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JU-ON - The Grudge (Theatrical Release - Shimizu Takashi 2002)


JU-ON - The Grudge

Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

Hoo boy! Another scary Japanese movie straight out the Ring tradition (and indeed the movie flyer looks eerily similar to that of Ringu 2). Shimizu Takashi is the director here, working with both Kiyoshi Kurosawa (director of Cure, Charisma, and Kairo) and Hiroshi Takahashi himself (screenwriter of the Ring trilogy). What this triad brings to the table is a classic japanese horror film relying on mood and sound and Japanese cultural intuitions about the fate of wronged souls.

Ju-On (2000 - Made for television)
Ju-On 2 (2000 - Made for television)
Ju-On (2002 - Theatrical release)
Ju-On 2 (2003 - Theatrical release)

The film opens with the text explanation:

JU-ON: a curse born of a grudge held by someone who dies in the grip of powerful anger. It gathers in the places frequented by that person in life, working its spell on those who come into contact with it and thus creating itself anew.

Black and white images of an obviously demented husband and slain family provide the introductory scenes, and provide the viewer, upon hindsight, with the temporal cause of the misfortunate story about to unfold. Indeed, the story is about a VERY haunted house, possessed by the deceased husband, wife and little boy of the introductory scenes. In essence, all who enter the house find them stalked by inexplicable dread and materializing shadows.

The film consists of six intertwining episodes (in addition to the introductory scene) each named after the primary victim of the vignette. The episodes, though not chronologically sequential, are proximate enough in time to each other and each revolves around a separate main character who in some way knows or is related to the characters of the other episodes. The first and last episodes are bracketed by the main character Rika Nishida who comes closest to solving the ghostly puzzle (but alas fails in the last scene).

Here are some pretty detailed descriptions of the six episodes. These may constitute "spoilers", though they certainly won't take the edge off the creepiness of seeing the movie. No English or English-subtitled version of Juon currently exists, so I am providing these for the benefit of those wishing to know what the movie is all about.

1. Rika

Here we are introduced to Rika Nishida who works as a volunteer for a local hospital under the supervision of Hiroshi Takashi. Takashi passes off to Rika a rather troublesome case involving the home care of an elderly woman, Sachie Tokunaga. Rika is assigned to visit the elderly Sachie, clean her home, and tend for her over the course of the afternoon. Rika sets off and finds the house on a quiet street, but as she approaches the entrance gate, a strong sense of dread (accompanied by some sort of sudden, dramatic music) overtakes her. Nevertheless she makes her way to the door, rings and knocks, and eventually enters the home when no one answers the door.

The house is has garbage strewn everywhere and is in a terrible condition. When Rika finally locates the elderly Sachie, she finds her despondent and soiled, truly in a deplorable condition. The Sachie sits speechless, staring off into the distance as Rika sets out cleaning the house one room at a time. While vacuuming, she finds a crumpled photo of a family, a husband, wife and child. Nothing unusual, except that the face of the wife has been torn out of the photograph. Rika makes her way upstairs to continue cleaning but is interrupted by an eery scratching sound. She follows the sound into a small room (which we will hereafter call room #1) and discovers that it is coming from within a closet sealed with tape. After a few moments of standing with ears clenched in hands, she decides to open the closet, and therein finds a small black cat. Following a dramatic double-take, a young boy is also sitting there, huddled in the closet. She recognizes the boy as the one from the photograph. When asked his name, the boy responds in a gravely voice, "Toshio".

Rika calls her supervisor Takashi to discuss the unexpected presence of the boy and the lack of any parents in the home. She is told to wait for the parents despite her request to leave. While contemplating the situation, the Tokunaga's phone rings and the answering machine kicks in. Someone by the name of Hitomi is calling, asking whether Kazumi is home and inquires about Kazumi's mom. After the phone call, Rika enters Sachie's room to question her regarding the boy upstairs. While she is talking, Sachie becomes extremely frightened and covers her face. A creepy, deep croaking noise slowly emerges as out of the corner of her eye Rika sees a large black shadow materialize into a black, smoky apparition with long flowing hair. Rika sits frozen as the black ghost hovers over the terrorized Sachie and then turns to face Rika. From the ink-black shadow two piercing eyes emerge gazing straight at Rika as the croaking noise crescendos. Rika faints from the terror as Toshio stands in the doorway watching.

