Directed by Shimizu Takashi, Japan, 2003, 88 min. starring Noriko Sakai, Chiharu Niiyama, Kei Horei, Yui Ichikawa, Shingo Katsurayama, and Takako Fuji.
Before you roll your eyes at yet another incarnation of the (what appears now to be as never-ending as the curse itself, with the forthcoming Shimizu-does-America remake with Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Grudge) Ju-on saga, I suppose I should start off by saying this one is actually good.
Wow, I just got into that, didn't I? ;-) Well, I will by no means hide my admiration for this film. Why? Well, for starters, it's got better performances, better pacing, and a better plotline than the first big-screen incarnation. Then I could go on to mention Shimizu's technical improvements from the first film - the improved lighting, sets, and costumes, extending all the way to the clever twists, non-linear storytelling, and visual impact. But all this in no way makes it a masterpiece. Heavens no - it just makes it much, much, much better than the first theatrical release, Ju-on: The Grudge.
I went to see this film with low expectations, since I was hugely disappointed with the first film. So, colour me surprised when I actually got caught up in the story, the characters, and when I couldn't wait to find out how it all ends. That's a true testament of a good film, as far as I'm concerned, and make no mistake, this movie does the series very much more proud than its theatrical predecessor.
For a start, the acting is of an excellent quality throughout – Noriko Sakai, in particular, turns in a lovely, edgy performance as Kyoko, whose story extends throughout the entire movie and ties all the portemanteau chapters together – but all the actors are engaging and fit their roles pretty perfectly; and even Toshio this time around (played here by Yuya Ozeki) doesn't just look like a cute kid covered in blue makeup – he genuinely carries an otherworldly air which the first theatrical-version Toshio frankly doesn't.
Sure enough, all of the trademark Shimizu tricks are here, and exquisitely executed this time around, just as they were in the first TV Ju-on. Whilst that particular production boasted the budget of your average burger-flipper's weekly wage, and did not suffer a thing for it, due to the truly inspired horrific scenes which didn't lose anything even from the terrible special effects – unlike Ju-on: The Grudge, which conversely had large wodges of cash thrown at it from all directions and ended up being the blandest take yet on the concept – this movie has the goods, partly because it has all the inspiration of the original V-Cinema episode, plus all the giant budget of the first theatrical release.
And by Golly, it shows: optical tricks that simply looked cheesy and corny in, say, Ju-on 2 (V-Cinema), are repeated, but to hugely improved effect with the increased budget and special effects. There are fantastic blink-and-you'll-miss-them moments that are almost as epic as the ghost-face-in-the-train-window scene in The Eye, which not only serve to deliver little chills of recognition, but also to draw the viewer in, in a kind of conspiracy, as if to say "Did you just see that, is that supposed to be there or could it be… could it be real?!!" It's a clever device, but it has to be carried out just so to not as make it look corny.
Unfortunately, in Ju-on 2, it failed to produce anything but fits of giggles for us. Thankfully, in the main, Shimizu makes it look eerie here, rather than just a dumb trick to pull on the teenage element of the audience… with one exception – a really, really stupid scene with a wig which, honestly, will make you wet your pants laughing. Guaranteed.
This being a sequel, we see familiar elements which tie up all four incarnations of the Ju-on saga (including the now famous - and often somewhat daft-looking - mother-son boo-brigade). But somehow, Shimizu has found a way to take all these familiar elements and still be able to turn it on its head. The movie comes across as fresh, exciting and interesting, almost like a familiar tune remade into a virtually unrecognizable pop ditty.
Certainly, compared to the weaker movies in the series, Ju-on: The Grudge 2 looks very much like a welcome return to form for Takashi Shimizu – indeed, the scares come thick and fast in this movie, just as in the first V-Cinema Ju-on, and are, at times, equally shocking. There are scenes so disturbing and so powerfully directed, particularly during the last sequence, that they pack an almost equal punch to the scares in the aforementioned original Ju-on. For those who despaired, as we at Snowblood Apple did, of Shimizu ever making another movie as gripping as that in this series, it comes as a real pleasure.
Yet despite it being a sequel, it has absolutely nothing to do with the first movie version other than the very basic premise and by-now legendary concept of the revenant Saeki family, therefore is easy to be taken as a standalone piece. All you have to be familiar with is the history and the concept of "the grudge" and you're all set.
A familiar trend in all the Juon series is the non-linear storylines. This version is no different. But what sets this apart is that all the characters stem from one event, and all their lives are affected by it. The plotline twists in clever turns that you can't help but grin at certain parts of the film.
We are introduced to Kyoko, an actress who we find out is pregnant, and her boyfriend Masashi. Driving back one night, they suffer a car accident (later revealed having been caused by the boy Toshio) causing Masashi to fall in a coma, and Kyoko to miscarry. At least, that's what seems to happen. Kyoko has been steadily haunted by Toshio, who at one time ominously touched her belly as if to tell us something. However, after a routine physical check-up, Kyoko discovers she is still pregnant, much to her confused delight.
