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Review © Larry D Burns, 2004.

Directed by Shimizu Takashi, 2003, 92 min. starring Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito, Misa Uehara, Takako Fuji and Yui Ichikawa.

In the post-Ring climate of Japanese cinema, there has been the almost Scarlett O'Hara-like search for the new wave of Japanese horror. Whilst Suicide Circle almost came close, there still wasn't that frenzied anticipation that came about at the mere mention of its title. Perhaps it was the bold and somewhat cultural ideas found in that film that didn't allow it to crossover in a big way the same way Ring did, or maybe the rest of the world was looking for a "safe" horror movie. Anyone who's a fan would know that Suicide Circle is anything but safe.

Enter Takashi Shimizu, a bright young Japanese filmmaker who just looooves horror films. He takes a universal scare tactic (the haunted house) and turns it on its head by giving it an apocalyptic, heart-freezing premise that was sure to scare anyone's pants off. Throw in a modern, non-linear way of storytelling, finger-twisting build-ups, climactic dénouements, and a couple of blue-skinned and (occasionally) blood-covered spooks and you’ve got the makings of a fine chiller.

That, my friends, was the TV movie version of Ju-on.

In the hopes of reaching a larger audience, a theatrical version of the Ju-on tale was brought to life by Shimizu himself. Armed with a larger budget and all the CGI he could get his hands on, Shimizu tries his best to capture some of the terror and cleverness of his TV movies for the big screen. But while he succeeds in trying to be clever, he fails on the crucial terror aspect.

Synopsis

Like the video versions, the story is divided into several time frames with intertwining characters and plot points.

RIKA – We begin with a volunteer social worker named Rika who gets an assignment to check on an old lady, because, apparently, no-one else could do it. Doubting her abilities, Rika balks at first, but gets cornered into it, so she gives in and visits the house of the damned (so to speak).

Upon arrival, she immediately picks up on an ominous atmosphere. With no-one to open the door, she lets herself in and discovers the home in disarray. She finds the old woman and proceeds to inquire about her companions - none seem present. Rika explores the house and discovers a little boy hiding in the closet – a taped-up closet at that. She asks the boy's name, to which he replies, "Toshio"... it's the same boy from the TV movies...

KATSUYA – Jumping to another time frame, we see a young married couple, Katsuya and Kazumi, living in the house of horrors, together with the husband's ailing mother. The house is once more in complete disarray, since the wife has to tend to the ailing mother whilst being a housewife to her husband. At the onset, you can see Kazumi has some sort of resentment about this arrangement. It doesn’t help that a mischievous Toshio topples glasses and leaves handprints all over the place...

HITOMI – On to another time frame. Hitomi leaves a message on Katsuya's answering machine, wondering about the previous night’s events. Shrugging it off, she carries on with her business, but gets a phone call from her brother. As she answers, all she hears is the now all-too-familiar burping/croaking on the other line. Freaked out, she hangs up and heads into the ladies' room to splash some water on her face. What she gets instead is a visit from a dark shadow lady, sending her running to the guard’s office. He investigates, but as she watches on the surveillance camera feed, she sees him enveloped by the same dark shadow. She freaks, and runs home.

In the sanctuary of her own apartment, she feels safe, but not for long. Turning the TV off, she hides under the covers hoping for sanctuary - but Hitomi realizes that not even her duvet offers security…

TOYAMA – continuing the time frame from the Rika section, we see a bunch of cops investigating the scene of the crime. This being the old lady's death and the missing husband and wife. After searching the house, they decide to give Katsuya’s phone a ring. Just as they do, ringing can be heard somewhere in the house... They follow the sound up to the attic, where they find a couple of corpses...

IZUMI – Izumi is slowly spiralling into depression and insanity. She is obsessed with the idea that her disappeared schoolmates are after her for revenge, trying to make her one of them. Izumi’s mother doesn’t seem to care much, since she is in a semi-catatonic state of her own. Izumi’s classmates visit her, only to discover that she is beyond help, covering every inch of her window with newspaper to prevent her from seeing out into the darkness...

KAYAKO – The finale brings us back to Rika, this time moving on with her life, working at the hospital. She’s meeting old friends, catching up on gossip, but somehow, Toshio is still finding the time to haunt her...

A lot has been said about the changes made with the film version. It's a completely new story, with a few familiar bits thrown in for good measure. It’s prettier to look at. It's glossy. It basically shows that it cost more money to make. But does that make it better?

Interestingly enough, the slickness of the quality has diminished the sheer terror of the premise. Part of the appeal of the original Ju-on TV movies was that - the quality of the video. It sort of made it seem like you were watching someone’s twisted home movie. It made it seem more real.

Coupled with the fact that the performances in the TV movie were far better than in the theatrical version, and that a lot of the atmosphere from the TV versions were originated from Takashi's use of light and shadow – something very real and everyday – the TV versions still succeeded in scaring you in an unexpected way. You end up looking at your staircase in a different light... and you'll never rest against your doorway ever again.

