Juon (2002)

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Ju-on (2002)
Cast: Okina Megumi, Ito Misaki, Uehara Misa, Ichikawa Yui
Director: Shimizu Takashi
Nutshell: the spirit of a murdered woman infects an apartment building and all around it.

Juon  was just one of a spate of creepy horror films that flooded the Japanese scene in the wake of the stunning worldwide success achieved by Hideo Nakata’s Ringu phenomenon. Ju-on which apparently translates to something along the lines of being an uncontrollable rage borne by a vengeful spirit – is set in urban, modern day Japan, presumably Tokyo where a young journalism trainee is coerced by a fellow worker to go to a house where a previous reporter had gone missing and to see what she can discover.

A tense Rika gingerly approaches a fairly non-descript house where she finds the place strewn with filth and in a state of total collapse. The one inhabitant she discovers literally sitting in her own waste is a virtually comatose old hag who just stares into space with a look of perpetual terror etched over her face. Rika then discovers a closet that has been taped up and upon investigation finds some more strange inhabitants. Later she watches in horror as the old woman is seemingly swallowed up by a sinister dark shape that suddenly emerges from the shadows!

Slowly the house, steeped in hatred and drenched in blood – shuffles to a life of its own and very, very strange and disturbing events start to unfold. The sepia toned opening shots of the film contain the “back-story” to the grisly elements that follow; a demented killer is seen chopping up his wife and torturing a cat as his little son cowers in terror. One by one the man hacks away and tosses the lumps into a polythene sack. That horror has presumably permeated the house and the tormented souls of the victims have possessed the house and have the power to infect anybody who comes into its aura. This is the simple but fairly chilling premise of Ju-on.

The film follows in a very “current” non-linear form; with different characters all coming into contact with the evil house suffering similar horrendous consequences. This film is a theatrical remake of a film that was shot for the straight to video market and a film that failed to sell but somehow over a period of time, managed to create quite a buzz on internet forums. The producer of the Ringu series saw its potential and decided to remake what was essentially a failed video movie for the big screen. The rest is history as Ju-on smashed box office records for horror movies when it was released in 2002. Since then Sam Raimi has picked up the rights for its sequel Ju-on 2 as a remake for the US market and Shimzu Takashi is being employed to recreate the terror once again in the hope that they can score a remake hit like the US version of Ringu turned out to be.

There is much to admire in Ju-on – the uneasy, menacing atmosphere, the well-orchestrated shocks, the wonderful use of sound, the effective yet simple use of make-up and lighting…the ability to conjure scares without resorting to blood and guts and the deft camerawork, all combing to produce what is undeniably an entertaining 90 minutes of scares, yet the movie is what it is; the spawn of Ringu. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Ju-on other that wonderful croaking sound is how shamelessly Ringu-like the film is in style, theme and content.

Though Ju-on is fast paced and contains the rather trendy non-linear style, in essence it’s a Ringu rehash and much of it is terribly contrived if cleverly presented images and sequences that inevitably smack of déjà vu. How many times in recent years have we seen the scary woman with the black tresses and twitching, shuffling gait spooking us, or the ghostly child, ever present, staring from the dark shadows of an evil dwelling? Sounds familiar? – will it certainly felt very familiar after a short while of viewing and the film soon becomes rather predictable due to the recurring images and the themes.

So, though Ju-on is good for an evening of chills and has plenty of freaky scenes to keep audiences off balance, soon the scenes appear very contrived and if you’ve seen the Nakata films then you’ll soon develop a sense of déjà vu. Still, it’s a fairly enjoyable flick and some of the imagery is intriguing as well as disturbing – and that croak is indeed memorable. The film has been an enormous success not only spawning the American remake but also spin offs and sequels. However, both Ju-on and Ju-on 2 are enjoyable if highly derivative Japanese horror candy of the Ringu kind.