2. Kazumi

It is in the middle of the night and the husband and wife are awakened by the noise of running footsteps upstairs. They seem accustomed to the disturbance, sigh, and roll over in an attempt to go back to sleep. In the morning, the house is littered with garbage and the task of picking it up also seems to be a routine. Kazumi, the wife, has an upset tone of voice as she discusses with the husband the situation which they clearly believe is due to the behavior of his elderly mother, Sachie. The husband wonders whether their recent move may have caused the erratic behavior in his mother, since her health has seemed to drastically decline since moving into the new house. As he prepares to leave for work, Kazumi reminds him that his younger sister Hitomi is visiting for dinner and that he is to come home directly from work.

After a brief spell of cleaning, Kazumi sits in the living room with a cup of tea, but soon dozes off. She is awakened by the sound of running feet and her tea cup being knocked over, but sees no one except the despondent Sachie sitting in the next room. As Kazumi begins to yell at Sachie for the mess, she hears footsteps running upstairs and sees a pair of small hand prints on the living room door. Following the noise to the staircase, she is startled to see a black cat scurry up the stairs and and she rounds the corner of the stair, even more startled to see a small pair of hands grab the cat from her field of vision. She now sees a small boy running, creating the very sound they have become so familiar with. As she enters room #1, she sees a small white boy who has turned to face her. She screams loudly as the camera zooms in on her wide open eyes.

It is now evening and the husband has returned from work and finds the house once again littered with garbage. Calling for his wife Kazumi, he checks in on his mother and becomes a little nervous at her despondent appearance and his wife's seeming disappearance. After going upstairs to look for Kazumi, he finds her on the bed (in room #1) in a paralyzed state. He repeatedly attempts to wake her, but at best she can move only her eyes and make a feeble gasping noise. As the husband attempts to call the ambulance on his cell phone, he senses another presence in the room and out of the corner of his eye sees someone scurry across the room. He quickly overturns stools and looks under the bed, but finds nothing. Then suddenly the white boy appears to him and screams in the voice of an angry cat. At that same moment Kazumi dies and the husband, now biting his nails in a manner reminiscent of the behavior of the murderer-husband in the opening scene, is suddenly overcome with an evil as his face turns dark and expressionless. (Not a good sign!)

Meanwhile, Hitomi, the husband's younger sister Hitomi has arrived at the house and let herself in. After greeting her mother Sachie, Hitomi begins cooking dinner. Upstairs, the dark-faced husband carries the dead Kazumi into a second small room (hereafter called room #2) and the noise of the door closing behind them alerts Hitomi to the presence of someone upstairs. As Hitomi approaches the staircase, she is pierced by a high-pitched noise (which will come to signal the proximity of a spirit), and finds her brother blankly sitting on the stairs. When she asks about Kazumi, he mumbles something about her being out and then strongly requests that she leave. In what appears to be a light recovery from his formally darkened state, he forces her out the door. But as he turns back into the hallway, he is pierced by the high-pitch sound and his dark expressionless face returns. As he climbs the stairs, the white face of a woman, not Kazumi, peers out of the window of room #2.

3. Hitomi

From the cafe of her office building, Hitomi calls her brothers home and asks the replying answering machine if Kazumi is home and how her mother is doing. (This is the call which Rika overhears in episode one above.) As she makes her way down a deserted office hallway at the end of the day, she hears a shuffling noise as if following her. Panicking, Hitomi runs into the ladies restroom. While sitting in a stall, she hears the shuffling noise enter the bathroom and make its way into the next stall, as a shadow moves across the floor. At that moment she gets a call on her cell phone which when answered, emits only an eery croaking noise. Thinking it is a prank, she loudly tells the caller to discontinue, but is interrupted by a banging on the stall wall from the shuffling person. As Hitomi is apologizing for the noise, she hear the same croaking emanating from the next stall, and decides to quickly depart. As she exits the stall, a small bear which she has attached to her handbag ios caught on the stall door and torn off. As she bends down to retrieve the bear, the croaking noise increases and looking up, she sees the long-haired, creepy head of a shadowy figure emerging from the stall. (though clearly without flushing!) Hitomi screams and flees the room without her bear.

She heads directly to the building's security guard, who promises to look into the situation while Hitomi remains in his office. Over closed circuit TV, Hitomi watches the guard approach the bathroom door and, as the video reception flickers in a manner reminiscent of Ringu, watches as the guard is overcome by a black smoky shadow. Hitomi flees the building screaming, and does not stop until she reaches the large apartment complex in which she lives. As she rides the elevator up to her floor, the audience is privy to the fact that a small white boy stands peering into the elevator on every floor as it passes. Once inside the phone rings. It is her brother stating that he will be right over. Immediately after the phone call the doorbell rings, and peering through the door hole, she sees it is her brother. Opening the door, however, she finds nobody there, and then the croaking begins to come from the phone again. Screaming, she uplugs her phone from the wall (what about the cell phone from the bathroom?) and jumps into her bed and hides under the covers.

