Friday, October 21, 2011

Ju-On (The Grudge) (2003)
JAPAN --- horror

Dir: Takashi Shimizu

The malevolent mother and child spirits continue their vengeance fueled haunting of Tokyo in this bigger budget theatrical sequel to the Ju-On television and video films. In the first film we saw the origin of the horror, as well as in the follow-up. The body count and victims increased, creating more and more horrific circumstances in a small vicinity that no one will be able to stop. The difference in this film, it seems to focus on one woman's encounter with the Ju-on Onryō spirits, creating a familiar vibe in the haunted house sub genre.

The feature film "Ju-On" expands the universe and attempts to give us some form of explanation of the exponential nature of the ghosts, while scaring the heck out of us. Keeping form of its predecessors, the film is told in non-linear construction, which makes us even more unnerved; adding to the suspense. In the opening, we get a short abstract visual to key events that set up the horrors of the film, though we don't know it yet. First off we find a young volunteer welfare worker named Rika assigned to visit an old woman home alone. Setting us smack bang in the very familiar ghost story trope of "the woman in a haunted house tale". She finds the house in absolute shambles, and the old woman shes' to check on, sitting in a room of the house alone. As she goes about cleaning up around the house, Rika eventually has an encounter with Toshio, the ghost child (except here he curiously appears in human form). She contacts the welfare department but when she goes to check in on the old woman, she finds a black figure hovering above her; the other ghostly resident of the house, Toshio's Yūrei mother Kayako.

The next sequence titled "Katsuya", takes us back in time with the old woman's son Katsuya Tokunaga and his wife (the old woman's daughter-in-law) Kazumi. We meet Katsuya as it appears they have just recently moved into the home looking after their elderly mother. When Katsuya goes off to work, Kazumi is left home alone with her elderly mother-in-law, but soon discovers it isn't just the two of them. Later that day, Katsuya gets home from work and looking for Kazumi he runs into the ghost of Toshio. After finding Kazumi in a catatonic state she dies, and he is soon possessed by an evil spirit. I presume based on the dialogue he later mutters to his sister, that he is possessed by the spirit of Takeo Saeki. Soon when his sister Hitomi comes home for a visit, she confronts him and is quickly kicked out of the house, until Katsuya takes Kazumi's dead body up to the attic.

The following vignette features Katsuya's sister, titled "Hitomi". The beautiful young woman becomes haunted by the ghosts. She contacts her brother from work and has what would normally be a mundane way back home, turned into a living nightmare. We even see the abilities of the Onryō spirit somehow transcends just the physical in being able to control or affect electronics, something which I'm sure was possibly inspired by "Ringu". Next up, in "Toyama" another welfare worker (Hashini; the worker who originally assigned Rika) visits the Tokunaga residence. He finds the old woman dead and Rika in a state of shock. The police are brought in on the case, and they end up finding the corpses of Katsuya and Kazumi Tokunaga in the attic. When one of the detectives question Rika about what happened, she reveals finding a boy named Toshio, which was reported a missing child. The police bring in a retired detective named Yuji Toyama, who was assigned to the case of the house Saeki family. He is seen with his daughter Izumi (here shown at a young age as opposed to the following segment), and soon joins the detective to help on their investigation. Toyama goes to the police station to watch the video camera footage of the Hitomi's last whereabouts in her building. The security guard is shown checking the ladies restroom, she had him check. Toyama checks the video footage and finds that he sees the same black spirit that Hitomi saw. As mentioned, the Onryō spirit is no longer bound by space, as she comes through the television screen Toyama is watching. Meanwhile, the film continues to follow Rika, who is still being haunted by the ghosts. By the end of the segment, Toyama decides to burn the house of Saeki down, but ends up apparently looking into the future as he witnesses his daughter as a teenager leaving the house after chickening out on the bet to stay in the house. Ultimately, it is all a ploy to lure him upstairs as the Yūrei Kayako gurgling and creeping like a spider, ends up chasing him. The police detectives happen upon him too, but run into the ghost themselves, and succumb to it.

The horror continues, as we follow some schoolgirls in the chapter titled "Izumi". We are now either a year or two later, as we discover Toyama is dead and his now older daughter is distraught over the haunted house of Saeki. Somewhere between her father dying and this episode, she went into the house with her three friends and they never made it out. This was the seen in the last episode, where her father actually saw her. When her school photograph comes out distorted her friends try to console her. It's already too late, as she knows that her number is up. In the final chapter, "Kayako", we find Rika must rescue her co-worker who has unknowingly went to the haunted house to check on Toshio. Rika, however arrives too late, as she realizes the spirits have taken her friend and Kayako's Onryō spirit taps into her psyche. This allows Rika to see, and in a sense relive, all that Kayako has been through (at least in this film). By the end of the film, we realize, somehow Kayako has possibly been reincarnated in Rika as, Takeo Saeki, the third and final member of this preternatural family continues his violent legacy.

The events in "Ju-On: The Grudge" have been seen and done before in film. For Americans, it is not so dissimilar from "The Amityville Horror", the difference being the latter is based on reality. The film series, however does have a few roots in classic Japanese horror cinema. For those interested, the tale seems to throw in the use of the black cat which does not quite fit into the Onryō spirit legend. There was a film in 1958 called "Borei Kaibyo Yashiki" (Mansion of the Ghost Cat aka Black Cat Mansion) by 50's horror maven filmmaker Nakagawa Nobuo, which seems to be a progenitor to the Ju-On film series in some way. This theatrical entry of the "Ju-On" series of films is a classic in the subgenre of "J-Horror". For Japanese horror films, sound design is essential. This has pretty much always been the case in all ghost stories, going back to the campfire. It is probably the most psychologically robust cinema genre one can watch, working on the parts of your mind you really don't want to explore. Visually, they rely less on gore and place more emphasis on creeping you out. For this entry in the series, director Shimizu really elevated his filmmaking prowess making not only a great horror film with more texture and characterization, but even allowed for humor and simple entertainment. Shimizu also remade this very film for American audiences with "The Grudge" and sequels continue to this day.