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
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
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
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
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
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.
Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 6/10
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
All-in Gruesome Twosome Champion Guys 'n' Ghouls Tag Team, Toshio
and Kayoko: sadly, wouldn't stand a chance against Big Daddy and
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
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]
Wallpaper credit: Larry D Burns, 2004
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
- Official site, replete with trailers, downloads etc [Japanese
- 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 :-)
- Horror Express seemed to like the movie a lot better than we did,
a positive review plus plenty of pics and some fun trivia
- Jasper Sharp's incisive review for Midnight Eye
- interview with Takashi Shimizu and links to other Ju-on
related pages at Japattack
- Sancho Does Asia come through as ever, with a long and very
positive review by Akatomy [French only]