Friday, October 29, 2010

Ju-On (The Curse) (2000)
JAPAN --- horror

Dir: Takashi Shimizu

The J-Horror fade that began in the late nineties was originally ushered in by the film "Ringu" (though there have been many films of the ilk before). Many of these films have explored the modern take on some of Japan's ancient supernatural ghost stories. While "Ringu" and others have showed our high-tech world meeting old horror, the thing that separates this film from the many others that followed, is it is actually deeply rooted in Japanese folklore. It doesn't have too much of a preachy essay about technology. Also, the ghosts in this film seem to be so imprecatory and powerful that they are boundless to anything, anyone, or anywhere (as Shimizu's American remakes would later prove).

Let's start at the beginning. In 1998, director Takashi Shimizu was in film school when he came up with the idea of Ju-On under the tutelage of director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Shimizu made two short but very creepy vignettes called "Katasumi" (In a Corner) and "444-444-4444" that he filmed on a shoe string budget. They both serve as precursors to the horror that is featured in the full-length film "Ju-On: The Curse". In the short "Katasumi" two school girls are feeding their pet rabbit. One girl cuts her finger and the other goes off for some medical supplies as the injured one stays behind. We do see that something emerges from the nearby woods and attacks the girl. When the other one returns, she finds her friend missing and the rabbit's cage in shambles, yet she discovers very soon she is not alone. As she soon notices an Onryƍ creeping toward her, with the now patented gurgling crackling sound associated with the appearance of these ghosts. In "444-444-4444" (#4 being bad luck in Asian culture) a young man finds a cellular phone ringing. He answers it, with what sounds like a cat's meow on the other line. Dismissing it as a crank, he hangs up, but the phone rings again. In true horror movie fashion, he answers and gets the same thing, this time asking if someone is watching him. A voice answers yes, but it isn't through the phone. A pale ghostly (bakemono) little boy appears right next to him, and we learn it was him calling.

In this made-for-television film, "Ju-On: The Curse", the mystery of the curse is unwoven through several non-sequential vignettes. First we're introduced to school teacher Kobayashi and his very pregnant wife. Professor Kobayashi discusses a delinquent student of his named Toshio Saeki, who he recognizes is the son of an old classmate of him and his wife's named Kayako. He decides to go check on him and his family. Once there he finds the boy home alone in the house which looks like its in absolute shambles. After a short discussion with Toshio about the whereabouts of his parents, the boy is pretty much silent, only telling Kobayashi they're together. Toward the end we hear the meow of a cat, and see that it is Toshio making the sound from his wide open mouth.

In the second vignette titled "Yuki", we follow a young woman who appears to have Ailurophobia (fear of cats). From the beginning she is disturbed by a bunch of porcelain feline statues and turns from facing her. She also seems to be tormented by the constant meowing she hears, yet her friend Kanna (one of the girls from "Katasumi") does not hear. Kanna rushes off to feed the rabbits at school, as Yuki stays behind. We're also briefly introduced to her brother Tsuyoshi (who we can later conclude is the character from "444-444-4444"). Soon our ghosts finds her and make her their next victim. This story successfully ties those aforementioned short films with this film fairly quickly, but as with any of these films, you need not have watched them all to follow along. The only problem with this episode we have no idea who this woman is. There may be something lost in translation, but we can only assume she is either a tutor, a friend of Kanna's, or an older sibling.

The following segment takes a cue from "444-444-4444" as we follow Tsuyoshi's girlfriend, Mizuho. It is after school, and she's looking for Tsuyoshi. As she walks around the school, she sees Tsuyoshi's bike with his book bag hanging on it, but no sign of him. She also finds his cellphone on the ground adjacent to the bike. When a teacher comes out to find out why she's there, Mizuho tells her she can't find Tsuyoshi. The teacher decides to help Mizuho and they go inside and announce his name over the loud speaker. The teacher goes off to search the classrooms for him, leaving Mizuho alone. However, while she waits, we see this girl is far from immune to the curse. She uses the cell to call Tsuyoshi's home, but finds he's not there either, and soon after the ghosts torment her.

"Kanna" picks up after the short film "Katasumi" as detectives and a coroner go over what may have killed Kanna and her friend. We jump back to the house where Kanna's mother comes home and gets the call from Mizuho. She hears someone come in and go upstairs, thinking it's Tsuyoshi she follows, but notices a trail of blood on the steps. She sees it's not Tsuyoshi, but Kanna, and soon discovers even that to be dead wrong.

The next story shows us the origin of all the whole mess, as we are taken back to the beginning of the film with Kobayashi and Toshio. It would appear the ghosts almost invite Kobayashi to the house, as he soon discovers he is partly the cause for the tragic web of murder. He finds Kayako's diary and learns she has had a crush on him since their school days. This would be fine until he finds her corpse in the closet. Kobayashi then grabs Toshio and tries to get out, but receives a phone call from Kayako's husband informing him that he has just killed his wife and newborn baby. At this point, we see that Toshio gets the phone and goes into a sort of spooky trance as Kayako comes crawling down the stairs after them.

The final story, "Kyoko", sets up the sequel. We are introduced to a real estate agent and his psychic sister whom he inquires help on discussing our now haunted house. Since they got the house cheap, he wants to follow-up on rumors circling that the place is haunted or something. So instead of getting too deep into getting an exorcist which would only cause more rumors, he gets his sister to check it out. They walk around the house and she sees the ghost of Kayako upstairs. This episode actually gives us a little insight into Japanese paranormal practices, as Kyoko demands some sake and after gulping some spits it out. She tells her brother that anyone coming to look at the house should repeat what she has done. If they were to spit it out, they are not to buy the house, because the sake is a supernatural reaction. He later informs Kyoko he sold the house without notifying her first, and not to worry about it. When Kyoko goes to see the house, she sees a woman in the window who turns to face her, clearly a sign the curse has continued on and Kayako is not finished with her vengeance. As I mentioned before, watching this film can give you more than a little history lesson on Japanese superstitions and folklore. The fact that these centuries old beliefs can transcend time and cross the boundaries of culture is a testament to the power of their messages.