A film like “Ju-on: The Grudge,” will evoke such a specific,
ingrained reaction from the viewer that it is troubling to attempt to
pin down my own. The infamous Japanese chiller is a nearly plot-less
ghost yarn complete with a creepy kid and a haunted house. Yet there is
no neat resolution or a freeing of troubled spirits at the film’s end.
The tone of the film is depraved, and the ghosts aren’t the type to make
you jump, then laugh. You will stare at the screen in abject terror as
a character with barely any screen-time, someone you hardly know, is
decimated by a black shape. You will close your eyes and see nothing
but a dead face scurrying towards you, her arms propelling her otherwise
Or, maybe you won’t.
Among horror-philes in America, the distinct style of Japanese
horror is either the bee’s knees or a dreadfully boring Kabuki show with
dull echo-y hallways and disheveled women climbing out of televisions.
Japanese horror attempts to play on the nerves, its frights are not
climaxes of terror topped with screams but violent, slow-burning
episodes intent to drive the viewer to madness. Americans are afraid of
giant or powerful monsters that seemingly cannot be defeated, be it “The
Thing” or Freddy Kruger or Satan himself. The Japanese are more afraid
of the unexplained, a child under a table in a restaurant, a disembodied
hand running through your hair in the shower. If it has to be taken
down with a silver bullet or chill your bones, “Ju-on” will probably
leave you yawning for less.
Americans are afraid of what they can’t overcome. The Japanese
are afraid of what they can’t comprehend.
Obviously, this generalization is proven with exceptions, such
as Takashi Miike’s brutal “Audition,” or some of Stephen King’s less
concrete endeavors. But can you think of one, even one American movie
that makes the water or the wind scary?
However, this matter of personal taste or ingrained phobia
matters little when looking at the merits of Japanese cinema in general
and “Ju-on” in specific. “Ju-on” originally began as two wildly
successful Japanese straight-to-video gems, which began/spawned this
theatrical release (as well as the forthcoming remake starring Sarah
Michelle Geller and Ted Raimi, produced by his unknown brother, Sam).
The film centers on a house where a horrible murder leads to a curse
(or, a grudge), and everyone who comes into contact with the house
quickly goes the way of the Kiwi. Each doomed (damned?) soul quickly
encounters a little boy so scary he could be a walking Public Service
Announcement for abstinence, who neatly terrorizes them before a shadowy
figure comes to take them to the promised land. Each new character is
dispatched in their own vignette, which is tightly woven but not
actually dependant on the others.
The plot is neither important nor even necessary experiencing
the power of this film. Director Takashi Shimizu draws the viewer in by
creating an atmosphere that is both wildly oppressive and oddly lyrical.
A lonely street corner is terrifying from the outset, but Shimizu uses
this as his starting point, bringing in scenarios that are always more
grim. The film’s low budget may have made filming practically in real
houses, hospitals, restaurants, etc. a necessity, though in Shimizu’s
hands they suggest a solid reality around the ethereal happenings. His
skill is making you look, knowing full well you’re watching a movie, and
still thinking “I can’t be seeing that.” His oppressive reality is
shattered by the simplest of ghostly movements: a cup tipping, a cool
breeze, a face there and gone again.
“Ju-on,” like genre faves “Ringu” and “The Eye,” is best
experienced in a dank basement with a few friends or a significant
other. Or better yet, by yourself. Even the most experienced
fright-fan will find her/himself driving to the corner store, or heading
over to a friends house after viewing “Ju-on,” just to try to get some
of the final images and sounds eliminated from their battered psyche.