July 09, 2010

JU-ON: WHITE GHOST, JU-ON: BLACK GHOST (2009) - a homage to video horror

(2009, Japan, Shiroi Roujo)

(2009, Japan, Kuroi Shoujo)

Two new films for the tenth anniversary of the Grudge saga...

For me, Takashi Shimizu's Japanese Grudge movies provided more scares than the Ring movies. Even the first two shot-on-video films, commonly referred to as Ju-on: the Curse 1 and 2, were creepy as hell. Together with the US remakes, the various different incarnations of The Grudge are easily confused - I laid it all out here.
The story began as a mystery centred on a suburban house. Everyone who visited the house was scared to death - if they left the house before they died, their own homes would become similarly cursed. As the story leapt forwards and backwards in time, following different visitors and their families, a picture emerged of the original events that sparked off the curse, as well as tracking how far it had spread.

Shot in an actual house in the suburbs of Tokyo, Takashi Shimizu's first four films turned everyday surroundings into nightmares. The attic, the landing, windows, cupboards and stairs all became terrifying locations for full-on scary, haunting, gory terror.

Last year, to mark the tenth anniversary of the 'series', two more Ju-on films appeared, produced the same way as the first two, by shooting cheaply on location and on video. With two different directors, the video-look distances these from Shimizu's current movie series. He's still promising a third Grudge movie for Japan, not to be confused with the American The Grudge 3, which wasn't directed by Shimizu. Not confusing at all.

Ju-on: White Ghost
and Black Ghost unfold like the classic Ju-ons, with the narratives shifting back and forth in time, changing with each cut-to-black chapter break. But these new stories aren't closely linked to the old ones. There's a completely new house and I was disappointed that (almost) none of the regular characters appear to link it all back to the original 'grudge'.

In White Ghost, the jumpy scares kick in quickly after a shaky (camerawork) start. But it tries too hard and too often to make us jump, resulting in a series of hit and miss scares. The new 'face' of the grudge verges on the humorous because she keeps popping up repeatedly... and carrying a basketball. Basketballs have never been scary, still aren't.

Other distractions include the Christmas setting which has zero bearing on the story. It doesn't help that the characters put candles on their Christmas cake and blow them out as if making a birthday wish. Why? Now I'm used to characters in horror movies acting illogically, but several of the characters' motivations are quite puzzling. It's especially hard to believe any couple would start French-kissing just after one of them has puked!

Thematically, the method of the Ju-on curse also seems to have shifted, from ghosts killing people, to people killing people, with some unwelcome hints of incestuous paedophilia thrown in.

Black Ghost
is a continuation, but is less intricately cross-connected with White Ghost the way all the previous films intertwined their characters' lives... and deaths. This is scarier, better shot and better paced, but also strays further from the Ju-on mythos into Tomie territory, with the problems of corpse disposal, a mysterious foetal cyst, and even the classic Tomie signature image - the head in the bag!

This new pair isn't essential to the series and indeed lacks many of the core ingredients. I really miss the link back to the original house - and having Kayako lurking in the attic... But it's an interesting experiment, recalling the look, and viciousness, of the earliest chapters of the saga, (as well as some of the J-horrors that first followed
Ring, back when shooting on video was far more common and obvious).

But the lack of quality of performance, creepy pace and intricate structure makes it regrettable that Shimizu isn't writing and directing. So I'll continue to look forward to his third Japanese Grudge movie.

Although released separately in Japan, these are wisely being sold as a double-bill on DVD in the UK, as both films last barely an hour.

Here's a spoilery, subtitled trailer on YouTube...


  1. I missed links to the original movies in those two movies too.

    And her name is Kayako, not Sayako.

  2. I've got Sadako on the brain...

  3. Having said that, my spelling is usually very attentive. My earlier spelling of 'Sayako' probably came from a subtitled translation on a Chinese DVD, because I had no other English reference.
    But yes, Kayako it is!

  4. This series isn't called "The Grudge", as you wrote several times in this review. It's called "Ju-on". The Grudge is the title of the American series, and you shouldn't even lump them together!

  5. This series isn't called "The Grudge", as you wrote several times in this review. It's called "Ju-on". The Grudge is the title of the American series, and you shouldn't even lump them together!

  6. Kat, I`m referring to the Japanese naming convention. They sold THE GRUDGE films overseas under that name, long before the US remake. I refer to the films as THE GRUDGE to tell them apart from the earlier made-on-video films that are still called JuOn.

    1. Well actually, one edition of the third Ju-on film (Ju-on: The Grudge) was re-titled "The Grudge" for the UK DVD release only, yet it's sequel was still titled Ju-on: The Grudge 2 in the UK and simply Ju-on 2 in the US. Every single one of the films was released as "Ju-on:" + subtitle in America. And I think they retitled the third Ju-on from simply "Ju-on" to "Ju-on: The Grudge" AFTER the remake came out but I'm not entirely certain :) It's more accurate to just refer to the Japanese franchise as Ju-on and the American one as The Grudge, to avoid confusion.

  7. I just viewed the Ju-On: White Ghost. Some spoilers ahead. Remember Miho Isobe inspecting the kitchen and found a crumpled picture of a family of three. Although the family did not look as Saekis at the first glance; they are pictured almost similar as they were portrayed in the other Ju-On movies. This leads me to conclude that this house may belong to Saekis, and the murders did happen in that house. That's why it is mentioned that the Isobes acquired the house at a cheap price.