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Review © Mandi Apple, 2003.

Please note: this is a review of the earlier TV movie version of Ju-on which was made in 2000, and is not a review of the 2003 remake. Please see the navigation bar on the left for links to other movies in the Ju-on series.

Directed by Shimizu Takashi, 2000, 70 min. starring Yanagi Yuurei, Chiaki Kuriyama, Hitomi Miwa, Asumi Miwa, Yoriko Douguchi, Taro Suwa, Takako Fuji, Takashi Matsuyama, and Ryôta Koyama.

Frankly, unless you've been living under a rock for a year or so, you'll know that there's been a hell of a lot of fuss surrounding the 2002-2003 remakes of two original TV movies, Ju-on (aka The Grudge or The Curse), and its follow-up, Ju-on 2. The remakes (also, somewhat confusingly, entitled Ju-on and Ju-on 2), to date, remain unavailable with English subtitles, despite a massive interest in the West, which is largely due to a particularly spine-tingling preview trailer which has been doing the rounds for awhile, and which of course means that everyone wants to get their hands on a copy... not least of all me ;-)

Interestingly enough, and for some unknown reason (possibly a loud ker-chinnnng!!! sound at the box office for similar films such as Ring and Kairo), the director of the two original Ju-on films (which were originally financed by Kansai TV, the same company who commissioned the brilliant TV movie Kourei), Shimizu Takashi, has remade his own movies (along with some help from Kiyoshi Kurosawa as executive producer). Why, I cannot possibly imagine, except for maybe the promise of a higher budget and more publicity this time around, presuming that the TV movies (along with their 1998 predecessor, Gakkô no kaidan G (aka School Ghost Story G), did reasonably good business on their first outing.

Believe me though, do not think for a second that the new, shiny, high-budget remake renders the previous, not-quite-so-shiny, low-budget TV versions either embarrassingly old-fashioned, or entirely redundant, or indeed both. Don't think it, even for a second. The impact of the original is not lessened at all, just as Long Dream's incredibly cheapo pathetic lack of budget didn't harm the quality of that movie spectacularly either.

And that's why I originally questioned Shimizu's intentions, because this movie, despite its super-cheap special FX, nasty video rendering, and incredibly slow pace, is a total corker. There are no rules to it; the plot is partially inexplicable, the atmosphere incredibly edgy and hypertense, the ghost action completely barmy and again, almost completely inexplicable, and the pace slower than a sozzled slug. So then, it's no great wonder that the genius director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the man who makes the slowest movies on earth that don't follow any rules except their own (if you've seen Charisma, you know exactly what I mean by this), was enlisted as executive producer on the Ju-on remake... not to mention Takahashi Hiroshi, who was scriptwriter on Ring. All seems to make perfect sense to me :-)

The acting is really of an extremely fine quality: compared to the remake, oddly enough, which doesn't actually feature any names with which I'm particularly familiar, there are some fairly well-known bods making a welcome appearance in the original: for instance, Yanagi Yuurei who is probably best known (in the West, at least) for his rôle as Okazaki the journalist in both Ring and Ring 2, but who is a perennial Nakata Hideo and Kiyoshi Kurosawa favourite, who has also appeared in Joyuurei and Hebi no Michi, aka Serpent's Path; Chiaki Kuriyama, the Japanese actress most likely to become a big Western crossover success when she stars in Quentin Tarantino's latest movie, Kill Bill, later this year, and a veteran of movies such as Battle Royale and Shikoku; Taro Suwa, who appears in, well, everything; and Yoriko Douguchi, yet another Kurosawa top pick, with solid performances in Cure, Charisma, Tomie, and Suit Yourself Or Shoot Yourself, among many others.

So, it seems hardly worth pointing out that the acting is pretty darn great here.
And it's certainly an interesting and unique story, although it remains to be seen how much of it was recycled for the remake, and how many influences the remake has picked up from other contemporary horror movies. But the plot is defiantly based on an unbelievably elderly device, namely .... the creepy, spooky and altogether ooky haunted house (I kid you not, but bear with me here for awhile, it gets much better).

Don't be too put off by this revelation though, because the concept built around the haunted house device is actually pretty unusual: ju-on, meaning curse or grudge, is, after all, the central theme. The concept is that if one person dies a nasty death in a certain house, that house is then eternally cursed by the victim's ghost; but the action of the curse on that place is to produce more dead people, who get killed off in equally unpleasant ways, and who, in turn, produce more curses. It even affects the friends of the current occupants of the house, and it's not just limited to the house itself. That's truly what gives Ju-on its edgy, Ring-like aftertaste: it's almost like a spreading disease that never ends, continually finding new victims and perpetuating itself.

