The Grudge (Ju-on) was one of the films that, for me, kicked off my interest in Japanese horror films. Along with The Ring, it was the first time in years I’d actually found myself creeped out by horror films and I voraciously devoured many of the stranger offerings that were available on the market.
Suffice to say, I was most surprised to find that Ju-on was, in fact, not even the first Grudge film. Ju-on and Ju-on 2 (released in 2000), were both released in Japan and ran for around 70 minutes each.
To celebrate ten years of Ju-on, 4Digital Media have released this pair of films on a single disc, returning to the shorter running time and offering two tales that contrast in more than their title.
Ju-on: White Ghost
Starting with an eerily silent hanging in a wood, a tape recorder clicks off and hair appears out of a hold-all style bag. Things are looking up for the first film on the disc. Sadly, this film seems to have been made the wrong way round with the build up at the start and the end, leaving a rather lacklustre middle.
We’re treated to a series of short chapters filling out the sixty minute run time. Some of these short moments feel like they are part of the story, others feel like they don’t make much sense. They all feature an evil, dead embodiment of the Grudge, in the form of a granny with a basketball, accompanied by a schoolgirl and lots of black hair.
How many stories can we fit into sixty minutes? A delivery driver delivers a Christmas cake to a house, a father sees his daughter off to school and discovers something horrific on his backseat, Akane, a student, uses a Ouija board, a young family move into a house, the delivery driver and his girlfriend celebrate Christmas, a young school girl falls victim to her predatory uncle, a policeman learns of a family massacre and a voice on a tape that won’t be destroyed, a family contend with failure and disappointment revealing the events that lead up to the hanging at the start of the film before we discover the nature of the Ju-on and its connection to Akane.
I make that eight stories in sixty minutes! That’s one story, on average, every seven and a half minutes. It’s achievable in the hands of a talented filmmaker. Sadly Ryuta Miyake isn’t the director or writer for the job.
Being an anthology of very short stories that tell one arcing tale, they are all efficiently told, though this doesn’t equate to a well told story. Most of the individual tales feel a bit rushed or lacking in direction and character development; though the stories do finally build up to an interesting climax as we discover what has led to the events at the start of the film.
Ju-on Black Ghost
A small child sees a school girl collapse whilst the family massacre from the first film is investigated by Japanese police (and barely mentioned again). In the meantime, a teenage boy tries to attract the attention of his pretty neighbour, Yuko. Suffice to say, all is not well with the neighbour as we quickly find out. Sadly, his two friends don’t quite share his concern and tease him mercilessly.
Things get really weird when he encounters her on the stairs again, leading him to venture into her apartment and fall victim to a black ghost.
Yuko, a nurse by trade, has been looking after a girl called Fukie, who has been hospitalised and is discovered to have a cyst that turns out to be the Grudge of an unborn child. Once released, it begins to infect Yuko and those she comes into contact with, leaving Fukie’s mother and sister with the unenviable task of defeating it in truly disturbing fashion. Except, the Grudge isn’t going to be cast out that easily.
Adopting a far more accessible and well paced method of storytelling, where the past is played out in line with the present, Ju-on Black Ghost is more satisfying and benefits greatly from a more substantial narrative and the use of more developed characters to tell an interesting story.
Both films are very dour in their approach, offering little in the way of light relief; though the cab driver from both films does offer some moments that will make the corner of your mouth twitch. Neither could be classed as truly scary, though Ju-on Black Ghost comes closest to the feel of the original Ju-on film, delivering a strong and stylish story.
If you enjoy Japanese horror films anyway, you’ll probably snap this DVD up and it will definitely make a satisfactory addition to a collection, though not one you’re likely to want to show off.
However, if you’re just getting into Japanese horror (shame on you!), you’ll probably be better starting with the earlier films and renting this one at a much later date.
In addition to the English subtitles and Japanese language track, we’ve got the trailer for the films.
Ju-on White Ghost/Black Ghost is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.