In his first pic since "Audition" that doesn't look as if it was put together during a spare weekend, Nipponese pulpmeister Takashi Miike mines the Asian psychothriller vein in "One Missed Call." Hitching a ride on the Japanese "Ring" and S. Korean "Phone," with refs to "Dark Water," film combines scares and chuckles with good production values, making this a quality pickup for Asian-oriented distribs with ancillary labels attached.

In his first pic since “Audition” that doesn’t look as if it was put together during a spare weekend, Nipponese pulpmeister Takashi Miike mines the Asian psychothriller vein to fine effect in “One Missed Call.” Blatantly hitching a ride on the Japanese “Ring” and South Korean “Phone,” with copious refs to “Dark Water,” film combines scares and chuckles with good production values, making this a quality pickup for Asian-oriented distribs with ancillary labels attached. Local biz since mid-January has been way above the Miike norm, grossing $10 million in its first month, partly thanks to popular actress-singer Kou Shibasaki.

Shibasaki, who played the sadistic bitch-on-wheels in “Battle Royale,” here plays the nice-but-disturbed Yumi Nakamura, who has some kind of phobia (explained only later on) linked with peepholes. At a restaurant, her friend, Yoko, gets a call with a strange ringing tone. The cell phone display tells Yoko the call came from her own number, dated three days hence; it contains just a spooky scream. Exactly 72 hours later, Yoko gets the same call and plunges off a railway bridge.

Yumi finds out from some schoolgirls that one of their group also died the same way, and that the deadly call is said to come from “a woman who died, full of hate.” When another friend, Kenji, is sucked into an elevator shaft, and one more, Natsumi (Kazue Fukiishi), gets the same advance call, Yumi starts to be concerned. It seems the dead woman’s spirit transfers itself from victim to victim through their cells’ phonebooks.

To this point, film has largely played as a straight-arrow psychothriller, with only the occasional hint — one scene where Yoko’s severed arm punches out a text message on her cell — of Miike’s usual extreme playfulness. But when the panicked Natsumi agrees to go on a trashy TV show that will be broadcast at the exact time of her flagged death, the movie becomes a much tastier blend of shocks, satire and suspense.

Third act is focused wholly on Yumi, who has hooked up with a funeral director, Hiroshi (Shinichi Tsutsumi), who’s trying the solve the riddle of the death of his sister, found with a red candy in her mouth. The solution to the entire saga lies in Yumi’s own past.

Film loses some its juice in the overlong finale, redolent of “Dark Water,” in which Yumi and Hiroshi do battle with the evil spirit. But for much of the going, Miike juggles the Asian psychothriller portfolio (elevators, clock hands, vengeful ghosts, buried family traumas) with gleeful skill. The beautiful, lynx-eyed Shibasaki makes an OK heroine, without ever being called on to really act. Visual f/x are fine — especially inventive in Natsumi’s death. At Berlin screening caught, audience responded with several genuine cries of shock, rare nowadays.

One Missed Call

Japan

Production

A Toho Co. release of a Kadokawa-Daiei Pictures production. (International sales: Kadokawa-Daiei, Tokyo.) Produced by Naoki Sato, Yoichi Arishige, Fumio Inoue. Directed by Takashi Miike. Screenplay, Minako Daira, Yasushi Akimoto.

Crew

Camera (color), Hideo Yamamoto; editor, Yasushi Shimamura; music, Koji Endo; art director, Hisao Inagaki; sound (Dolby Digital), Atsushi Nakamura. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Forum), Feb. 14, 2004. Running time: 111 MIN.

With

Kou Shibasaki, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Kazue Fukiishi, Renji Ishibashi, Goro Kishitani.
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