From under the covers, common sense seems to return to her and she turns on the TV for a bit of news. As she watches the broadcast, the video reception becomes increasingly bad, until the image emits only a croaking noise and is transfixed on a bizarrely distorted image of the newscaster's face. Freaking out again, she turns off the TV and contemplates diving deep into the covers again, but suddenly senses something in her hand and looks to see... her BEAR! And she is huddled in fear under the covers, we see her sheets slowly rise near her feet as if something under the covers is now slowly crawling up her body. Hitomi feels a suddenly jolt and instinctively looks under the sheets, only to find a white woman staring directly into her face, clutching on to her. As Hitomi screams, both she and the white woman completely disappear under the covers toward the foot of the bed.

4. Toyama

Rika's supervisor Takashi has made his way to the Tokunaga house to look for Rika. Upon entering the home and into Sachie's room, Takashi is shocked to find Sachie dead, frozen in a moment of fear with her hands clenched to her eyes. As his adrenaline wanes, Takashi turns to find an ashen-gray Rika sitting despondently in the corner of Sachie's room. Police are called, Rika is taken to the hospital, and investigators swarm the house. Leading the investigation is Naga, a gritty, street-wise detective. While in the house, Naga and another cop hear a phone ringing from upstairs and following the noise. From within room #2, they determine that the ringing is coming from the attic above the room, and upon peering in through the attic door in the closet's ceiling, they find the corpses of Kazumi and her husband, whose cell phone is ringing.

In the hospital Rika is slowly recovering, and is visited by her friend Mariko. Naga shows up and questions Rika regarding her claim to finding the boy Toshio (in episode one above). Rika is sure that the boy is the same boy in the picture. Naga points out that the picture she found is not of anyone who currently lives in the house. Back at the station Naga discovers that 5 years ago, a murder/suicide had taken place in the same house, in that very attic to be precise. Murdered was Kayoko Saeki, the 28 year old wife, at the hands of her husband (Saeki). Also presumed dead though never found was their 6 year old son Toshio. When Naga visits Rika agaoin to confirm that the boy she saw was indeed the boy in the photos, Rika is informed that the photo she saw was taken 5 years prior and that the boy in the picture, if still alive (he was never found), should now be much older (11 years old) than Rika claims. That evening, a hospital worker finds Takashi (the supervisor) dead. (Don't ask me for the reason why or how, I'm just telling you what happens!) After being able to return home from the hospital, Rika is awakened in her bed by the sense of a presence in her room. Opening her eyes she realizes that standing directly at the head of the bed and bending low only inches from her face is the white woman while a white Toshio sits at the foot of the bed twiddling his fingers.

Following the discovery of Kayoko Saeki's murder in the attic, the investigators seek out her brother, Yuuji Toyama for information. They find his chatting with this young daughter Idzumi in the park. After being informed that another murder/suicide has taken place at the same house in the same attic, Toyama is brought into the police station to watch the video of the guard entering the bathroom (in episode three above) at the behest of the dead man's sister. As the video starts, Naga and the other cops excuse themselves from the room for some reason or other. Now alone, Toyama continues to watch the video, whose signal flickers ominously, and sees the guard engulfed in the black shadow and pulled into the room. He then watches as the ink-black shape of a woman emerges from the room and slowly walks toward the video camera, disappearing under its field of vision. To his horror, a black face suddenly peers directly into the camera eyes set intently upon him. Though he turns in fear, he looks back moments later to see the face still peering at him. Realizing that something is horribly awry at his sister's former house, he breaks into the rear of the house in the dead of the night armed with two large canisters of gasoline. As he douses the house with the liquid, he hears the voices of adolescent girls coming from within the house. As he opens to door, a bright "heavenly" light emits from the front room leading to the staircase. As he looks into the brightened room, he sees a now adolescent Idzumi descend the stairs and stop to look directly at him. He calls her briefly, but she turns to leave the house and as she does so, the light disappears, leaving him once again in an apparently empty house in the dead of night. However, he can still hear female voices from upstairs, so he climbs the stairs and finds the door to room # 2 open. Through the open door, he can see three high school girls chatting and playing in the room while the sun shines outside. There is suddenly some shuffling in the room followed by screams of terror until all the voices are deadly silent. From the room he hears a creepy croaking and a strange shuffling noise when through the door emerges a slithering ghostly woman with a horribly frightening face. He tumbles down the stairs with the writhing woman close in pursuit. As she descends upon him while he screams in terror, Naga and another investigator break through the door of the house, allowing the terrified Toyama to escape. Unaware of the presence of the ghostly apparition, the two cops delay long enough to fall under her terror and drop to the floor. They cannot believe their eyes, but they see the monstrous woman. She moves closer to them as the two grown men scream.