But the movie, it must be said, does start out pretty tediously, with next to no action taking place; however, Shimizu Takashi is more than capable of playing some very fine mind games with his viewers. Just as with all of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's movies and most of Nakata Hideo's, the tension builds very slowly, over time, and your patience will be rewarded with some superior shocks and very nice, blood-curdling imagery.


Ju-on is split into several chapters, and three entirely separate timelines, so it takes a little concentration to follow exactly what's going on. I'm going to keep each timeline as a separate synopsis, so as to not confuse matters too heavily.

The movie opens with a young and enthusiastic schoolteacher by the name of Shunsuke Kobayashi (played by Yanagi Yuurei) talking to his heavily pregnant wife Manami (Yuue), discussing the case of a kid in his homeroom named Toshio Saeki (Ryôta Koyama) who hasn't been turning up to school lately.

Both Kobayashi and his wife knew Toshio's mother, Kayoko (Takako Fuji), from their college days, when Manami in particular remembers her as being more than a little bit creepy, and of course, Kobayashi has had dealings with her more recently at the school, although he hasn't ever met Toshio's father, Takeo Saeki. Therefore, in Toshio's best interests, the teacher decides to go and check up on his student at home and see if he can find out why he has been truanting for so long.

However, when he arrives at the house, he only finds Toshio there, all alone and not in a very good state, at that: the boy is covered with bruises, cuts, and all kinds of wounds, bandaged and band-aided all over, and completely refusing to talk to his teacher, not even telling him where his parents are. Of course, this sets all kind of alarm bells ringing in Kobayashi's mind: he decides to stick it out at the house and wait for the boy's parents to come home so he can question them about what's been going on.

What he doesn't know, however, is that whenever his back is turned, Toshio is doing some very weird things behind his back - opening his mouth really wide and making bizarre cat-yowling noises, for no apparent good reason. And all he seems interested in doing is drawing, but his drawings are seriously weird: strange scrawls of his parents, mixed in with cats' heads and other odd things that most kids of that age don't usually do. But as the time gets later and later, why aren't Toshio's parents coming home? What on earth could they be up to? And what dark forces are hidden and being called up within the house by Toshio?

Some while later (editor's note: how long is not specified within the film itself, I don't think), the old Saeki house has new owners - a young family by the name of Murakami, comprising a single mother, Noriko (Yumi Yoshiyuki), a daughter, Kanna (played by Asumi Miwa, who also appeared in Uzumaki that year), and a son, Tsuyoshi (Kazushi Andô). This segment opens with Kanna, who is having a study day during the school holidays with her friend Yuki (Hitomi Miwa), suddenly remembering that she's been given the responsibility of going into school to feed the pet rabbits.

So she leaves Yuki behind in the house, while she goes off to carry out her duty. However, alone in the house, Yuki begins to get some really bad vibes about staying in there all by herself. Firstly, she starts to hear weird, unsettling noises; secondly, her personal CD-player packs up when she tries to block out the noises by listening to music; and finally, a scary black cat jumps out at her, frightening her so much she tries to hide in a cupboard. But what she finds in there is far worse than any cat attack...

In the meantime, Tsuyoshi, currently obsessed with his lovely new girlfriend Mizuho Tamura (Chiaki Kuriyama), has made a date to meet up with her at their school, knowing that Kanna has already gone on ahead there. But by the time Mizuho turns up at the school doors, she finds Tsuyoshi's bike there and nothing else - except for a mysterious cellphone, which has been dropped on the ground and doesn't appear to be working, which Mizuho picks up and hangs on to.

While she's waiting, she is found by one of the teachers, Nakamura (Yoriko Douguchi), and made to stay inside the school while Nakamura-san goes to search for Tsuyoshi. But strange things begin to happen to her in the schoolroom which make her wish she had never picked that damn phone up off the floor... Unsurprisingly, the police are eventually called into the school to investigate the situation, and what they find there raises all kinds of terrible questions about the Murakami family.

Back at the house, however, Mrs Murakami has returned home from work to a completely empty and silent home: none of the kids are there. However, she is completely unprepared for the horror which is about to happen to her, and I'm not going to post it because it's a classic sequence, which made your humble reviewer grin like a happy Cheshire cat for quite some while after watching it ;-)

In the third and final segment (again taking place at some later date unspecified in the parameters of the movie) we meet a young, pretty girl named Kyôko Suzuki (Yûko Daike), who is the sister of a real-estate agent named Tatsuya, who has been landed with the unenviable job of attempting to sell the Saeki house. On her one and only visit to the place, Kyôko has such a horrible experience that she begs Tatsuya not to sell the house to anyone. But what happened in that house to put such a terrible curse on it in the first place? Will the full story ever come to light? There are so many questions left unanswered that you feel almost certain there will have to be a sequel, somewhere along the line... ;-)

