I gotta remember that two Takashi Miike movies in quick succession can have unusual effects. Fortunately, Deadly Outlaw Rekka wasn’t the disturbingly transgressive experience that One Missed Call was, so I survived the doubleheader without too much pain.
One Missed Call first. The theater was packed. The first hour of the movie was a straight-faced satire of the Japanese technohorror genre (Ringu, Ju-on, Uzumaki, etc.). One by one, the cell phones belonging to a group of attractive college students ring. The call comes from three days in the future and was made by the person getting the call at the exact moment they die. No matter what they do, at the moment the call was placed, they die. The imagery is stolen from the rest of the genre with glee: we’ve got the tight focus on the medium of horror, the long flowing hair appearing from off-frame, the half-seen spirit in grainy photos (this time from the cell phones) — all that good stuff.
Miike also found time to skewer the Japanese obsession with cell phones; I think it’s significant that at no point does anyone even come close to explaining why the curse decided to use cell phones as the medium of transmission. The first half culminates with a television producer putting the latest victim on television as the clock ticks down, cut with shots of the cell phone masses pouring through Tokyo’s public places, chatting on their phones as the drama unfolds on a gigantic television screen above. Funny stuff.
Then Miike gets bored and decides to scare the shit out of us and does it with intensely gruesome effects, brutal gut-punching story twists, and masterful camerawork. I wasn’t sure, after seeing Audition, whether Miike was always technically brilliant or if he just turned it on for that one film. Looks like that’s par for the course for him. One Missed Call was beautiful, even when I was uncertain I wanted to watch the next chunk of brutality on the screen.
For the finale, he returns to the parody, wrapping everything up with a sequence that’s just as tense as anything else in the movie but that also undercuts the assumptions of the genre with surgical precision. I’m still not sure exactly what happened, but that’s OK.
Deadly Outlaw Rekka was kind of a relief after that. This is the first of his yakuza movies I’ve seen, and the feel was markedly different. The fight scenes were blunt and brutal, but there wasn’t really any gore qua gore. The story was simple — Kunisada gets out of jail to find that the leader of his yakuza group was killed, and gets revenge despite the fact that his new leader wants a truce. Carnage ensues.
The style was also simple but very interesting. It was compressed — sort of a more successful version of what Warren Ellis was trying to do with Global Frequency. Every scene was exactly long enough for the characters to say what they were there to say, and then Miike quick-cut to the next scene. No dissolves, no transitions. He even cut sharply inside scenes from time to time. There wasn’t a lot of plot, either — terse is really the key word here.
Also: no soundtrack, except for the handful of moments of extreme violence, which were scored to Japanese rock songs. And, come to think of it, those moments were also filmed more fluidly and with more transitions between shots. So there you go.
I liked both of the movies a lot, although I liked One Missed Call somewhat more.