5. Idzumi

Idzumi (the daughter of Toyama in episode 4 above) is now high school age and is walking to school with two friends. As they pass a public bulletin board filled with flyers, Idzumi stands transfixed looking at a flyer inquiring into the disappearance of three local high school girls. Reaching the school they find the other students excitedly looking pictures of themselves from among the hundreds of photos lining the hallways due to some school event (Undo no Hi?). Idzumi and her two friends soon realize that there is no picture of Idzumi anywhere to be found, and quickly bring the matter to the attention of their teacher, who recalls that he must have left the roll of film with her photos undeveloped. He promises to develop the roll after school. On her way home from school, Idzumi again sees the notice regarding the missing girls, and this time becomes visibly shaken, causing her to run home. Upon entering her home, she finds her mother sitting sadly in from of the Butsu-dan (family shrine) in which we see a photo of her husband and Idzumi's father, Yuuji. (This implies that Yuuji has somehow died during the period between episodes four and five.) In her room, Idzumi senses some kind of presence outside the room, quickly closes the curtains, and sits gripping her pillow in fear.

Meanwhile, her two friends accompanied the teacher to the photo development shop and are now on their way to visit Idzumi with the newly processed pictures of her. Idzumi's mother looks frightfully grayish as she answers the door and allows the girls into Idzumi's room. Inside the room, the friends find a grayish Idzumi sitting in a darkened room with curtains drawn. After opening one of the curtains, the friends are shocked to find that Idzumi has taped newspaper over all the windows. Idzumi enters a panicked rage when one of the friends tries to remove the paper. Idzumi then confesses that she was present when the three girls had disappeared. On the way home from school one day, one of the girls suggested they stop and look into a "haunted house". The others followed and entered an abandoned house. For some reason, Idzumi felt compelled to leave the house, while the other three stayed behind to explore. Idzumi never saw the three again and has been terrified ever since. She makes her two foirends swear not to share any of this information. The confession is enough to make the friends leave promptly.

Once outside, the two friends realize they forgot to give Idzumi the photos, and decide to quickly take a look at them. To their horror they discover that in every photo of Idzumi, her eyes appear as shadowy blots. Likewise, in a photo of Idzumi and the missing three girls, all the girls' eyes are similarly black. The two girls scream, throwing the pictures to the ground.

At home, Idzumi enters the living room where she sees (the ghost of) her father standing beside the Butsu-dan. The father can only weakly beckon and make gasping noises. At that moment she recalls having seen her father in the haunted house at the foot of the stairs as she descended the day her friends disappeared. She then wakes from this dream and finds herself in bed in a darkened room. On her bed she finds a shred of newspaper, and quickly approaches to window to replace any gaps in the covering. Through holes in the newspaper, she sees the ghostly faces of the missing girls peering in from outside. Idzumi screams and runs out of her room, only to find that the girls are now in the house and pursuing her. In terror she scoots herself backwards along the floor until she backs up against the Butsu-dan. As the three girls claw at the door into the room, two white hands emerge from the Butsu-dan and grasp Idzumi's head. We then see the white woman who disappears into the Butsu-dan, pulling Idzumi screaming and kicking behind her. (See photo above) As the camera focuses on the now-quiet shrine, the shadowy faces of Idzumi and her father Yuuji quietly float behind the adornments.

