JU-ON: THE GRUDGE
Review by Ed Nguyen
Okina Megumi, Ito Misaki, Uehara Misa, Ichikawa Yui
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Audio: Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1, English 2.0
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: Color, 16:9 anamorphic widescreen
Studio: Lions Gate
Features: Sami Raimi commentary, trailers, behind-the-scenes footage, cast and crew interviews, deleted scenes
Length: 92 minutes
Release Date: November 9, 2004
The curse of one who dies in a powerful rage. Those who encounter it die, and a new curse is born."
original horror film Ju-On was a
low-budget Japanese TV broadcast from 2000.
An atypical haunted house film, Ju-On
focused upon a particularly evil home disrupted by the unresolved echoes of its
ominous past and forever cursed to deliver certain death upon all who would dare
to cross its threshold. The film's
success spawned a TV sequel, which in turn led to another sequel in 2003, this
time a theatrical release. This
third film, called Ju-On: The Grudge,
is the version most familiar (as simply Ju-On)
to horror fans outside of Japan. It
was also the inspiration for the American remake, The Grudge, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar.
can best be described as a non-linear jigsaw puzzle of interlocking vignettes. Each episode is self-contained but drops various hints and
names - a voice on the telephone or the ramblings of a senile woman, perhaps -
which link it to a previous or upcoming storyline.
As a whole, the collection of anecdotes which comprise Ju-On
are similar in spirit to traditional Japanese "unfinished" folk tales,
whose most famous cinematic representation can be found in the classic Japanese
horror film Kwaidan (1964).
general story in Ju-On revolves around
mysterious deaths and disappearances associated with the Tokunaga residence.
The film opens with a graphic but short prelude depicting a violent
murder in this home. Is this
horrific crime perhaps the precipitating cause for the house's subsequent
hauntings or merely another tragedy in a long string of disturbing occurrences
at the home?
concrete answer is provided as the film jumps forward an unspecified amount of
time to its first real vignette, "Rika," a storyline involving a young
welfare nurse (Okina Megumi). One
day, she arrives at the Tokunaga residence to call upon its current inhabitant,
Ms. Sachie, a senile patient. Rika
is perplexed by the absence of anyone else in the unkempt home save for the
rambling old woman. While tidying
up the house, Rika discovers the presence of a mysterious and creepy boy
(previously glimpsed in the film's prelude) hiding in the house.
Soon thereafter, Rika will have reason to rue the day she entered the
second vignette, "Katsuya," is a step backwards in time.
Ms. Sachie provides a link between the storylines.
In this past storyline, the Tokunaga residence is a more tidy domicile
occupied by the old woman's son Katsuya and his wife.
This storyline reveals the ultimate fate of the family, offering an
explanation for the home's disheveled appearance by the point of Rika's arrival.
third vignette, "Hitomi," jumps forward again into the present day and
follows the activities of Katsuya's sister Hitomi (Ito Misaki) in a parallel
chronology to the "Rika" storyline.
Following a brief visit to her brother's home, Hitomi begins to
experience a series of strange and frightening events of her own.
A dark yet unrevealed threat seemingly shadows Hitomi's movements from
her office to her apartment.
fourth vignette, "Toyama," is actually a continuation of the
"Rika" tale. New faces
also appear, including a crime scene investigator and a detective, Toyama, who
years ago had investigated the murders depicted in Ju-On's prelude.
fifth and sixth storylines, "Izumi" and "Kayako," take a
leap into the future. Izumi (Misa
Uehara) is the grown daughter of Detective Toyama. Years have transpired since the events shown earlier in the
film, and yet the resonance of those tragedies continue to have grave
repercussions for not only Izumi but also for her friends.
In this future setting, the "Rika" storyline also draws to a
conclusion with a final visit to the condemned Tokunaga residence.
terms of horror, Ju-On is an unusual
film, relying more on primordial fears than on the blood-and-guts mentality
commonly embraced in American productions.
There are essentially no special effects at all in Ju-On, which achieves its chills primarily through psychological
means, albeit with an oriental twist. Some
of the Asian symbolism, such as creeping black hair (a traditional
representation of horror or evil in Japanese culture) may even be lost on
course, all this discussion about Ju-On
begs the question how Ju-On compares
with its Hollywood remake? Well, The
Grudge is a more polished product with much more evocative lighting, which
makes a world of difference generally for the horror genre (in contrast, Ju-On
is perhaps too brightly lit to be effectively scary for American audiences).
Makeup design is more frightening in The
Grudge, which has a creepier aural environment, too.
