Nothing to do with the 2007 Sandra Bullock film of the same name, which is sometimes mistakenly assumed to be a remake of this. It's the second film in that J-Horror Theatre series, the one which involves no plot links at all and is only a series because some marketing folks wanted us to watch all these movies on their say-so. Well, it worked with me. The story is based on a 1973 manga called Terror Newspaper, in which people received what appeared to be a newspaper clipping from the future. Someone's going to die and you've just been told about it. What do you do?
To me that sounded dumb. I've since become more interested on learning that it's based on a well-established manga, but the problem is that its dilemma is a no-brainer. "Should I stand by and do nothing as my loved ones die horribly? Hmmm. Tricky." The film plays around with it a bit, but there's no way around that basic problem. Of course there will be consequences. If you save someone who should have died, you'll get strange tattoos, turn black and possibly get caught up in time-twisting rubber reality. Given the paradoxes which might be created by changing future history, this is more reasonable than I assumed when I was watching it. However if you do nothing, it seems you'll end up dead, mad and/or locked up in an asylum, writing on the walls in your own blood because you don't have any pens in your straitjacket.
All things considered, I guess you might as well save lives.
So the movie begins. We have a family driving along in a car. They're nice and normal. They made me laugh. Stressed Dad is Hiroshi Mikami, typing on his laptop and being needled by Cute Mum for being a workaholic. Cute Mum is Noriko Sakai, who also impressed me in the second Ju-on/Grudge film. Wow, is she cute. She's singing along with their five-year-old daughter. Unfortunately she won't be this cute in the rest of the film, since something appalling is about to happen and after that she won't be doing much singing.
Three years later, Mikami is pretty much a wreck, has divorced his wife and is working as the world's worst teacher. I see he didn't get that associate professorship after all, then. Sakai is doing psychic research and chasing down the Terror Newspaper. Like Ringu, this is another J-horror film in which the two leads are a man and his ex-wife. Unlike Ringu, the relationship between the two of them is very much part of the story, but this works. Unlike Ju-on, this film is built around something that Westerners would recognise as a plot, which means they needed more than just killer newspaper clippings. You don't see tits, but that's okay. Sakai doesn't have any anyway, despite the cuteness.
All that's okay. Not brilliant, but okay. The film ends with the longest rubber reality sequence I've ever seen, but eventually it becomes clear that in fact it's a time-travel story and the Terror Newspapers might all along have actually been being benevolent. If not, then they're very stupid Terror Newspapers. What did they expect? If you send people warnings from the future, of course they're going to act on them! Punishing them for that is just bloody-minded. No, the film's problem is that it's just not particularly noteworthy. I watched it peacefully enough, but I wasn't scared or anything. Everything's so arbitrary. Sakai's putting in the hard work, but at the end of the day, the plot's still being jerked around at the mercy of those newspaper clippings. Mikami ends up being the film's protagonist, but he's basically a loser who's mostly just reacting to stuff.
Still looking on the downside, there are moments of plot convenience such as Sakai leaving her mobile phone in the car or the asylum inmate being allowed to commit self-harm simply because he doesn't have a pen. Why didn't the doctors give him one? He wasn't going to hurt anyone with it. Admittedly everything to do with him was a bit more chilling than usual, but it loses something if you're silly enough to think about it.
I liked the ending. That was good. However until then, this was a 7 out of 10 film. Passable, but nothing special. The only exceptions to that would be a couple of laugh-out-loud death gags. I suppose it's possible that they weren't intended that way, but I roared. If I were ever going to recommend this film, it would be for that.
This isn't the only adaptation of the original manga, by the way. The imdb lists something on video called Kyoufu Shinbun (1996), but I can't find any further details. The franchise also spawned a PlayStation 2 game. In its favour, this film is much less silly than you'd expect. The CGI newspapers can be goofy, but otherwise the material is kept on a tight leash. It's a solid film in its own way and doesn't really make any mistakes, but I think the best way of summing it up is that it's the best movie you're likely to see about time-travelling killer Japanese newspaper clippings.