Having not exactly been impressed with the original Japanese feature film, and even less enthusiastic about the pointless and uninteresting American remake thereof, it’s no surprise the DVDs of the TV series sat on the shelf for quite some time. They’d been acquired before we saw either movie, and the prospect of sitting through the equivalent of about five more feature films of the same kind of nonsense, didn’t exactly fill us with enthusiasm. However, when we eventually could be bothered to slap them in the player, we were pleasantly surprised – this Asahi television version, which came out a couple of years after Takashi Miike’s movie, is actually the best version of the bunch.
The story centers on Yumi (Rei Kikukawa), a magazine researcher, who becomes involved after witnessing the fiery death of a schoolgirl – apparently the victim recently received a voice-mail, apparently from herself, foretelling her own demise. Her investigative efforts get her banished to the basement at work, where she is sent to join the staff of Tokumei Watch, best described as her publisher’s version of the late, lamented Weekly World News. However, Detective Sendo (Ken Ishiguro), is also investigating the case, and it soon becomes clear that the schoolgirl is not the only victim of the apparent curse.
Initially, it seems that events are tied to an incident in the past, when a hiking trip went badly wrong. But the more our heroes dig into things, the more they uncover. Not the least of which, is that there also appears to be a tie to Yumi’s school, where her sister vanished ten years ago on Christmas Eve – and tradition dictates it’s time for another victim to disappear. Will the case allow Yumi to achieve closure? And why does there seem to be a lot of pressure on both her and Sendo to stop the investigation?
To some extent, this is a stretched-out version of the movie, and it uses some of the same elements. For example, as in the film, one victim gets doorstepped by a TV crew, who get her to agree to come to the studio at the time of her demise, for a “live exorcism.” That goes about as well as you would probably expect. But the extended room available here – the series runs ten 45-minute episodes – gives the makers the opportunity to develop the storyline and characters in greater detail, and that’s where the show really scores over its cinematic cousins.
For instance, the investigation does not proceed in an entirely linear fashion. There are dead-ends and red herrings, such as the hoax “one missed call” which succeeds in diverting attention for a while. The two main plot-threads, of the hiking trip and the school with a dark secret, proceed in parallel – some episodes, one takes precedence, while in others, both are developed. After about three or four parts, I was wondering how they could possibly keep things going, and it’s an impressive juggling by the script to keep both balls in the air until almost the end, revealing information at just the right pace to keep the interest level up for the entire time.
The characters are, more or less, pleasant to spend time with. I say “more or less,” because as things develop, it turns out one is more than a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, though you wouldn’t know it on first impressions. Yumi has a good handle on the “plucky girl reporter” thing, and Sendo has endearing quirks: the ringtone on his phone is, I kid you not, a wailing police-siren. The staff of Tokumei Watch are also an amusing bunch of eccentric geeks and freaks, such as the magazine treasurer who insists everyone travel by public transport when on company business.
I am not entirely sure that everything makes complete sense, viewed from the end of the show. However, it’s churlish to look too closely at the plot of a show which is about cursed phone calls from the future. There don’t appear to be any major holes we could spot, and the journey provides a more than adequate number of creepy moments, which in the final analysis, is what matters. Fans of shows like Fringe or Haven could do a lot worse than tracking down this as a Japanese take on the genre.