It’s time to finish my series of J-horror reviews with a grand slam. Ju-On: The Grudge released in 2002, and was directed by Takashi Shimizu. And of all the J-horror films I’ve seen (including a bunch I’m not reviewing this year), this one is my #1 favorite. I love everything about this movie. From the very opening scene, and on through every scene that follows all the way to the very end, this film leaves me spellbound. Or rather, possessed?
The plot for Ju-On is kept nice and simple on the surface (ghosts kill everyone who visits the house–the end), but has enough going on that you do need to be paying attention to what’s happening. Ju-On’s story is told in a series of six vignettes that are out of chronological order. Generally I am against this sort of thing (as it often seems to be done for the sake of being artsy), but in Ju-On it actually makes things more interesting. You get to wonder how certain characters died, or whatever happened to so-and-so, etc–and by the end you can work out what happened when and how everything interconnects. There are then a lot of little details you can catch when you watch the film a second, third, or 78th time–little indicators of what has happened and hints of things to come.
Ju-On probably did not have that huge of a budget, but within such constraints the director and filmmakers managed to pull off a ton of creative and memorable scenes. The camerawork is excellent, knowing just how much to show–and how much to not show–for every ghostly encounter. The sound effects used are likewise top-notch, and that iconic guttural death rattle will definitely stick with you well after the movie’s over. Also, I really liked the acting, lighting, pacing, and music. And probably anything else I’m supposed to be going over in these reviews. Perhaps it’s better that I just say everything really comes together in this one, and the total is greater than the sum of its parts.
If I were to make a list of favorite ghosts in J-horror movies, I wouldn’t be surprised if the top three spaces ended up taken by the three main ghosts in Ju-On. The murdered wife (Kayako) is the epitome of the vengeful ghost woman archetype, and her crickety crookety way of creaking about on her hands and feet, combined with the wild long hair, pale face, and unsettling unblinking death glare… She’s perfect. I will never find a better woman. And the scene where she slinks down the stairway blows my mind each time I see it. The bone-popping sound effects combined with her impossible-looking movements is fantastically haunting.
The ghost of the little boy (Toshio) is also extremely memorable, what with his pale skin, jet-black eyes, and penchant for showing up out of nowhere and meowing. But in a really creepy way, not in a catboy way. This kid… It’s amazing the effect he pulls off, when all he usually does is just stand there (or sit there). It’s that great camerawork, which keeps having him lurk about somewhere in the background like a pipsqueak Slenderman. He’s watching you. Right now. And that cat of his makes for a good tag team partner; the two manage to surprise victims from two places at once that way.
And then there’s the ghost of the crazed man who started it all (Takeo). He doesn’t have as much screen time, but he still left a huge impression. Everything about this guy just screams murderer, and he’s the sort of ghost who doesn’t waste any time. When he shows up, shit’s going down. There are two moments in particular that stick out to me with this fellow, but I don’t want to keep spoiling all of Ju-On’s best moments. You just have to watch this film and witness all the ways these ghosts mess with everyone who crosses their path.
I really enjoyed my first viewing of Ju-On, but it’s definitely the sort of movie that I have appreciated more in subsequent viewings. It’s like an iceberg (or rather, sharkberg) of horror, in which it’s plenty devastating when you crash into it, but it’s not until you’re drowning that you see just how huge of an ice beast you were dealing with.
Links for my J-horror reviews this October, in case you missed one: