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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Day 308: Ju-On

Ju-in, Ju-on, and Ju-out

OK, I admit it. I've been ignoring Japanese horror movies for too long. Sure, I reviewed Masters Of Horror: Imprint and Masters Of Horror: Dream Cruise, but those were made for an American audience. I'm talking about made in Japan for a Japanese audience. I've reviewed horror movies from Canada, France, India, Spain, Norway, Belgium, South Africa, Great Britain, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, China, and Holland. It's about time that I give some proper attention to Japan. What better way to do that than with one of the more well-known movies to be remade in the United States? Or more accurately, one of a series of movies remade in the United States.

Ju-On (also know as  Ju-On: The Curse) is a 2000 supernatural horror movie from Japan. The movie follows the lives of multiple people in connection with a specific house in Nerima, Tokyo. Shunsuke Kobayashi (Yurei Yanagi), a teacher, pays a visit to his student Toshio (Ryota Koyama), who has been absent from school. Kobayashi finds Toshio alone in his house, covered in bruises and surrounded by garbage. While waiting for his parents, Toshio begins to make a strange, meowing sound. The story then jumps to the next family to live in the house, the Murakami family. One of the daughters hears a strange croaking sound coming from the attic. When she inspects, she is attacked and killed by some sort of ghost or spirit. The spirit then goes on to attack other people connected with the Murakami family. When we return to the story of Kobayashi, we learn that Toshio's mother was obsessed with Kobayashi. He reads her journal which expresses her intense obsession with him. As he goes to leave, Kobayashi receives a phone call from Toshio's father. His father, jealous about his wife's feelings towards Kobayashi, takes his revenge on Kobayashi's wife and unborn child. In a state of shock, Kobayashi is unable to move when he begins to hear the same croaking sounds from the other story coming from upstairs. What unspeakable horror is coming to meet him and where is exactly is Toshio's mother?

"Help! I've been attacked by Windows 98 graphics!"

I initially thought I was going to be watching the original Japanese version of the Sarah Michelle Gellar movie The Grudge. Unfortunately, I was sort of wrong. Ju-On is actually a series of direct to video horror movies with this one being the first. The American version of The Grudge is actually a remake of Ju-On 2. I've only seen bits and pieces of The Grudge (and some jokes from the Scary Movie franchise) so I was quite surprised to see that the movie didn't really focus on the spooky meowing child. That's what happens when you don't do your research. The creepy meowing child is in the movie, though not as much as The Grudge. The movie does have some genuinely scary parts thanks to a good amount of suspense and sound. There is a good amount of tension and lead-up during the movie. We know something is going to happen and it pushes the audience to the edge of their seats. The strange croaking vocal sounds are actually done by director Takashi Shimizu and are probably the most memorable thing about the movie. The unnatural sound and some unnatural movements are very unsettling, similar to the spider-crawl scene in The Exorcist. Most of the action and violence is implied rather than shown, but we do get a decent amount of blood.

One thing that always worries me when I watch foreign films is that I may not understand certain cultural themes or ideas that the movie is focusing on. While it hasn't been a problem before, I did find myself a bit lost during certain scenes. I have a general idea of the significance of cats in Japanese culture, but not to the point where I could relate to one characters incredible fear of them. Maybe I just missed something in translation. The movie has a tendency to jump around too much, telling multiple short stories. I couldn't feel a strong connection with most of the characters because they only had about 15 minutes of screen time here and there. It doesn't help that the movie has a run time of about 68 minutes. Maybe that's all just the stupid American in me, but the movie would have been better off focusing on, say, 3 extended stories. The acting and directing are fine with not serious complaints. The film quality is on the cheaper side which I find brings down the entire viewing experience.

Did I just walk in on a Danzig music video?

Though it wasn't the movie I was expecting to see, it was nice to find out where the story began. The haunted house/curse is interesting on the surface, but the movie jumps around way too much. I find it hard to connect with the characters and follow just what is happening on the screen. There are too many small stories and with the short run time, everything feels rushed. The movie has a few good scares thanks to good suspense and the creative use of sound. If you liked the American version of The Grudge, you may enjoy seeing where the story got it's start. Otherwise, there's no need to rush out at see Ju-On: The Curse.


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