This film version just seemed too unreal, too polished. The lighting was too obtrusive in some parts, too dark in others. And then there's the plot holes... don't even get us started on that ;-)

There's also the slight inconsistencies - for instance, why do ghosts need to pass though a walkway when they can pass through walls? Why do they always disappear when the camera frame changes? Why is Kayako in full view in some parts, while a mere shadow in others? What’s with the croaking/burping/high pitched frequencies? Questions, questions... and precious few answers in evidence.

The Ju-on saga is close to getting tired, but I think that's the whole point Takashi Shimizu is trying to make. The legend of the Ju-on is sort of a cautionary tale for everyone who wants to be connected with everyone. Humans have this basic desire to know everybody (hello, Friendster.com!), even on the shallowest level. We are all connected to one another, but instead of it uniting us, it will be the end of us. It's a philosophy which is strangely parallel to the world-view prevented by Ju-on: The Grudge producer Kiyoshi Kurosawa in his own movie, Kairo, where a similar nightmarish vision of an apocalypse brought to bear by human interconnection is presented... but sadly, in an infinitely more poetic and resonant manner.

However, on a more negative note, the series is now beginning to really become somewhat wearisome, and I simply can't believe for a moment that that is intentional. Now clocking in at something like a mere eight episodes (two segments featured in Gakko no kaidan G, the V-Cinema Ju-on, the V-Cinema Ju-on 2,this movie, the latest Japanese theatrical release Ju-on: The Grudge 2, and Sam Raimi's forthcoming US remake The Grudge - not to mention a US remake sequel already in planning!), it's fast becoming a Nightmare on Elm Street-style never-ending franchise - and that's not going to do the director's credibility any favours as he does appear to be cashing in on a reputation which, to be fair, is really only based on two movies - this one, and the first V-Cinema film. It would certainly appear that he's directed little else outside of Ju-on other than Tomie: Re-birth, and that's not exactly been garnering rave reviews.

The curse of the grudge entity has been unleashed unto the world, and it's only a matter of time before it gets us all - truly a chilling premise. Unfortunately though, it's close to overkill, as the premise was evident in the first TV movie onwards. Ju-on: The Grudge tries to recapture that essence of apocalyptic doom, but ends up being a sort of Calvin Klein ad from a Mapplethorpe photograph. It just became pop. The scares don't stay with you, they just scare you momentarily - if at all. For a horror movie, you’d think that would be enough. But for a horror movie to truly work, you need to think about it long after you’ve hit the stop button on your DVD player.

A big Snowblood Apple thank you to Kevin Brown, who kindly provided the screencaps for this review.

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 6/10
Chills: 3/10
Violence: 0/10
Sex: 0/10
Special FX: 8/10 - a good budget shows here - so then why do the effects in the TV movie seem somehow scarier?
Soundtrack: 8/10; as ever, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's taste in scores is impeccable
All-in Gruesome Twosome Champion Guys 'n' Ghouls Tag Team, Toshio and Kayoko: sadly, wouldn't stand a chance against Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks

Films in a Similar Style: Ju-on (TV), Ju-on 2 (TV), Ju-on: The Grudge 2, Gakko no kaidan G, Ring

***Recommended, but only if you haven't watched the V-cinema original first***

Ju-on: The Grudge Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.


You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Larry D Burns, 2004


Snowblood Apple Filmographies


Takashi Shimizu
Megumi Okina
Misaki Ito
Yui Ichikawa

Links

http://www.cine-tre.com/ju-on/ - Official site, replete with trailers, downloads etc [Japanese only]
http://www.foutz.net/movies/juon.shtml - Scott Foutz's great review, featuring a wealth of indepth information, ratings and relevant goodies. Fans of J-cinema should definitely check out his fantastic site which is jam-packed with reviews for pretty much every movie you can think of :-)
http://www.horrorexpress.com/filmreview.php?id=468 - Horror Express seemed to like the movie a lot better than we did, a positive review plus plenty of pics and some fun trivia
http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/juon.shtml - Jasper Sharp's incisive review for Midnight Eye
http://www.japattack.com/japattack/film/juon_itv.html - interview with Takashi Shimizu and links to other Ju-on related pages at Japattack
http://www.sanchodoesasia.com/sdj/sdj_ju_on.php - Sancho Does Asia come through as ever, with a long and very positive review by Akatomy [French only]

this review (c) Larry D Burns, 2004. all other text and webdesign (c) 2002, 2003, 2004 M. Apple Collingridge, A. Collingridge, Larry D Burns. All characters, situations and images remain the property of their respective owners. The text and webdesign of this site may not be copied, reproduced, mirrored, printed commercially or ripped off in any other way. Do not hotlink directly to images hosted on this site. rolex replica swiss rolex ofake omega watches