Movie Review: Ju-on (2003) and The Grudge (2004)

Review of the Japanese Ghost Movie Sensation and the American Remake

March 12 2007 Categorized Under: Movie Reviews No Commented
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Ju-on (The Grudge) (2003) star rating (out of 4)
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito, Misa Uehara, Yui Ichikawa

The Grudge (2004) star rating (out of 4)
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Sarah Michelle Gellar, Bill Pullman, Ted Raimi, Ryo Ishibashi

juon 1
hey kid – it’s not nice to stare

The Japanese horror movie sensation Ju-on (subtitled: The Grudge), recently remade in America, isn’t even the first movie in the original series – it’s the third – and I, for one, am totally baffled by all of it. The only grudge here is the one I am holding against the people who suggested I watch this insanely dull and unscary piece of cultural Zeitgeist. It seems that Ringu has had more influence than I thought, but something tells me that Ringu represents a genre that’s a one trick pony. Ju-on also gives us a dead kid, apparently killed violently and turned into a ghost, but we are never clear on the circumstances of his death, except that it involves a feline somehow. (Sometimes the kid screeches like a cat). As far as I can make out, he haunts his old house, then follows people around, kills them somehow, and then they become ghosts, and the whole thing begins again. The entire movie functions on this concept, as we are introduced to different sorts of characters, all who undergo the same fate. By the time the third victim falls, I started to feel ripped off. The movie is just like its featured haunted house – a man outside shouts enthusiastically about all the frights that lie therein but all you really get is people jumping out at you from the darkness, a fake corpse here and there, and finally, a dude with a chainsaw chasing you out, right into the gift shop.

juon 4
“Just how many Ju-on movies are there??”

Don’t misunderstand me – a movie doesn’t have to have a complicated plot to be good horror. It doesn’t even have to make logical sense (and many scenes in Ju-on do not). But it does have to be scary and/or keep my attention. Spooky eyes wide open with white makeup – not scary. A dead woman slowly crawling down the steps while making strange noises – maybe creepy, but not scary either. The film is an extremely long setup with little payoff, and the characters involved are so illogical in their actions that I could never accept them as real people. If a ghost is coming at you, why sit there and stare at it? Why jump into bed and pull the covers over your head? Who knows? Ju-on is populist tripe made to scare 13 year old girls and their mothers who, let’s face it, aren’t exactly discriminating.

When a movie like this fails in the fright department, the rest falls apart. By the time the film ends, we are nowhere closer to understanding the whys of the piece than we were at the beginning. There is a sense at one point in the movie that the “grudge” may indeed be some sort of plague that could decimate the entire population of Tokyo. Now that would have held my interest. But the movie is too hung up on showing the different ways that you can say “boo” to a person – perhaps scary the first time but an hour later it’s mere annoyance.

The Grudge - Bill Pullman

Wow! It's Lone Starr, in my bedroom!

And what can be said about a Hollywood remake that doesn’t do anything different? The American version of The Grudge is nothing but Ju-on with Buffy the Vampire Slayer in the leading role. It’s practically duplicated shot-for-shot (they didn’t even bother to change the setting from Tokyo), which means everything that’s wrong with the first film is perfectly copied for our displeasure. Same director (Shimizu), same screeching kid (Yuya Ozeki), same security footage, same elevator scene, same lack of any sense or thrills. I know Americans hate subtitles and all, so why does this film have them? What I am saying is – why bother to reshoot? Just repackage the original movie with English opening titles. Bill Pullman is decent for the small role he was given and Ted Raimi does a bit part (somebody needs to tell brother Sam to quit encouraging/executive producing these things) but there’s nothing else to be said about the picture – that’s how dull it is. Both movies are interchangeable – see the original or see the clone, it doesn’t matter. At the end you’ll still wonder how you got suckered into watching another rehashed Japanese ghost story that was played out years ago. Between this, The Ring, and Dark Water remakes, I’m wondering if Hollywood has any originality left these days. The same might be said of Japanese cinema – it seems Shimizu has been tapped for the American Grudge 2. Well, at least he’s consistent.

– Bill Gordon

Ju-on and The Grudge are available at Amazon:

Ju-on (The Grudge)The Grudge (Director\'s Cut)Ju-On 2

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