Sunday, 20 February 2011

One Missed Call

Miike phoning it in.

Sorry, couldn't resist. As it happens, it's only partly true - One Missed Call is a slickly effective J-Horror with scares in all the right places. The basic premise is that people receive a call on their mobile phone, apparently from their own number, which leaves an eerie voicemail message foretelling of their imminent death. As one person is killed, another number is called from the victim's phone and so the 'virus' propagates.

In a post-production interview, Miike reveals that he doesn't particularly like straight-up horror films; that he wants a bit more from his ¥1800 cinema ticket than a few scares. Nevertheless, a straight-up horror is pretty much what he delivers - yes, there is a decent back story, centering around child abuse (the abused becoming the abuser) and Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy, but not in the kind of depth that would elevate it into another genre.

Essentially, One Missed Call is derivative of the best J-Horror: if you put Ring, The Grudge and Dark Water into a blender and pressed Go, this is pretty much what you'd expect. Except that with most directors what you'd end up with is a grey sludge, rather than the smooth, vivid cocktail of elements that is One Missed Call: the acting is good, the sets and lighting immaculate (it's hard to imagine a creepier setting than an abandoned hospital), the story coherent, and the script taut. It's also a lesson in manipulating atmosphere - for all the (very effective) supernatural goings on, I think the scene that made me jump highest out of my seat involved a couple of crows banging into the window of a gloomy apartment block. Miike is a hugely accomplished filmmaker, capable of so much more than this, but as J-Horror goes, it's probably still in the top 10%.

Dir. Takashi Miike, 2004

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


Hana-Bi (Fireworks) didn't have quite the impression it had on me when I first saw it at the cinema some 13 odd years ago, but then I've seen a lot of films in those 13 years, not to mention most of Kitano's back catalogue. It's not quite the existential odyssey I remembered it to be, but its quality still shines through.

Hana-Bi is a bridge between Kitano's earlier yakuza films like Boiling Point and Sonatine and artier fare like Dolls. It still has moments of explicit violence but is essentially a subtler, more meditative film - albeit a less focused one. Once again, Kitano is lead actor as well as director, here playing Nishi; a cop who leaves his job to go away on a road trip with his dying wife, Miyuki. Running parallel to this is the story of Horibe - his old partner on the force, who was shot in the line of duty and is now semi-paralyzed; wheelchair-bound and alone. Horibe tries to find new meaning in life through painting, taking a different path across the wilderness to Nishi but ultimately arriving at the same bleak point.

In the scenes with Nishi and his wife, there's a convincing sense of long-abiding intimacy, but little dialogue between them - perhaps because there's nothing left to be said at this point in their lives. The comfortable silences and Nishi's compassion (made all the more striking by his violent run ins with the yakuza loan sharks who haunt his final days) have an emotional resonance that doesn't really need any exposition. Hisaishi's elegiac score has its own pull on the heart strings as well.

As is always the case with Kitano, the imagery of the film is deliberate and meticulous. The lingering stills of his own paintings are mysterious signifiers. What exactly do the stamen-headed creatures symbolize? The painting of fireworks, echoing the bittersweet sentiment of the film's title, seems to be about the lives of the protagonists - transient, vibrant, exploding into oblivion.

Dir. Takeshi Kitano, 1997