Either director Takashi Shimizu knows that he’s hit a creative seam with his spooky movies about a haunted house and the murderous curse that lives there, or he’s not ashamed of milking a good idea to death for the cash. Takashi has recently finished filming the fifth version of the Ju-on movies that started back in 2000 with the low-budget, made for TV movie, Ju-On: The Curse, which starred the then unknown Kill Bill and Battle Royale starlet Chiaki Kuriyama. This was swiftly followed by the less well received Ju-on: The Curse 2, which rehashed much of the first movie to no great effect.
In 2003, Shimizu remade Ju-On for the movie theatre market, expanding the plot of the first two-hour TV movie. It’s called Ju-On: The Grudge in the West, to distinguish it from the original, and is also a more accurate translation of “Ju-On”. This was a huge success in Japan and, inevitably, a revised Ju-On 2 was produced, which was also popular in the domestic market.
The fifth Ju-On is a Sam Raimi executive-produced remake of the first theatrical movie, aimed at the US market, and is simply called The Grudge. Although still set in Japan, it features a mostly American cast including Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr and Bill Pullman, and is due for release in October.
To take advantage of the publicity surrounding the US remake, Ju-On: The Grudge has had a limited re-release in the UK.
The Grudge is a supernatural curse which occurs when someone dies in a murderous rage and spreads like a cancer, killing just about everyone who comes into contact with the location where the original deaths occurred. In this case, an unremarkable suburban house was the scene of carnage when an enraged husband killed his wife and child, believing the mother to have been unfaithful and the child was not his, before committing suicide.
Now, years later, the curse starts as the ghosts of the mother, Kayako (Takako Fuji, who, trivia fans, has played the same role in all five movies) and the creepy, impish son, Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) start killing everyone related to the house.
The movie is broken into short chapters, as the deaths of different characters are explored. The first chapter follows Rika Nishina (Megumi Okina), a social worker who is sent to the house to help an old lady who lives with her son and his wife. When she gets there she finds the old woman in a state of catatonic shock and the house in disarray. As she cleans up, she starts hearing strange noises coming from upstairs and goes to investigate…
The ghosts have the staple look of modern Japanese Horror movies: black hair and white faces. Toshio, the son, is particularly creepy with his expressionless face and black eyes. If you’ve seen Hideo Nakata’s Ringu or Dark Water, you’ll know exactly what I mean. In fact, Ju-On‘s own curse is to be unfavourably compared to Nakata’s work. Where Nakata gradually builds tension and is sparing with his shocks, Takashi Shimizu dives straight in and machine guns the tension and shocks throughout the movie. As such, Ju-On doesn’t have the steady narrative strengths of Ringu, Dark Water, or The Eye and Tale of Two Sisters for that matter (two excellent ghost movies from Hong Kong and South Korea respectively).
Ju-On also feels too long, and the interlocking chapters seem to keep coming relentlessly. Perhaps a bit of pruning at script time would have resulted in a more taut movie with fewer plot holes and inconsistencies.
Despite these criticisms, Ju-On is still a great movie, thanks to the tone that Takashi Shimizu brings to the screen. Dark and dreamlike, some of the scenes are almost Lynchian with their blurring of nightmarish surrealism and terror. Fans of Japanese horror movies will love the constant feeling of dread, and you’d be hard pressed to find a movie that gives you as many chills as Ju-On: The Grudge.
Ju-On: The Grudge (2003)
Dir. Takashi Shimizu
Stars: Megumi Odaka, Misaki Ito, Misa Uehara, Yui Ichikawa, Kanji Tsuda, Kayoko Shibata, Yukako Kukuri, Shuri Matsuda, Yoji Tanaka, Takashi Matsuyama, Yuya Ozeki, Chikara Ishikura, Chikako Isomura, Daisuke Honda