So, after having experienced this movie, which is wondrous enough on its own merit, I'm even more stoked to see the remake now - particularly since the clips I've seen would suggest that Shimizu Takashi did absolutely the right thing in remaking his own movie, which was already more than good enough to challenge top-drawer TV chillers like Long Dream and Kourei. I've said it before, and I will definitely be saying it again at some point in the not-too-distant future: how incredibly lucky are the Japanese TV viewing public to get these kind of quality commissions being produced! (Jealous? Me? Of course! UK TV - pah! don't even go there!;-D)

Towards the end in particular, Ju-on frankly gave me, your hardened extreme movie reviewer, the creeping horrors, which is not something I've experienced in too many movies for awhile, actually. Ju-on boasts the same all-pervading and inexplicable ambience of something evil, inhuman and completely unstoppable, which turned Dark Water's upstairs water tank and Kairo's computers into objects of pure terror.

There are some truly disturbing moments which will stick in your mind long after watching it, and there's even a nice scene which is highly reminiscent of the great horror manga writer Junji Ito's short story Long Hair In The Attic (from the comic collection Flesh-Colored Horror). If we're comparing this movie to creative works by Kurosawa, Nakata and Ito, you can probably tell that this is one high-quality piece of work.

So, to summarise: if you're the kind of movie viewer who digs extreeeeeemely slow movies that build on a creepy premiss with some deliciously eerie horror moments, you could do much worse than check out this little gem. Equally so, if you've got any interest in the remake (which, at a rough guess, virtually everyone does), you might find the comparison quite fascinating. However, that said, if you like big explosions, hugely expensive special FX, buckets o' blood and flying zombie heads-'n'-guts in a Junk-type stylee, steer well clear, nothing to see here, this one's not for you, because you'll hate it and then you'll only whinge at us because we recommended it so enthusiastically ;-)

Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 8/10
Chills: 8/10
Violence: 0/10
Sex: Chiaki Kuriyama/10 (whether that's a positive or negative number is highly subjective)
Scary Cat-Children: 1
Scary Ghosts: well, almost everyone, by the end
Scary Haunted Houses: 1
Inexplicable Bits: "what the f- was that?!"/10
Special FX Budget: about 200 ¥, but money well spent
Films in a Similar Style: Ring, Kourei, Dark Water, Kairo

***Highly Recommended***

Ju-on (TV version) Wallpaper

You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2003

Snowblood Apple Filmographies

Takashi Shimizu
Yanagi Yuurei
Chiaki Kuriyama
Yoriko Douguchi
Asumi Miwa
Hitomi Miwa
Yumi Yoshiyuki
Taro Suwa
Takashi Matsuyama

Links (warning: most of these are remake links, as there's not too much about the originals appearing yet on the Net)

http://www.juon.co.kr/ - bloody fantastic official Korean site for the remake - excellent stuff, with ecards, movie clips, trailer, synopsis, images etc [Korean with a bit of English navigation]
http://www.japattack.com/japattack/film/juon_itv.html - interview with Takashi Shimizu about the remake
http://www.japattack.com/japattack/film/crazylips.html - some stuff about the originals, too

http://kadokawa-daiei.com/VIDEO99/html/kaidan.htm - official page concerning the very first Ju-on story of all, 1998's Gakkô no kaidan G, with some nice images from the film [Japanese only]
http://www.thezreview.co.uk/comingsoon/g/grudgethe.htm - not another bloody US remake!!! ;oP Yep, you heard it right: not even widely available with English subs yet, and still the remake is going to be remade (yawn) by Sam Raimi
http://www.cine-tre.com/ju-on/ - official remake site [Japanese only]
http://www.juon2.jp/ - and, slap me round the head with a wet fish, the official remake SEQUEL site!!! ;D [Japanese only]
http://www.filmhorizon.com/thegrudge.asp - lots about the remake... check the 'Audio/Visual Material' section for some slides of film images and a downloadable trailer
http://www.screendaily.com/story.asp?storyid=11660&st=the+grudge&s=3 - plans to release the movie and the two TV versions on DVD in the USA
http://www.kfccinema.com/reviews/horror/juon/juon.html - remake review at KFCC, with some pics to feast your eyeballs on
http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/juon.shtml - Midnight Eye's review of the remake, classy as ever
http://us.yesasia.com/kr/PrdDept.aspx/pid-1001822889/section-videos/code-j/did-160/ - at last, some details about the originals [Korean only]
http://www.fjmovie.com/main/news/2003/0125_juon.html - pics from the premiere of the remake
http://chiaki-kuriyama.zanlius.com - fansite dedicated to Chiaki Kuriyama, with lots of pictures, information and all kinds of goodies

this review (c) Mandi Apple Collingridge, 2003. all other text and webdesign (c) 2002, 2003 M. Apple Collingridge. 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.