Juon 2 – The Grudge II (2003)
Cast: Noriko Sakai, Chiharu Niyama, Kei Horie, Yui Ichikawa, Shingo Katsurayama
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Nutshell: More ghostly shenanigans and lots more menacing hair and white faces!
Lately audiences have seen a succession of white-faced ghostly children and equally chalky women with jittery gaits and very bad hairdos scare up audiences over and over (in Japan) but the novelty is fast wearing off and one is beginning to wonder if that is basically it as far as Japanese horror is concerned.
Onibaba and Kwaidan were the genesis of modern Japanese horror after which there was a considerable lull before Hideo Nakata’s Ringu exploded onto the scene and became an international crossover phenomena that has spawned countless official and unofficial spin offs and sequels that continue to arrive off the conveyor belt (that Japanese horror is in danger of turning into) and increasingly suggest that pallid women twitching down the stairs or out of crevices or from TV screens to crackling sound effects is basically the extent of it, or so it seems.
Anyway, this film is a follow up to the eventually successful Juon: The Grudge that started out as a tele-film released straight to video that slowly but steadily developed a cult following and ended up being re-shot for a theatrical release that went on to gross a bagful of Yen. It was subsequently noticed by canny Hollywood bigwigs who realising their own bereft state (for ideas), signed it on as remake that turned into a big money spinner and possible franchise.
The plot goes somewhat like this: there is a nondescript house somewhere in a nondescript suburb in Japan where some dreadful business has gone on including the dismemberment of a wife (in front of her child) and a cat who has also evidently seen too much. The horrors of that crime have been ingrained into the house and it has become infested by their disgruntled and very crotchety spirits and anyone who has the misfortune of coming across the house is infected by the deathly grudge that these spirits invoke.
So, in the first Juon movie we had a series of set piece events where the angry spirits emerge to drag the unsuspecting infected into their netherworld of the ghostly undead in typical Japanese horror style using loads of unkempt black tresses, a grumpy white faced ghost child and a Sadako clone whose show-stopping act is a twitchy crawl down the stairways accompanied by a deafening croaking sound. Some bits are indeed rather creepy, evoking memories of Ringu (the blue print of current Eastern Horror) but on the whole the film comes across as little more than an amalgam of such set pieces with little logic or sense to hold them together as a complete entity.
Following in similar vein Juon 2 kicks off with a mishap as a couple driving home together after a shoot are engulfed by the ghostly Toshio (the ghostly lad) who proceeds to cause havoc on the road before he returns to his home awaiting fresh victims to terrorise. This time we have a load of potential victims to choose from as a film crew have descended on the Juon house to shoot a horror movie about the ghostly house and its appalling history. Most people who have any interaction with the house find that they are soon menaced by hairy wigs, loud croaking sounds, women with bad hairstyles and the chubby cherub as Toshio is forever lumbering around with a scowl on his chalk white face. Admittedly there are one or two typically Japanese creep out scenes but once you have seen the woman in white do her twitching routine once, it does tend to get a little redundant after the fourth or fifth time. In fact, the whole routine and the imagery tend to suffer from over-exposure as the victims repeatedly meet with the Sadako clone who twitches away merrily though we don’t quite know exactly how she kills her victims – does she scare them to death or does she eat them or what!?
The film manages treads the same ground as the first Juon film and is shot in what seems like grainy DV, so it couldn’t have cost a lot to produce. Director Shimizu manages to evoke some atmosphere from his terror set pieces but once again the parts do not manage to equal a terrifying whole and one leaves the film with sketchy memories of wigs going walkabout and some funky imagery along the way. Horror films tend to defy earthly logic as a norm rather than the exception but here we have a film that doesn’t amount to much more than a series of creepy set pieces thrown together with little coherent string to hold them together. The end scene of a bad seed being spawned to cause more untold hairy mayhem is fittingly ludicrous and borders on self-parody rather than a suggestion of terrors that lie ahead.
This whole Jap-terror genre is looking more and more like a one-hit-wonder affair though to be fair, at least Pulse didn’t contain a single ghostly white face with a bad hairstyle and still managed to be effectively creepy. Somehow, the whole thing with pasty white-faced ghost kids and twitching, hairy women is getting just a wee bit redundant. Juon 2 is not without its moments but many of those moments are getting just a touch stale by now. Time to find fresh scare tactics and let the Sadako thing rest for a bit.