The Grudge (Ju-On) Review
There seems to be only two film series made in Japan in recent years that have garnered the most attention within the mainstream audience crowd and they are undoubtedly Hideo Nakata's Ringu Trilogy and Takashi Shimizu's collection of Ju-on pictures. After the wake of Ringu everyone had been looking out for "the next big thing" when it came to horror and it looked as though Takashi had found that perfect opportunity when he directed and released Ju-on. It was a V-Cinema release, meaning that it was put out on video and likewise so was its immediate follow up - Ju-on 2. After the success of these films, Takashi branched out into feature films and took with him the Ju-on legend that he had developed over the years, along with ideas that were explored in his 1998 film, Gakko no kaidan G. This time he decided on re-making the original, thus in 2003 Ju-on: The Grudge was born.
It is a curious step for Takashi to take at this point. One can only presume that with a bigger budget at his disposal that re-making his original film would bring him the attention he obviously seeks. Not that most directors don't wish for this but if that wasn't enough he went on to make another sequel and more recently a new adaptation, produced by Sam Raimi and starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. Takashi's name seems to be synonymous with the Ju-on franchise only - whether or not he can break from this tradition is down to his own personal feelings but I hope that should his latest offering become a success that he can then finally lay his stories to rest.
Right, so we're looking at Ju-on: The Grudge - the first reworking and one that I'd imagine most Asian cinema fans or otherwise would have seen first. This was the big one that had people talking until they decided to check out the original V-Cinema films. This was the film that to some took the mantle away from Ringu and while I'm not here to compare the two I will say on a personal note that its similarities lie with its pacing but on a fright level it doesn't live up to expectations.
The story comes from a Japanese legend that says this curse (Ju-on) is born from a person that dies in the grip of rage. From there it resides in every place from when the victim was alive - those who come into its path will also die and the curse will begin anew. The film is divided into six parts and centres around a house where a murder had taken place years ago. These six parts each relate to a specific character and it is through their inter-connecting lives that we, the viewer sit back and watch as the curse unfolds.
The Grudge is a psychological horror; therefore it is far more dramatically inclined than your average stalk and slash film. Like so many of the recent spate of horror movies from Japan it takes a slow approach at trying to unnerve the viewer, to pull you in and lull you into a false sense of security before delivering its first blow. The trouble with The Grudge's first blow is that it is fairly rubbish...
Takashi delivers an awkward film that fails to provide any real chills in the visual department, save for the opening minute that shows a lot of promise. The young boy, Toshio who is so forcefully shown on screen is far from the iconic figure that Sadako has become and I wonder if Takashi wanted us to be unsettled by the blue lad's appearance. I felt as though I was watching a film where I've seen it all before, in many ways we have: the little boy, the "scary" crawling girl, shadowy spirits - all key elements in the film that have been employed elsewhere by other directors in the past. So what makes this so special? Well not much really, aside from the fact that it is wonderfully edited and features an interesting score.
As much as I thought the ghostly characters were overused here I was impressed at the sneaky editing going on throughout. Tiny glimpses through windows and mirrors, all sharply executed so that if you blink you miss it. That doesn't make the horror value any more worthy but it does show skill in the film making process. The way in which the film is spliced together made me appreciate it just that little bit more. Takahashi Nobuyuki certainly has a keen eye and had he been given a film with a better script and performances then he could pull off something amazing.
Tomiyama Meicho's lighting for the film is also considerably good and in most areas the production crew get things right. In the end though their collaborative effort still falls short.
I mentioned the score earlier which is one of the other more interesting aspects of the film. Where the visuals try and fail to raise goose bumps, Sato Shiro's score improves the atmosphere by injecting it with a strange collection of eerie noises that include "clicks" and foreign sounds that serve the film well at trying to punctuate the onscreen action but even then does not work in the confines of what is happening because overall the film is tiresome.
You can argue that the film is meant to work on a deeper level but the explored subject is not interesting. The little metaphors and subjective nods breathe little life into Takashi's film. Its overuse of cheap scare tactics, and various clichés prevent this from being anything other than standard and I'll await the fifth film with baited breath.
Right at the last minute Premier Asia decided to put back their initial plans for a 2-disc set (tentatively Feb '05) and released this watered down version, just in time for the all new cinema release, starring the Gellar.
Presented in an anamorphic 1.85:1 ratio the film looks very good, as good as most lower budget Japanese films look on DVD. There is a slight, soft and grainy look throughout that I have little complaint over. The transfer exhibits strong black levels and good flesh tones.
There are some nice options here to choose from. For my viewing pleasure I chose the DTS track which is very effective and makes a good amount of use from the sub-woofer. Sato's score is complimented and many of the background noises are utilised by the rears such as rain and bustling streets sounds. The 5.1 track is very similar and aside from the sub-woofer being the most noticeable difference you'll find yourself happy with both. The guys at Premier Asia have also provided a 5.1 English dub and believe me it's awful. Listen to it if you wish but it takes a lot more credibility away from the film.
There are two English subtitle options. The first is a standard translation, while the second is specifically for the hard of hearing.
Audio Commentary with Bey Logan
Bey Logan - best known for his commentaries on Hong Kong Legends releases provides a decent amount of information for this release. Largely the commentary consists of Bey giving us actor info and some insight into V-Cinema production. He goes on to praise the film to high heaven and obviously thinks more of it than I do.
How many fake cats can you see? Answers on a postcard...you won't win anything though.
I didn't find The Grudge to be a scary film and in addition it has its plot inconsistencies and a few holes here and there. Unless young, screaming boys and crawly girls do it for you I suggest you try something else. On the other hand if you want to see a nicely edited film then go rent it.