End Call – Review
Although the plot is quite difficult to follow at times, largely due to how often it moves through time illogically, End Call displays an interesting take on the modern-urban condition. The story follows multiple characters as they experience the consequences of calling the Devil. Yes, I said the Devil. The film is constructed around an urban legend that if you video-call the Devil at exactly midnight and ask for a wish it shall be granted. But of course there is a condition – you will lose the amount of time of the call off the end of your life. These are not very high stakes, especially to the teens who already find their lives unbearable for various reasons. But they soon learn that they have gotten more than they bargained for, namely, outrageous cell phone bills. So outrageous in fact that one girl resorts to prostitution to pay. This extreme reaction is justified by her when she expresses the embarrassment of poverty and that to lose her phone would further her devastation.
It’s difficult, however, not to read this sub-plot as a typical motif of J-Horror, what Dr. Mitsuyo Wada-Marciano has described as a representation of a “uniquely urban sense of fear”. Wada-Marciano attributes this tendency within J-Horror to its effective use of urban topography and the pervasive use of technology. Thus, it seems necessary to consider not only the lifestyles and sorrows of the teenage characters, but also the vague representation of the Devil as simply an “image” on a phone screen. Moreover, by the end, this Devil may not even exist (but again, much of this film including the ending is confusing, which may or may not have to do with poor subtitling). Could it be then that the film leaves an impression that it is actually technology and even urbanization that has destroyed these young lives? Is that the Devil? In briefly analyzing some of the main characters, it becomes apparent that their initial willingness to reach out to the Devil has much to do with their own sense of unhappinesses, each of which can be attributed to this “uniquely urban” devastation.
First there is Mai, suffocated by her isolation as the daughter of a drunk. Her world, like her home, seems small because of him. In the opening scene she hears of the legend and decides to sneak away from her friends to wish herself free of her father. That night her father’s behavior infuriates her so that she is keeping away from him in the washroom, but when he bursts in she can hardly believe her eyes as he drops dead in front of her. But the Devil has misunderstood, Mai meant for her freedom to be her own death, not his. Her guilt is immediate and overwhelming. What is striking here is her level of sadness in life, so that she is essentially suicidal, manifests itself not as a desire to escape, but as a desire to disappear. Insignificance is often a sentiment associated with urbanization which is tainted by a fear that humans are replaceable and unnecessary. While unhappy teens in rural areas are often portrayed in pop culture as running away to the big city (movies, books, music, etc.), big city teens are often shown having nowhere to go; as disappearing into the urban background to be forgotten about. Clearly, Mai is drowning in this feeling that she has nowhere to go. This tension is furthered by using close-ups and uncomfortably tight spaces to shoot her thus emphasizing how trapped she is in her own life.
Next, there is Ryoko. Suffering from bad grades at school, Ryoko fears not getting into college. During a meeting with her teacher, she is eventually given a proposition when the teacher suggests that he might be willing to pass her in exchange for her intimacy. Disgusted with herself for even considering the idea, but considering the idea nonetheless, Ryoko is thrown into an outrage alone in her room. At this point it becomes clear that Ryoko is a cutter, inflicting pain on herself as a release for the frustrations and sadness in her life. Moreover, she is threatened by her stepsister who is unimpressed by her loss of control. The stepsister knows what Ryoko has been doing and is considering doing and has absolutely no empathy. Of course, the coldness of human nature is another popular complaint about the condition of urbanization. The sense that everyone is self-motivated and unsympathetic is certainly used in this film to show the difficulty of Ryoko’s plight. Her emotional state eventually takes her to a museum, presumably for some time alone with her thoughts and perhaps this even symbolizes a need for escape from Urban Japan since the nature of museums is almost always its connection to the past (a simpler time, even). But it is in this museum that Ryoko’s clock runs out. Her conversation with the Devil has left her vulnerable to his wrath and on a security camera she is shown succumbing to an inexplicably violent death that is too easily brushed off as “another teen suicide” by the officials and newscasters. So even in her death, no one cares about the loss of human life but only about the shock value of having it caught on tape.
Lastly, I would like to take a look at Sayoko. Her spiral into prostitution, as aforementioned, is connected to the sense of social affirmation that comes with having her cell phone. When she realizes her call to the Devil has never officially ended she worries about how to pay the ever-increasing bill. Her wish was for love but it has backfired. Her boyfriend reaches out to her friends for help about how to get her out of prostitution, and even though she knows she may lose him over it and all of this would be for naught, her new primary concern is keeping her phone connected. When a friend tries to convince her to stop she states that she knows how silly it must seem, doing what she’s doing just for a phone but that others do not understand the difficulties of being poor. She suggests that her family’s inability to help her with the phone bill means that should she give up and let it be cut off she would be no better than them. The connotations in this conversation seem to be that Sayoko is so bent on fitting the status quo, of fitting in with the rich and beautiful, that to lose her phone would be a devastating reminder of where she really comes from and would afford her the social status she has worked too hard for. Therefore, her attachment to her phone has to do with it being a symbol of normalcy in the age of ever-changing technology. While to have a phone was once a privilege, it has now become a necessity. This speaks to the trouble of keeping up with the fast-pace of urbanization.
Overall then, it seems although the film lacks the narrative and formal sophistication of many other J-Horrors, it retains the essence of the genre by questioning (or at least pointing out) the horrifying nature of urbanization which tends to isolate and make cold the state of being human in a frightening way.
Author: Shyla Fairfax
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