Innovative, stylish and well crafted horror outing, but one that tragically isn't frightening.
Director Takashi Shimizu has quite the cottage industry going with this horror franchise. Two DTV titles, Juon: The Curse and it's sequel were impressive enough for Japanese studio execs to give him a bigger budget and a cinematic release for a 2003 outing of Juon: The Grudge. In the time between then and the writing of this it's spawned another sequel, Juon:The Grudge 2 which was impressive enough for American studio execs to give him a bigger budget and a cinematic release for a Sarah Michelle Gellar motifed remake that's bothering multiplexes as we speak to great monetary effect. What better time, apart from it's initial release, to take a shuftie at the film that, well, didn't start the series at all really, but certainly became Shimizu's calling card?
Back in what we'll gloss over as 'the day', Takeo Saeki (Takashi Matsuyama) rather unsportingly murders his wife Kayako (Takako Fuji) and apparently wanders out into the road and dies, leaving their kid Toshiro (Yuya Ozeki) alone. Thankfully for lovers of horror movies this isn't the end of the matter, with the ghoulish spectres of the twain showing up on a regular basis thereafter to shock the living bejeebus out of anyone moving into the premise for, presumably, the undead equivalent of kicks and giggles. This rather simplistic summary is really about all you need to know about the plot, so let's move on to the dissection.
The most interesting aspect of this little horror show is the episodic nature in which it's told. Sadly it's also it's great weakness; at a push we see and learn enough about young social worker Rika (Megumi Okina) to begin to care about her but the rest of the poor unfortunates that are woven into the story of the house are little more than a name. Most, if not all of it's competitors show the thrills and spills from the perspective of one of the (near invariably) teen victim, and whether they work or not typically depends on that character being intriguing enough to make you care about their plight. Juon's a little different.
Frequently, the victims don't know what's going on at all. As an all seeing audience we occasionally see the little boy in the background of a shot, or some other contrivance, but our protagonists remain blissfully unaware of what's creeping up on them. Narratively, this is a bold step on Shimizu's part. Rather than the traditional route of asking the audience to be vicariously scared through any particular actor's reactions to a situation, he's appealing directly to you.
He's not quite successful, which is a great pity. There's little reliance on the sudden orchestral crash school of scares, the acting is uniformly decent, the sound design isn't quite unnerving enough but it's certainly on the right track. All in all, Juon is a terrifically slick, well crafted film. Just on that isn't scary. As it's a horror, we have a problem.
I'm not claiming to be the world's most stoic, nerves of steel possessing superman. I am frequently scared by my own shadow, and consistently by the driving of Edinburgh's bus drivers who occasionally seem to be defying death by transferring the death to other parties, i.e. me. However, in the comfort of a cinema or in this case my armchair, it's going to take more than a lad painted blue-gray and the odd freaky image to raise my trouser alarms to brown alert.
Not that I'm too sure what it could have done to be more scary for this little boy, apart from the inclusion of some reckless bus driving or penguins
Entertaining enough fair I suppose, and nothing objectionable enough to get worked up over. Still, unless Japanese is your primary language you might as well go for the (very) marginally superior Western remake but if you're part of the growing legion of Asian horror flick fans then don't let us stop you getting a hold of this, Just be warned that it's not quite what it's cracked up to be.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
Misaki Ito (Hitomi Tokunaga)
Misa Uehara (Izumi Toyama)
Yui Ichikawa (Chiharu)
Kanji Tsuda (Katsuya Tokunaga)
Kayoko Shibata (Mariko)
Yukako Kukuri (Miyuki)
Shuri Matsuda (Kazumi Tokunaga)
Yoji Tanaka (Yuuji Toyama)
Takashi Matsuyama (Saeki Takeo)
Yuya Ozeki (Toshio)
Takako Fuji (Kayako)
Chikara Ishikura (Hirohashi)
Chikako Isomura (Sachie, Katsuya's mother)