Five years ago a father brutally murdered his wife and then killed himself, their six-year-old son mysteriously disappearing at the same time. These brutal crimes caused a deadly curse to be placed upon their house, which affects all who enter it.
Takashi Shimizu’s ghost story is very much in the post-Ring tradition of Japanese horror, and while the ragged non-linear structure means that it doesn’t grip like Hideo Nakata’s signature film (or his follow-up Dark Water), Ju-on delivers more individual scares than most of its recent rivals. It’s actually the third Ju-on film, the first two being made for TV, but Shimizu proves equally at home on the big screen.
The story is little more than a series of spooky vignettes. We begin with a social worker called Rika (Megumi Okina, the closest the film gets to a lead character) visiting the house in question to check on the old woman who lives there. She finds a spooky little boy locked in a cupboard, then something terrible and off-camera happens to her. Next, the young couple who also live in the house are affected by this unseen horror, the man’s sister is haunted by a bloodied woman in her own home, the policeman who investigated the original murders witnesses something terrifying on a CCTV camera... and so on.
Ju-on’s narrative is often confusing, largely because Shimizu chooses to demonstrate the cumulative effect of the curse by messing with the chronology and overlapping events. The film is divided into chapters, each named after the individual who will be struck by the curse, but some characters reappear later – in particular Rika, the girl who starts the film – and there’s no real climax or dramatic resolution.
Nevertheless, Shimizu sure knows how to build tension and orchestrate a good fright. This is old-fashioned scary – there are virtually no effects, but the director realises that there are few things more unnerving than a creepy kid. He gets plenty of mileage out his white-faced, black-eyed ghost child who keeps popping up in corners of rooms, under tables, inside cupboards and in one superb sequence, on every single floor of a block flats, glimpsed through the window of an ascending lift. Elsewhere, the sound design is superb – the bloody spirit of the murdered woman emits a horrible crackling noise as she crawls towards her victims, and the mewing of a cat becomes something more sinister when it’s coming from the mouth of a child.
None of this is particularly original of course. We’ve seen scary brats in everything from The Shining to The Sixth Sense, and the crawling woman is reminiscent of both the girl-out-of-a-TV from The Ring and The Exorcist’s long-unseen spider walk sequence. And it’s not really made clear what the curse actually consists of – some victims are scared to death, some claimed by a mysterious black smoky mass, others dragged away by the boy or the woman. But this all adds to the dream-like feel of this film, that Lovecraftian idea of some unspeakable horror that lurks on the edges of our world, ready to intrude and disrupt normality.
[Premier Asia's Region 2 DVD includes an audio commentary from resident Asian cinema expert Bey Logan]
Japanese writer/director and the man behind the hugely successful Ju-on films. Ju-on and Ju-on 2 were made for TV, while 2003's Ju-on: The Grudge was a bigger budget feature film, which Shimizu sequalised the same year. In 2004 directed a Hollywood version of the story, as the Sam Raimi-produced The Grudge, which he followed with The Grudge 2 before finally opting for alternative tales.