TOMOKA – A young woman, Tomoka, hears thumping in her apartment, always at a specific time. This bothers her, and tells her boyfriend about it. Dropping by one night, he hears it too - always at the stroke of 12:27. They brush it off as a mere prank, but strange things start happening to both of them as weird visions and the now-familiar croaking over the phone visits them both.
MEGUMI – A TV crew sets up to do a special on the now-famous haunted house. Included in this roster is TV host Tomoka, producer Keisuke, hair and make-up stylist Megumi, and guest star Kyoko. While filming inside the house, sure enough, weird things start happening. They pack-up for the day, and while fixing some wigs at the studio, Megumi has a hair-raising experience.
KEISUKE – Masashi awakens from his coma, but is still in a catatonic state. All this sheds an ominous light over Kyoko's pregnancy. Things get even more troublesome for her when TV producer Kaisuke tells her that several of the crew involved in their TV project has either died or disappeared. The two decide to investigate, and discover that Kyoko's pregnancy might have a bigger part in the grand scheme of the curse.
CHIHARU – A young girl has recurring nightmares about the haunted house. When she is cast as an extra in a horror film starring Kyoko, she realizes the set is the same house she's been having nightmares about.
KAYAKO – In the climactic final sequence, the mystery of Kyoko's pregnancy is horrifyingly revealed, wreaking havoc on a hospital maternity staff and a hapless TV producer.
As far as sequels go, this one delivers the goods. It can happily stand on its own as a really well-made and tense horror flick, but what makes it infinitely better than the first big screen outing is the fact that it's far more concrete in idea and storyline. The mystery of Kyoko's pregnancy ties the whole film together, rather than just vignettes you take piece by piece. It gives the plot a cohesive flow, since all the storylines are tied to one particular event, leading up to an inevitable outcome which is still immensely creepy – all thanks to the beautiful cinematography and relentless building of scare upon scare.
Plus, it's extremely clever. One particular death scene plays almost like a campfire urban legend. You scratch your head and can't wait for the explanation, and when it is, you can't help but grin at its brilliance! The execution may be unoriginal and the end result fairly pedestrian and predictable, but getting there is anything but.
This time around, Shimizu plays around in some of the segments. In one particular sequence, he tries for a hallucinogenic, high-on-Special K type of editing – reminiscent of certain Nightmare On Elm Street movies, or indeed the deliberately viewer-disorienting, quasi-psychedelic approach featured in such movies as Otogiriso. With solid performances, clever storytelling, and much-improved editing, Ju-on: The Grudge 2 exceeds its predecessor by leaps and bounds. It's still not what you'd call masterpiece material, but heck – compared to some of the best Asian releases this year (for example, A Tale of Two Sisters) it matches up pretty favourably, it's still great entertainment, and is, in our opinions, a much improved, stronger, scarier movie this time around, with some truly inspired directing, beautiful imagery, and a more clear explanation – and exploration – of the Ju-on mythos.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 8/10
Chill Factor: 7/10, or 8/10 for the more sensitive in disposition
Number of Appearances of Toshio: too many to count. He gets everywhere, doesn't he? In the supermarket, in the street, in the toilet – nowhere's safe from the Evil Blue Smurf
Number of Guest (Ghost?) Appearances by Sadako: 0. Looking at the pictures above, you may be forgiven for thinking there was one ;-)
Medal Ranking in the Series: Silver, only just being pipped at the post to the Gold by Ju-on (V-Cinema)
Pant-wettingly Unscary Animate Wigs That Look Like Small Dogs: 1
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: plentiful buckets on hand, especially whenever Kayako is about and anywhere near a staircase
Films in a Similar Style: Ju-on, Ju-on 2, Ju-on: The Grudge, Ring, Phone
*** Recommended - a major improvement on the previous movie ***
Ju-on: The Grudge 2 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
http://www.atticcrawlspace.com/ - Mike Jonas' dedicated Ju-on forums, dealing with all the movies in the series
http://www.filmhorizon.com/thegrudge2.asp - Horizon Entertainment have lots of information, plus pictures and trailers - click on Audio/Visual Materials for a small image gallery and downloadable trailer
http://www.pixelsurgeon.com/reviews/review.php?id=479 - a good, indepth review at Pixel Surgeon
http://www.subwaycinema.com/frames/nyaff04-juon.htm - Subway Cinema's joint review of both theatrical Ju-on releases, with some interesting comments made by Takashi-san featured
http://www.moviesonline.ca/details_director.php?director=78 - some information about Takashi Shimizu
http://www.moviesonline.ca/movienews_636.html - apparently, yes, in case you were frightened that this instalment might be the last in the J-series, fear not! For there is indeed a Ju-on: The Grudge 3 incoming ;-)
http://www.pantip.com/cafe/chalermthai/newmovie/ju-on2/juon2.html - Thai only, but a heck of a lot of pictures
http://www.totaldvd.net/cgi-bin/dvdreviews.php?dvdid=6279 - a pretty good review by Mark Haywood at totaldvd.com, with lots of technical info