Ju-On: The Curse
Starring Megumi Okina, Misaki Otko, and Misa Uehara
Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Featured Running Time: 92 minutes
Back in 1998, a Japanese film called Ringu was released, introducing the world to the long hair and twisted face of Sadako; the biggest thing out of Japan since Sega. With her tattered nightie, rotten fingernails, and abyss like eyes, she managed to crawl her way out of the cinema and into audiences arms. Pulling in a little more than $137 million, Ringu quickly became the highest grossing Japanese film of all time. Two years later, Takashi Shimizu would take an alternate path in distributing his piece of Japanese horror revival, releasing Ju-On: The Curse as a part of V-Cinema; an industry that caters to releasing straight to DVD as a means of avoiding censorship. What came out of lower production costs was a film that helped pave the way for J-horror, spawning a remake that, along with Gore Verbinski's remake of The Ring, would take America by storm using the bare essentials in horror cinema.
Featuring six non-linear yet seemingly interlocked stories, Ju-On: The Curse opens with school teacher Kobayashi (Yurei Yanagi), who investigates the absence of a child who has been missing from school. This simple investigation leads Kobayashi to enter the boys unassuming home, one that hides a very sinister secret involving revenge, murder, and a deadly curse. Jumping between Kobayashi's investigation and the occupants of the house years later, Ju-On: The Curse shifts between a cold-blooded tale of revenge with that of a horrific ghost story, shifting the lives of those the curse happens to fall upon.
Director Takashi Shimizu manages to weave together six separate chapters all centering around one house, drawing us in with simple story telling and even simpler directing. Using low budget equipment and lighting, Shimizu captures the essence of horror with seemingly flawless execution, sustaining prolonged moments without catering to what we have come to expect from a genre that continually throws the obvious in our face. Shot after shot we are greeted with angles that allow us to drop our guard, lower our defenses, and assume the worst is over. What Shimizu does is toy with our expectations, allow us to get comfortable with what we're viewing before he raises the curtain and shows us what he has been hiding all along.
With effective use of its low-budget, its non-linear storytelling, and chilling images of horror, Ju-On: The Curse still manages to falter in its choice of direction, falling victim to the dangers of excess. In Chapter 4 titled Kanna, a dismembered body is investigated by two detectives who discover dead rabbits and a missing jaw bone at the scene of the crime. What unravels is the unnecessary use of CGI to enhance a particularly gory reveal, one that would have been a lot more effective had the director stuck with his eye towards simplicity. Soon afterwards we are greeted with Takeo Saeki (Takashi Matsuyama), the sadistic father of the aforementioned missing child, smashing a garbage bag containing a baby multiple times against a wall. This unnecessary showcase of violence goes beyond the films brilliant use of momentary horror, dragging on and revealing far more than what is necessary to unnerve its audience.
Ju-On: The Curse is a film that despite its missteps, is one that provides images that burrow deep down inside our consciousness, utilizing the bare minimum of production to do so. While feeling a bit disconnected at times with its use of non-linear storytelling, Takashi Shimizu manages to provide true horror in tiny bursts, embracing what we don't see and mixing it with what we don't know. Emerging before the hype of Japanese horror in America, Ju-On: The Curse is a film that has forever left an imprint in cinema, influencing years of horror and independent film for years to come.