast in their roles.

NIXFLIX Review- Here this reviewer was obvously not impressed with the film. For the sake of objectivity, I suggest you read this for yourself and decide whether it is worth your time. The reviewer seems to ignore some facts presented in the film but regardless this is a good read and contains no spoilers.

2003 Tokyo International Film Festival- Comments from the stars and Director Takashi Miike at the film's private release in November, 2003.


I have provided some clips for you that I took myself. First of all, do not expect drop-dead beautiful quality. Most of these are simply me taking captures of a computer screen with my digital camera. Secondly a request for some common Net courtesy. Please download these to your hard drive if you want to watch them multiple times. Please do not link directly to these files. And of course this goes without say but please refrain from posting these files elsewhere without contacting me and receiving a reply. Thank you for your cooperation. The more you help out, the more I can provide for you.

Death’s Ringtone: Yumi notices her friend Yoko's cellphone start to ring an eerie melody, one that isn't even on Yoko's cellphone.

Yoko's Final Moments: Yoko's death comes at exactly the date and time the strange message was left on her phone two days earlier.