Also, while The Grudge has
received some criticism for its stars' performances, the film fares better in
that category than does Ju-On, which
has some occasionally stilted or campy acting, with Ito Misaki's Hitomi in
particular seeming too bubbly and cheery. Misa
Uehara, however, is quite good as the freaked-out Izumi.
Ju-On is superior is in its more
expansive story, which focuses more on the horrific aspects and less on the dull
character development scenes that somewhat marred The Grudge. Some
sequences are a bit unintentionally humorous, but the film becomes decidedly
creepier and definitely not so amusing further into the proceedings.
The two films are actually quite similar during the first half, with
identical storylines and shot composition at times, but the second half of Ju-On
introduces different storylines and does not prescribe to a
tying-up-the-loose-ends finale as with typical Hollywood films.
The Grudge tried to wrap a
conventional narrative around the non-linear elements of this Japanese story
with mixed results. The Grudge may be
more gory and more intense, but ultimately, the Ju-On
plays better within the context of Japanese societal fears, even if those
cultural idiosyncrasies do not translate perfectly well into English.
the final equation, viewers who did not like The Grudge will probably not care for Ju-On, either. On an
interesting note, though, director Takashi Shimizu directed both versions, as
well as all the prior entries in the Ju-On
franchise in Japan. Viewers who
enjoyed the American remake might find that this Ju-On
film (actually, the third film in the series) offers many of the same thrills
and a few extra surprises, too.
TRIVIA: Takako Fuji has portrayed
Kayako, the ghastly female spectre of Ju-On,
in all the films of this horror franchise to date.
is shown in a 16:9 anamorphic widescreen format.
The transfer has been mastered at roughly 6 Mbps.
Skin tones are realistic, and the print shows little signs of defects or
debris specks. The video quality is
fine but not too flashy. The menu
screens are a bit creepy, too!
is an English 2.0 dub, although it is dreadful and really should be avoided.
Instead, stay with the Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 track for Ju-On.
English subtitles are available but could have benefited from some extra
proofreading. The soundtrack is not
particularly forceful and does not possess the polished sheen of typical
Hollywood productions. Still, the audio quality is adequate, considering the film's
features start off with a very informal commentary by gushing fanboys Sami Raimi
and Scott Spiegel. The two men
frequently sound like a pair of frat brothers chugging down a few beers while
having a blast getting spooked out by Ju-On.
They frequently hoot and laugh and utter exclamations of shock and
surprise. Occasionally, they even
remember to voice a few actually insightful comments.
Raimi refers at times to The Grudge,
which he was producing during the recording of this commentary, and both men
allude to Raimi's past success in the horror genre.
In the end, they agree completely on one point - for them, Ju-On ranks among the top twenty horror films of all time.
Coming from a master of modern cult horror such as Raimi, that must be
quite an endorsement.
remaining bonus features are mostly in Japanese, but English subtitles are
provided. The most prominent
features are three "Behind-the-Scenes" featurettes. Hitomi (11 min.)
looks at the filming of the "Hitomi" storyline at Hitomi's office and
in her apartment. It is interesting
to see how relaxed and casual the atmosphere is on the set of this horror film.
Izumi and Chiharu (8 min.)
follows the "Izumi" storyline, tracing the actresses from bubbly
rehearsals and walkthroughs to the actual filming of the scenes.
Rika (10 min.) mostly follows the filming of the second half of the
"Rika" storyline. The
candid camera essentially shadows actress Okina Megumi during actual filming and
breaks, although she rarely speaks up or addresses the camera.
Much of this footage appears to have been shot on Okina Megumi's first
day on the set.
there are interviews with the cast and crew (10 min.).
This section starts with comments from director Takashi Shimizu, who
discusses the premise and sub-text of the Ju-On
films and his views on what makes them unique and frightening.
Female members of the cast - Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito, Misa Uehara, Yui
Ichikawa - each briefly describe their individual characters, their movie
debuts, and also their impressions of the director and working on the film.
with a hunger for more footage from Ju-On
can check out the six deleted scenes, including an alternate ending, on the
disc. Each scene comes with
commentary from Takashi Shimizu explaining the reason the scene was cut.
Available for viewing are a garden scene at the Tokunaga residence, and
three extended sequences with Izumi and her mother, Izumi's friends, and then
Izumi's mother alone arranging a small family altar.
Lastly, there is an extended shower sequence at Rika's home.
horror fanboys, the disc offers trailers for the low-budget scream flicks Dagon
and Undead as well as for Ju-On.
a small easter egg on the "Special Features" menu takes viewers to a
single page with the DVD production credits.
It's not particularly interesting, though.