6. Mariko

Rika is back to volunteering at the hospital and on this day is wheeling an elderly patient around outside on a sunny afternoon. The old man appears to be senile and is preoccupied with playing "peekaboo" with an invisible friend by placing his hands in front of his eyes and then pulling them away repeatedly. Quick camera shots reveal that there is in fact a small boy near the wheelchair of which the old man alone is apparently aware. After work Rika quickly showers at the hospital facilities. While washing her hair she feels what she believes to be a hand entangled in the hair on at the back of her head (and she is right!), but turning around sees no one. She is then off to meet her friend Mariko (introduced in episode 4) for lunch and a little girl talk. The two decide on lunch at a nearby restaurant and as they are waiting for seating, Mariko makes another phone call (to "a student's parents"?) but there is consistently no one home. As they sit down for a nice lunch at the crowded, up-scale restaurant, Rika feels a cat skid against her leg. Looking under the table, she sees a pale white Toshio huddled under the table staring at her. Rika screams hysterically and falls to the floor, making an incredible scene in the middle of the restaurant. Suffering from what appeared to everyone to be a mental collapse, Rika apologizes and heads home for some rest, where she promptly falls asleep in bed.

Rika is awakened from her slumber by the sound of cats, many cats, and upon opening her eyes finds the room full of meowing black felines. The phone suddenly rings and she wakes from this dream. It is already daylight outside. As she slowly makes her way to the phone, the audience is shown that Toshio is huddled in the corner unbeknownst to Rika. The call is from Mariko who is checking in on her after the tumultuous restaurant visit the day before. Mariko divulges that she is at a student's house waiting for the parents to show up. Rika makes nothing of this until she hears a cat's meow in the background. As Rika frantically questions Mariko, who seems increasingly oblivious to her predicament, the eery croaking begins emanating from the phone until further conversation seems impossible. Rika dashes out of her apartment and runs toward the Tokunaga house. In the meantime, Mariko is drawn upstairs.

When Rika arrives at the house, she calls for Mariko but there is no answer. She then starts up the staircase but is momentarily pierced by a high-pitched sound. She approaches room # 2, opens the door and enters. Though the door forcefully slams behind her, she continues to look for Mariko. Hearing a strange noise from within the closet, Rika opens the closet door just in time to see Mariko dragged kicking and screaming up through the attic door in the closet's ceiling. Rika climbs up into teh closet and with a small flashlight peers into the darkness of the attic. It is then that she suddenly sees the slithering white woman only feet away from her and quickly moving closer. Screaming, Rika flees the room and runs downstairs. As she passes a mirror in the entrance way, she becomes aware that she saw someone else in place of her face. Peering intently into the mirror she sees no one but herself, until she recollects the several times she had recently seen others covering their faces with their hands, peering through the slits formed by the fingers. Holding her hands up to her face, Rika looks again at the mirror through her fingers and immediately sees the white woman's face in place of her own. So strong is the presence of the white woman that her hands emerge to cover Rika's own and the woman's head begins to emerge from Rika's blouse as if she had been hidden within. This realization is too much for Rika to handle as she screams, removing her hands from her face. there is no one and no thing there. Until she is pierced again by the high-pitched sound.

From her location at the foot of the stairs, Rika can now hear the door of room #2 open, and the deep croaking become increasingly loud. Amid truly creepy noises, she sees the white woman slither down the stairs toward her. Rika covers her face in fear, yet continues to peer through her fingers. Now the ghost's voice seems to be more of a moan and she is covered in blood. The ghost wails and beckons Rika as if she wants something from her. As she does so, the ghost's voice becomes increasingly human and her face less disfigured, until it appears clearly to Rika as a young woman. Through a series of memories or flashbacks, Rika realizes that it was this young woman appearing in every instance, not as monster, but as a lost, pitiful soul. At this realization, Rika's fear fades and she removes her hands from her face, only to find the room empty. For a brief moment it would seem that Rika had solved the puzzle. But that moment fades quickly, and another sound is heard from the staircase. This time a man, the husband we recognize from the introductory scene, descends the stairs toward Rika with a demonic expression. Rika also sees Toshio perched atop the stairs looking down upon the two of them. As the husband moved ever closer to Rika with bloodied hand outstretched, Rika shrieks in terror.

The final moments of the film consist of a slow close-up of a dead woman in the attic (who?). As the camera draws in for a close up of the face, the eyes suddenly open and we hear the now familiar croaking. The credits then rolls while a very nice guitar ballad plays.

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Classic Japanese ghost story involving cultural intuitions of the unrest caused by untimely or unjust death. Genuine creepiness. The introductory scenes involving the murder/suicide of the Saeki couple are the most gruesome. After that, no real graphic imagery (other than the scary ghosts!) Truly hard to keep the passion juices flowing when the hair on the back of your neck is consistently standing on end. This is truly a creepy and memorable horror film. Not overblown in gore or special effects. Accomplishes fear through good ole fashioned Japanese storytelling and sensibilities. Definitely akin to Ringu.

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