Frankly, a novel could be written about the varying incarnations of Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on series. Releasing stateside this month from Lionsgate is Ju-on 2 – a sequel to Ju-on: The Grudge. Ju-on 2 is actually the 4th in Shimizu’s never ending tales of pissed-off specters and their prey – that does not even include the US remake (The Grudge) and its pair of upcoming sequels. Confused yet? I’ve hardly begun to get started. So, if you can wrap your mind about that set of circular occurrences, you might just be prepared for another round of raven-haired beauties and baby blue boys, in what is quickly becoming a monopoly of scary cinema.
The story, in tune with the original Ju-on is told in a rounded vignette style, focusing 15 to 20 minute intervals on each of the main characters and addressing many of the same events from their unique perspectives. This methodical process allows Shimizu to keep the plot moving forward, avoid the “loose ends trap” that many multi-dimensional stories inevitable fall into, and permit multiple shocking moments to be peppered throughout the project.
In the clearest sense, the plot of the film follows Kyoko Harase (Noriko Sakai) – an actress dubbed “The Horror Queen” – who after learning that she has become pregnant takes a job as a guest star on a local TV production investigating haunted houses. The house in question is the original “Grudge” house and like before, all who enter will later meet their doom. Shimizu begins the tale by making Kyoko’s apparent loss of her fetus, in a terrible car accident, the focus of the film. However he quickly backtracks to retrace the wildly varying circumstances that lead to the crash. The shock that follows the loss of the child will be fully revealed in a final and horrifying conclusion that should leave even the most jaded moviegoer clutching their chest in breathless terror.
It’s not an understatement to say that the Ju-on films demand a certain level of commitment on the part of the viewer. With Shimizu’s ever-revolving time and place sending the components of the narrative structure into a vortex of changing milieus, the film virtually forces an encore spin – if for no other reason than wrapping your brain around nearly interchangeable character names like Kyoko, Kayako and Kaoru. That the film demands so much of the viewer’s attention works in its favor as well, as we are almost committed at the outset to understanding the populace of the production. This focus helps make the jump scares more visceral and the emotional resonance more profound. Assisting Shimizu with this set up are the skilled fruits of Cinematographer Tokusho Kikumura and Composer Shiro Sato, both of whom previously worked on the series. The combination of visual and aural ambience provided by these two, marks the film with a distinct mood and complements the direction and performances in immeasurably creepy ways.
That the success of the film series has kept, and will keep, director Shimizu busy for at least another three years is a testament to the international appeal of his brand of horror cinema. As far as Ju-on 2’s relevance in the series goes, I found it ultimately more satisfying than the original and infinitely more appealing than the US re-make. The intensity and immediacy of the filmmaking is more focused and references to the original material make for a more rounded story arc. Little explanation of the curse’s history is needed for the initiated viewer as the film jumps right in with both feet and rarely missteps all the way to the rewarding – even if ultimately – unoriginal ending.