iSugio

Teke Teke – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Yuko Oshima stars as Kana, a schoolgirl whose normal life is turned upside-down when her best friend is found brutally murdered, having been cut completely in half at the waist. Soon, Kana hears about the urban legend of “Teke Teke,” the ghost of a legless woman who was found dismembered years ago and now haunts the railway station. If you see her, in three days you will be killed. In a race against time, Kana must search for the truth in order to escape the horrific fate that awaits her.

Director Koji Shiraishi is no stranger to the horror genre. Perhaps most famously known as the director behind Carved (2004) and Grotesque (2009), the first dealing with the Japanese urban legend of the Slit-Mouthed Woman and the latter dealing with the brutal kidnapping and torture of a young couple, Shiraishi has had a knack for delivering horrific tales of urban legendary and human depravity to the cinematic screen. It would seem fitting then that he once again explores the familiar realm of the Japanese urban legend with Teke Teke, a film dealing with a fiendish being bent on viciously murdering innocent individuals. While the concept of bringing the urban legend to the screen is nothing entirely original, Teke Teke delivers some very interesting elements that make it more than simply your standard horror affair, delivering a relatively fresh approach to a genre that has often suffered from being entirely too stale and losing much uniqueness in its execution.

While other films have relied solely on its gore or sensationalism to appease viewers, Teke Teke slowly integrates many nuances that establish its premise around the interactions of its characters and their relationships. It’s actually surprising to see this approach within the horror genre mainly because it usually succumbs to the opposite, foregoing any sense of logic and underutilizing its cast to a significant degree. What’s particularly interesting about Teke Teke—and perhaps its most noticeable difference—is its casting choice, with its lead characters being portrayed by two relatively prominent Japanese entertainers—one being pop idol Yuki Oshima of AKB48 fame, and the second being gravure model Mami Yamasaki. In fact, a majority of the cast is comprised of females, which is also an element rarely seen within films of this type. Considering these choices though, one would probably assume that the film would cater primarily to their avid followers, eagerly putting Yuko and Mami in the most seductive situations possible—but it unexpectedly doesn’t. There is considerable restraint shown within the film to not feel exploitative; surprisingly, the film selectively chooses to avoid such circumstances given the background of the two actresses in real life. What this does is remove any diversions that could potentially develop, in turn allowing the film to focus more on its characters and story. While this may disappoint some viewers expecting the film to exploit its two lead actresses—and in an ironic way is perhaps one of the primary reasons people will want to watch the film—it ultimately remains attentive towards its story and never truly consumes itself with wanting to capitalize on their inclusion in the film.

Considering this focus on story within Teke Teke, the film concerns itself primarily with the relationships shared between its characters, and is mainly centered on the character of Kana. What works well here is that the film develops its characters around genuine situations that don’t seemingly distance it from being considered a plausible reality—aside from the obvious elements of supernatural horror. A substantial amount of time is dedicated towards showcasing these characters as more than the usual death fodder viewed in other horror films, and we begin to view a more human element to the story because of this. It would be deemed appropriate to say that the film leans more towards showcasing the drama the characters face within their daily lives instead of relying on its usage of horror. Rather than present two-dimensional characters—a motif unfortunately commonly used within the horror genre—the film depicts its characters as individuals facing real world situations. For example, Kana is asked by her friend Ayaka to help her ask a boy out. Simple enough, but what soon develops is a rather subtle love triangle that eventually affects the entirety of their relationship. What’s surprising here is that the film doesn’t view these situations as merely throwaway plot devices utilized to pass time but explores an attribute that is regularly glossed over within other films dealing with Japanese urban legends, let alone the horror genre. This lends the film an approach that doesn’t designate its characters to simple archetypes but rather can be viewed as individuals that showcase some sentimental value, even if it is seemingly artificial at times.

With such a focus, the horror elements within the film aren’t exactly its focal point, which may again prove to be detrimental for those looking for some substantial amount violence within the course of its running time. Teke Teke is not a gory film, but it does elicit instances of sheer and rapid brutality. There are numerous moments throughout the film where a character meets a speedy death, which presents somewhat of a fresh approach to a genre that relies mostly on the slow demise of its characters to effectively creep the viewer out. Here the execution of characters is swift and certainly gruesome, and the suspense leading up to death is not drawn out to an absurd length. Wherein Shiraishi has drawn upon an extensive amount of gore in some of his other films, he handles Teke Teke rather delicately in terms of restricting the amount of violence showcased minutely as possible. And while this attention to flesh out its characters in the film is apparent, the film unfortunately relies on a plethora of horror tropes as it nears its conclusion. This is one thing the film doesn’t escape from as characters are unnecessarily forced into increasingly drastic situations that conclude in an overly conventional manner. The rather strong implication of character development viewed during the first half of the film is put aside during its latter half, which somewhat diminishes the impact of leading up to its conclusion, but still remains suspenseful throughout.

Besides these occasional flaws within the film’s narrative structure, Teke Teke ultimately produces a surprisingly fresh take on a rather formulaic genre. While advocating for developing its characters in a realistic fashion, the film doesn’t downplay their importance as multifaceted individuals. The film also spends considerable time displaying this dimension of its narrative, and with its initially puzzling choice of a pop idol and gravure model to take the helm of the lead roles, Shiraishi doesn’t resort to simply taking advantage of the casting—a brave choice considering their popularity. What we have here is a narrative that doesn’t rely solely on the need to showcase extreme amount of gore or to objectify its female cast to win over appreciators, and creates a film that can be respectable in such a fashion. While it does discontinue this direction as the film nears it conclusion–ultimately resorting back to the tried-and-true plot devices that have plagued other films–it does remain fervent towards offering characters that we can become interested in as an audience. This allows the film to feel creative enough to stand out, but also familiar enough not to alienate fans of the genre. While Teke Teke doesn’t offer anything entirely new to the realm of Japanese horror, it does an adequate job of separating itself from the rest of the current trend of mediocrity that exist within the genre today.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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