Teke Teke (2009) extends director Koji Shiraishi’s interest in adapting Japanese urban legends into film. This particular legend, often told by school children, tells of the ghost of a young woman split in half by a train. Her legless ghost haunts the train station, propelling herself on hands or elbows, making the ‘teke teke’ sound as she pursues her victims through the tunnels. Low budget director, Shiraishi, responsible for Carved (2008), and the UK-banned torture flick, Grotesque (2009), certainly isn’t averse to cinematic violence so the gore restraint in this film is somewhat surprising. As with most urban legends, retellings vary regionally. In this movie version, if the person being followed looks at the ghost it will give chase, slicing the victim neatly in half upon capture. Victims who escape the clutches of the ghost are given little chance to enjoy their moment. They are cursed and will die within three days.
Interesting casting choices place two popular cultural idols in lead roles. Yuki Oshima, a member of super group AKB48 plays Kana, a high school student who runs into ‘teke teke’ while investigating the murder of her best friend, and gravure idol (swimsuit model) Mami Yamasaki has the supporting lead as her cousin, Rei.
With more than half the film’s short 70 minute run time given over to character development, the wait to actually see the ghost makes up most of the suspense. Special effects artist Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, Machine Girl) led the creature design team and compared to his past work, I expected something more a bit more intense. Many of the same shots are reused, showing the ghost scampering along a dark corridor and the darkness of those shots makes the ghost difficult to see. Finally, a full daylight close-up delivers the goods during a scene that finds a terrified Kana’s refusal to look at the ghost as it moves menacingly near her face.
The concluding element of the film forms a derivative race against time where Kana and Rei attempt to placate the vengeful spirit before their three days expire. In uncovering the ghost’s story, however, Shiraishi playfully references an alternate version of the legend, that of Kashima Reiko, a female ghost without legs that lives in school bathrooms.
In spite of a generic, rushed ending, several directorial choices maintain a fresh take on the tired J-horror formula. The nearly all-female cast and well-written character roles could spark some interesting new film trends. Given his casting choices, Shiraishi might have exploited idol adoration, but chooses (wisely) to play it straight and in doing so pulls solid performances from his leads. Deliberate pacing moves the film along in realistic fashion, a nice contrast to the unreal situation the girls find themselves in, and the ghost story embedded within a slice of life narrative provides welcome relief from the standard scenarios.
Originally shown as a double feature with Teke Teke 2, this first film plays like a setup for its more violent sequel, especially apparent once the viewer watches the bridging scene right after the credits end. For horror fans with a taste for the extreme, Teke Teke may prove too tame with its minimal gore and relatively few shocking moments. However, in its casting, narrative style, and source material it takes some interesting new steps in a direction that may prove influential to future J-horror directors.