Cellular Girlfriend (2011) by Mari Asato

A deadly mobile phone dating game begins to claim the lives of players and other victims in this follow up to Keitai Kareshi. The mysterious game from the “i-Scream” company appears on young men’s phones. They must text a digital young woman (Seika Taketomi) and keep her happy in order to increase the “Love Gauge”. The final command of Erika (the young woman in the game) is to kill, which they happily oblige before dying themselves, while those who fail the game die immediately. Meanwhile, Takashi (Toru Baba) is searching for his young sister who he believes is the spirit trapped in the game. He comes across another high-school girl, also called Erika (Airi Suzuki), who it seems has a special connection with his sister, as this other Erika is troubled by visions of a brutal murder.

The film is written by Yoichi Minamikawa and director Mari Asato. With its risible plot and melodramatic acting, “Keitai Kanojo” is unlikely to thrill hardcore horror fans. The best moments in the film concern the two Erika’s psychological connection, using simple effects such as rapidly fading light and shifting locations to create a sense of subtle threat. The film opens with a man completing “Keitai Kanojo” by murdering an unsuspecting stranger, but this is something that the film moves away from as it progresses to focus more on the supernatural elements. It finds itself not really working as a psychological horror or a gory thriller as for the most part there is scant build-up to what is happening, as if the film itself is racing through plot points to reach the conclusion. There is little creativity in the murders and the deaths caused by the game itself involve the person simply collapsing with a groan.

The idea of mixing the supernatural with modern technology is common in contemporary horror (Ring, One Missed Call) and the film’s premise is not unpromising. The idea of addiction to mobile phones, gaming and social media, and how this might drive individuals to violence by warping their sense of value is one that the film could have explored, but spends little time on. Similarly, there is potential for the film to delve into the social isolation engendered by this technology with the men choosing to play this virtual girlfriend game rather than engaging with real women. It is a shame because these would have been more interesting aspects to explore than the ideas of a cursed phone that the film spends the majority of its time on.

Bilocation (2013)

Bilocation is the supernatural phenomenon whereby an individual appears in two places at the same time. Artist Shinobu (Asami Mizukawa) is hard at work trying to finish a painting of the view from her balcony when the doorbell to her apartment rings. The man at the door is Masaru (Yosuke Asari), a blind man who has just moved into her block. After meeting Shinobu the two get married. It is at this point Shinobu’s life changes course, she explains, and we are soon to find out that is in more ways than one. On a trip to the supermarket she is brought up by the check-out staff who tell her that not only was she there 10 minutes prior, but is attempting to use an identical bank note to pay. Suspecting fraud they call in the police. The policeman turns out to be part of a group investigating bilocation and invites Shinobu to their group. Each member is suffering the same problem with a mysterious double appearing at intervals and interfering with their lives. These doppelgangers grow increasingly dangerous as the group works to understand them and then to stop them.

“Bilocation” is based on a novel by Haruka Hojo, with a screenplay by director Mari Asato. It is an intriguing concept on which to base a supernatural horror, with the eerie sense of being followed and the secondary fear of having another being living out your life providing ample chills. The film blends the best elements of creepy ghost stories and mystery dramas, relying heavily on a sense of foreboding and the occasional shock tactics as one of the bilocations appears suddenly. There are several plot turns layered so that even if one is obvious it is unlikely audiences will fully unravel the mystery until the end. There are a few moments that require some suspension of disbelief in order to sustain the conceit, but the film’s greatest strength is in using the central idea of bilocation to explore more primal fears and take a look at the psychology of the individuals affected. Asami Mizukawa gives a great central performance as Shinobu, whose journey from baffled to worried to outraged gives the audience much to enjoy. The film in a similar way shifts gears from suspense to action, constantly wrongfooting the audience. The camerawork in the film shows a deep understanding of horror conventions. A particularly standout scene comes early in the film when the camera drifts from Shinobu to an empty hallway, the importance of this shot only becoming clear later.

The phenomenon of bilocation almost predetermines themes of identity and duality. For Shinobu the true horror of having this double is her loss of self. She becomes increasingly annoyed at the thought of someone else taking her place. There is a deeper significance to this, made apparent by the use of reflections in mirrors and pools of water, which is the notion of self as a constructed reality. What Shinobu sees in the mirror is what everyone around her sees and recognizes as “Shinobu”, but that is far from a complete picture of who she is as a person. There is a horror of the loss of individuality and the idea that you could be easily replaced that will resonate with most people. Through the side characters other themes are explored that hinge on this. The mother whose double takes her sickly child from the hospital, or the man whose bilocation assaults a co-worker losing him his job. This plays to a fear of loss on a more tangible level than Shinobu’s loss of self-image, but helps to emphasise the significance of what is happening. A secondary reading of the film is that the bilocations are representative of something that is kept hidden within the individual. This is most apparent in the police officer Kano (Kenichi Takito), whose double seems to be an expression of his ego, or base instincts, lashing out indiscriminately. Beneath the veneer of civilised society there are atavistic ulterior characters lurking in everyone. A simple yet brilliant concept that lends itself to various psychological interpretations.