Genre: Supernatural Ghost Story
review in one breath
Director Miike Takashi, best known undoubtedly for his extreme yakuza films, has recently tried his hand at horror. Within a year's time he has produced both an outlandish (and characteristicly bizzarro) yakuza horror Gozu: Gokudo kyofu dai-gekijo (2003.07.12) followed by a much more mainstream horror flick which we are here reviewing entitled Chakushin Ari (2004.01.17). According to the dates on JMDB, the production of Gozu precedes that of Chakushin Ari by 6 months. Thus it is not unimagineable that Miike, after exploring his own mixture of over-the-top yakuza and horror genres, felt compelled to try his hand at a more classicly styled horror film aimed at a potentially much larger (national and international) audience awaiting the next best j-horror. Certainly "lesser" directors have scored big time in this mainstream horror endeavour, as evidenced by the debut this week of the multi-million dollar US remake of Shimizu Takashi's Juon.
By "mainstream", of course, is meant an adoption of certain tried and proven (and by now very familiar) story elements which characterize Japan's "new wave horror". The major films comprising this category are Ringu (1998), Juon (2000), and Dark Water (2002). (Count here also all the Ringu and Juon sequels, prequels and less-than-equals.) By comparing the narrative and technique pursued by Miike in Chakushin Ari to his other work, it becomes quite obvious that he is trying his hand at creating a film solely according to the rules prescribed by these "new wave horror" successes. In the past, director Miike has made a (notorious) name for himself by establishing his own unique set of rules within which his narratives, characters and cinematography express themselves. Strikingly, Chakushin Ari relies upon none of his previous self-expressive bravado. Rather, here we see Miike's earnest attempt at playing by others' rules and in the process hoping to break into the contemporary frenzy over cinematically effective Japanese horror.
For all that, however, Miike's Chakushin Ari will undoubtedly leave its footprint in subsequent films attempting this genre. Those familiar with the other major "new wave" films will immediately realize that Miike here significantly exceeds all of the previous "new wave horror" films in his graphic depiction of the physical terror and destruction such ghoulies or curses can unleash. Note, for example, that there is no gore whatsoever of the sort Miike's films characteristically wallow in to create this new paradigm. Rather, he is here fully compliant with the new set of rules which require maximum suspense, mood and ambiance, and the artful science of producing the greatest (horrific) emotional effect with the least visual data. And it is precisely here that Chakushin Ari may redefine the boundary of "new wave horror". If there's one unique aspect Miike brings to this table, it is his unparalleled skill in bringing audiences right up to the "emotional-cringe" threshhold, and then suddenly showing you that there exists an entire "physical-cringe" threshold.
Through strenuous research involving at least six martinis (straight gin w/ 2 olives) and countless hours if not days sitting in front of the TV, I have compiled a detailed chart outlining the key convergences amongst the core "new wave horror" films alongside Miike's Chakushin Ari. I've stuck the chart at the bottom of this review due to its rather comprehensive spoiler potential. To jump there, you can click here.
During an evening get-together with friends, Murasaki Yoko's cell phone suddenly rings in an unusual tone. Not recognizing the tone, Yoko doesn't pick up soon enough and the call goes into "voice mail" (chakushin). When she sees that the call/message was from her own phone number and dated two days into the future both she and her friend Nakamura Yumi listen intently to the message. What they hear is the voice of Yoko in casual chit-chat, followed by a horrendous scream, and then dead (yes, "dead") silence.
Of course the two girls attempt to laugh this off and even share the story with their friends, but when Yumi receives a phone call on the very moment...
Okay, I'll do this only once, but this is the modus operandi: Yoko received a call to her cell phone on Apr 16 @ 11:44pm. Her cell phone indicated that the message (chakushin) was from Apr 18 @ 11:44pm. At exactly 11:44pm on April 18th, Yumi receives a call from Yoko. During that call, Yoko goes through the very same chit-chat as was on her previous voice mail. As Yumi suddenly realizes what might happen next, she hears Yoko shriek into the phone.
Yoko is violently thrown by an invisible force through a chain link fence and onto a speeding commuter train below. We then watch in horror as Yoko's severed arm, still holding the phone, begins to dial a phone number....
This, we find, is only one in a long string of similar incidents wherein the some unlucky soul receives a call foreshadowing an all-too-soon grizzly demise. At the moment of death, another unlucky soul whose number is stored on the dead phone gets a call, etc. In this manner, the curse propogates itself through a countless chain of unsuspecting cell phone users. After several of her friends die in horrible ways before her very eyes, Yumi can only search for answers. She runs into Yamashita whose own sister was violently killed following the same type of strange call. As the two look further into the few clues they have, what they find proves to be an overwhelming and malevolent force intent on destroying all it encounters.
First off, this was fun to watch and indeed contains plenty of creepy, even scary moments. The cinematography is also good and added significantly to the overall atmoshpere. This is definitely one to see if you get the chance, though it is so similar in so many ways to the other recent horror films of its type, that you will likely agree that this is in no way a trend-setter (as for example Ringu was).
The following table sets out these similarities and does a pretty good job of demonstrating what I mean.
(This table will contain "spoilers")
|question/topic||Ringu||Juon||Dark Water||Chakushin Ari|
|ghoulies involve mother/child pair||x||x||o||x|
|main (living) characters involve mother/child pair||o||o||x||o|
|parental/familial abuse/neglect a major factor||x||x||x||x|
|child rather than parent the TRUE demon||x||?||x||x|
|ghoulies use technology to transmit curse||x||o||o||x|
|ghoulies use personal contact to transmit curse||o||x||x||x|
|main characters end up hugging demonic zombies||x||o||x||x|
|long black hair is a demonic weapon||x||x||x||x|
|the "curse" becomes a mass media interest||x||o||o||x|
|the "curse" in horrific proportion is on national TV.||x||o||o||x|
One can easily (and rightfully) criticize Miike for following an overly-prescribed recipe. As I said earlier, the only new element Miike brings to the table is the rather horrific visual manner his victims succumb to the demonic power. The bone-crunching fate of Natsumi, despite her being within a crowd of people and on national television was particuloarly impressive.
Although this is a decent addition to the collection of recent J-horror films, this is far from Miike's better work and will certainly not be earth-shattering for fans of cutting-edge evolution in J-horror.
Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS
|Miike's (first ?) attempt at producing a mainstream horror film in accordance to the rules set out by the major "new wave horror" films.||Though in no way "gory", the graphic depiction of the violent consequence of this curse sets Miike's film apart from the other films in this genre. (And this is the only thing that sets it apart). This visual aspect really heightens the sense of dread and shock in this horror story.||Perhaps for the first time in his career, Miike required the entire cast to keep their pants zipped throughout the filming of this project! (Yes, I know its not really the only time.)||Despite its similarity to the other films in this genre, there is certainly no reason to avoid this film. In it you will find a cinematically polished and creepy ghost story (from the very first scenes).|