August 28, 2006

JU-ON THE CURSE 1 and 2 (2000) The first Grudge movies

(Japan, 2000)

I can't resist revisiting the Ju-on series, and it seems to grow a little each time I do...

So far there are...
JU-ON: THE CURSE (Japan 2000, made on video)
JU-ON: THE CURSE 2 (Japan 2000, made on video)
JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (Japan 2003, made on film)
JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 2 (Japan 2003, made on film)
THE GRUDGE (USA 2004 remake)
THE GRUDGE 2 (USA 2006 sequel)

Yes six movies, with an alternate director's cut of The Grudge (2004) now on DVD as well. These films are definitely not Google-friendly.

It’s a testament to his skills that the director Takashi Shimizu can generate scares in under four minutes flat. His two short films, made on video, were the very first to feature Ju-on characters. These were two segments in a TV series, Gakko no Kaidan G (School Ghost Stories G) back in 1998.

Set around a school, they can be considered part of the Grudge timeline, and are even cross-referenced in the first video film. Titled 'Katasumi' and '4444444444', you can presently watch them both on YouTube (here and here), and were spotted by an eagle-eyed member of the Snowblood Apple Extreme Asian movie forum.

The Ju-on films are worthy successors to the Ring films. There’s lots of them, they’ve been remade in the US, and they feature a vengeful ghost with long black hair. But they are consistantly scarier. I'd recommend that you introduce friends to Japanese horror with Ju-on, rather than Ring, if you want to impress.

Inspired by the success of Ring (1998), Takashi Shimizu. carefully formulated a story that fed on his own fears. I’ll look more at his influences in the review of Ju-on: The Grudge film that followed in 2003.

Firstly I’ll take an extended look at the first two Ju-on films, because they seem to be rare at the moment. I'll treat them together, because they were both made on video, but still released in Japanese cinemas (as 'V-Cinema' films) in 2000.

These video versions, often referred to as Ju-on: The Curse, are low budget, but it's not a problem. They have an excellent cast, great sound design, and a marvellous plot structure, where every single scene is filled with relevant details that help you fit the jigsaw of scenes together.

Even the opening mundane scene, of a teacher talking with his pregnant wife over dinner, is filled with details that will be relevant later on. When I first started watching this, my heart sank! I thought 'mundane', and 'shot on video'. But as the teacher starts talking about a child missing from school, and we see a brief flashback as he talks about the child’s mother, there’s a creepy shot of him standing in the playground, with an out-of-focus mother and young boy in the background. The mother moves forward, her face still indistinct, partly covered by hair. Already, a few minutes in, I was starting to get uneasy and creeped out. This turned out to be my favourite horror film made-on-video, one of the few that have 'worked' for me.

The film continues with scenes that are either creepy or downright scary. Sometimes barnstorming shocks, sometimes subtle hints of horror we don’t really want more details of (like how Toshio got to look so battered)…

As the teacher visit Toshio's home to see why he’s not at school, he becomes cursed by the tragedies that began in that house. The teacher's story continues to unfold in the two Ju-on: Curse films. While Toshio, his dad Saeko, and mum Kayako are at the centre of the hauntings. The teacher Kobayashi and his family are the catalyst of the curse. As it spreads, the Kobayashi’s apartment also becomes tainted.

The two Ju-on: Curses have a challenging, disjointed storyline that follow seemingly unconnected characters. The films are divided into ‘chapters’ seperated by blackouts. A character’s name appears over black, as a heading, then we find out how they fit into the jigsaw. We also have to work out whether we are looking at events earlier or later in time. An important clue comes from the nameplate outside on the house’s brick gatepost, and it's crucial to the viewer that this is translated in the subtitles.

These first two movies also show us events that are only talked about in the later versions. They contain scares that are later recreated in the US versions – for my money, the ‘girl on the stairway’ scene is handled more effectively here. There are also scares which are unique to these films, like those in the school, where the children of the first new occupants carry the curse to their schoolmates.

Famously, Chiaki Kuriyama appears in the very first Ju-on film, in the same year she jogged and stabbed in Battle Royale. It's an instantly creepy scene in a deserted schoolroom, which still makes me jump after repeated viewings. Pestered by scary mobile phone calls, this scene predates the ‘haunted mobile’ plot device that was expanded in Takashi Miike’s One Missed Call films.

The rest of the cast is very strong. The teacher is played by Yurei Yanagi (a casting homage to Ring), the second householder is the hauntingly beautiful Kaori Fujii (who later appeared in Haze) and even the teenagers are good. My favourite being the unfortunate Kanna, who recently got the unusual role of the snake-necked Rokuro-kubi spirit in The Great Yokai War!

I was surprised to see that the little boy, Toshio was played by a different child in these first two films. But the actors playing his Mum and Dad, (Takako Fuji and Takashi Matsuyama), are now the only actors to have appeared in every single version.

In keeping with the tight budget, actual locations were used instead of movie studios. The crew were challenged by camera angles and lighting because they were shooting in a real house (including the attic), but again this doesn’t effect the films negatively. Even the two versions shot on film were shot in this same house. It wasn’t until the US remake The Grudge, that a set was built of the house.

Bizarrely, Ju-on: The Curse 2 repeats 30 minutes of material before showing anything new. The repeated scenes make the film understandable as a stand-alone, but cheats viewers who have already seen the first film. Each one is only 70 minutes long, so there would be little harm in releasing a 110 minute assembly on DVD.

The film continues with the second household to move in after the tragic Saeki family. We also see the police investigations flounder, due to mental breakdowns and further disappearences. Crucially, we see one of (the husband) Takeo's original crimes, in the most shocking and horrible scene, only hinted at in the first film. The curse continues to spread outside of the city...

Incidentally the original Ju-on house, that was used for filming, is in the suburbs of Tokyo in the huge Saitama prefecture, though the producers remain protective of its actual location.

These two video films are quite rare, and were released without subs in Japan (from Toei Video) and Korea. They are hard to get hold of with English subtitles and hard to locate because of the other similarly-named sequels.

To me these two earliest versions are as good as the movies that followed and contain many vital scenes that explain what’s going on. Crucially, they are as scary as the versions that followed.

The Asian Vision DVD releases are titled simply Ju-on and Ju-on 2 (pictured above). They're from Scandinavia but have English subtitles on them. I can only find them for sale on overseas websites that are only in Norwegian, Finnish, Swedish or Danish.
Here's an example of where to obtain them.
These are both European PAL releases and have been converted from NTSC. The picture also seems to have been heavily 'graded', its colouring has been tweaked to look more filmic and less like video, fairly succesfully. The video conversion is a little distracting but the English subtitles are very good. The only extra on both DVDs is a trailer.

I also found
this link for a new Japanese DVD release that states it has English subtitles on it, but I haven't confirmed that yet. The artwork is suspiciously similar to the original Japanese Toei Video releases (pictured at the top).

I'll remind you again that the second DVD only gives you 45 minutes of new material, making it little more than a 'short'. It's got some crucial scenes in it though.

Soon I'll look at Ju-on: The Grudge (2003), where the series gained international fame.

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1 comment:

  1. hi!
    i have just donwload this movie i think its ju on . the curse the first not really sure i am anyway i get what u've said the first scena are so scary that i couldn't continue u.u so well i'm from south america and i love this movies they're like anything else and i've heard that they're going to release a new one on ocotber 14 but not sure.. do u know something?? awsome revieww !!!