JU-ON (Part 1)
The Geisha of Gore Takes a Look At JU-ON (THE CURSE)
Part 1 of 2, by Colleen Wanglund
After a lull of almost two decades (with the exception of some splatter films), Japanese horror movies made a major come-back in the 1990s with films such as the classic ghost story, RINGU (1998). Another one of these movies was JU-ON (2000) and it would have a lasting impact on Japan’s (and America’s) horror movie business. JU-ON began as two stories, “Katasumi” and “4444444444” shown as part of a television movie called GAKKO NO KAIDAN G (1998). Both stories were written and directed by then-unknown Takashi Shimizu. Including these stories, there have been a total of seven—count ‘em—JU-ON movies to date. That doesn’t even include the three American versions and a video game! That’s one hell of a franchise, to say the least!
Okay from the beginning. JU-ON translates to the “curse” or “grudge” in English. It is explained that when someone dies violently and feeling anger or hatred, a curse is born. The ghost of the dead is the fulfiller of that curse. In “Katasumi,” the curse, in the form of a female ghost, takes the lives of two school girls, Kanna and Hisako, while they are at their school feeding the rabbits. “4444444444” is about Kanna’s brother Tsuyoshi. While going to meet his girlfriend Mizuho, he finds a cell phone with the repeated number 4. In Japanese the number four (shi) is a homophone of the kanji character for death or demon (shinigami). The curse appears as the ghost of a young boy and kills Tsuyoshi, whose body disappears.
In 2000, Takashi Shimizu wrote and directed the full-length feature JU-ON: THE CURSE and it was a direct-to-video release. The movie follows the curse through a series of vignettes, taking the viewer through a time-line of events that seem to center around a single house. JU-ON: THE CURSE opens with a grade school teacher Kobayashi talking to his pregnant wife about a student of his, Toshio Saeki, who hasn’t been to school in a few days. After school the next day Kobayashi goes to Toshio’s home to see about the boy and talk to his parents. He finds Toshio home alone and looking as though he’d been beaten; the house is a mess and the child’s parents aren’t around. Kobayashi stays with the boy, calling his wife to tell her what’s happened and that he’ll be home late. Toshio has disappeared and Kobayashi finds him upstairs drawing pictures of cats. While looking around, Kobayashi enters a room where he finds the diary of Kayako, Toshio’s mother. It seems as though Kayako was a disturbed woman.
The movie moves into the next vignette about Yuki, who is tutoring Kanna. Kanna’s family, including her brother Tsuyoshi, is now living in the Saeki house….and yes it’s the same Kanna from “Katasumi”. After Kanna leaves to go feed the rabbits at school with her friend Hisako (can you guess where this goes?),Yuki is disturbed by the sound of cats. A cat actually enters Kanna’s room and chases Yuki into the closet where she discovers an entrance to the attic. Yuki pokes her head into the space only to be confronted by the ghost of Kayako. Assume what you will.
The movie’s time-line now moves to Mizuho, Tsuyoshi’s girlfriend…..first seen in the original story “4444444444”. She is waiting for Tsuyoshi at school but cannot find him—although she sees that his bike and book bag are sitting outside the building. Mizuho also finds a phone, but is called into the building by a teacher. While left alone in the teacher’s room, the phone that Mizuho found begins ringing and the same repeat of the number 4 is displayed. We also see that the ghost of Toshio is in the room with her. The vignette ends with the assumption that Mizuho has become another victim of the curse, much like Tsuyoshi.
JU-ON now moves to the fate of Kanna. Detectives Yoshikawa and Kamio are at the coroner’s office where they are told the body under the sheet was found ripped apart and mixed with some rabbit DNA. The coroner also tells the detectives that a human jaw was found at the site, but it didn’t belong to the body. The scene moves back to the house with Kanna’s mother returning home and looking for her children. Unfortunately for mom, she finds Kanna…..more victims of the curse.
The movie now picks back up with the story of the teacher Kobayashi at the Saeki home with Toshio. Kobayashi has found the attic access in the closet and takes a closer look. What he finds is the body of Kayako. He grabs Toshio to leave the house when he gets a phone call from Toshio’s father, Takeo. Takeo informs Kobayashi of the fate of Kobayashi’s pregnant wife and it isn’t good, as we see Takeo in a phone booth covered in blood. It is now Kobayashi’s turn to become the victim of the curse with Kayako bearing down on him. The vignette ends with Takeo meeting his own fate at the hands of the curse he created.
The next and final vignette is about Kyoko, a sort of medium who is called by her brother to look at a house he is trying to sell. There have been rumors about the house and he just wants some good luck so he can get it sold. Kyoko and her brother arrive at the house and guess what? That’s right, it’s the Saeki house. Upon entering the house Kyoko learns that the last owners suffered multiple tragedies and the lone survivor is in a hospital. Kyoko can sense much more going on in the house and knows how dangerous it is. She gives her brother strict instructions on how to treat any prospective buyers and promptly leaves. Kyoko later finds out her brother sold the house. She goes to see the house and spots the woman in the front window….but something about her isn’t right. Kyoko realizes the woman she sees is possessed by Kayako.
JU-ON: THE CURSE 2 was also written and directed by Takashi Shimizu in 2000 and was a direct-to-video release. The first vignette is the footage of Kobayashi at the Saeki house from the first movie but it is edited down a bit from the first. The second vignette is also from the first movie, this one about Kyoko, except it is expanded upon with Kyoko going to check on her nephew. Her brother the realtor asked her to check on his son because Tatsuya (the brother) had noticed his son acting differently since moving into the new apartment. We see Kyoko’s nephew Nobuyuki watching television in the apartment when the picture goes to static. The apartment seems familiar because it was the same apartment that Kobayashi and his wife lived in years before. After Kyoko arrives she and Nobuyuki find themselves watching the murder of Kobayashi’s wife by Takeo Saeki.
The next vignette begins with the woman who bought the Saeki house from Tatsuya receiving a package in the mail. It is the picture drawn by Toshio of his parents and Kayako’s diary. Her expression changes, and while her husband complains about his runny eggs, she hits him from behind with the frying pan. The scene switches to Tatsuya discussing with his parents what to do about Kyoko’s condition. It seems she is in a sort-of catatonic state since seeing the replay of murder at the apartment. Nobuyuki doesn’t seem all there himself. Tatsuya leaves and goes to the Saeki house to check on the new owners of the house, the Kitadas. Mrs. Kitada greets him at the door and tells him everything is fine. When Tatsuya spots the picture, Mrs. Kitada “becomes” Kayako and Toshio is sitting on the couch. We assume Tatsuya never leaves the house. Back at Tatsuya’s house, the curse rears its ugly head with Kyoko possessed by Kayako. No one there gets out alive.
The movie’s time-line now moves back to Detective Kamio and his investigation of the death at the school of Hiseko and Kanna’s family. It seems the other detective working the case, Yoshikawa, has lost his mind. Kamio goes to see his old partner but goes away empty handed. Back at the station a woman has come to see Kamio. It is Kayako….the curse has found yet another victim.
Now we move to Nobuyuki who is at school cleaning a classroom with a few other students. The assumption here is that Nobuyuki was not home when his grandparents died. Nobuyuki turns to find an empty classroom as he runs from Kayako climbing through the window. The boy becomes the next victim of the deadly curse. The final shot of the vignette is of many Kayakos standing in the rain and making a now-familiar clicking sound.
The movie ends with some high school girls sneaking into the Saeki house which now stands empty with a “For Sale” sign out front. The girls hear a noise from upstairs….and the movie ends.
JU-ON: THE CURSE and JU-ON: THE CURSE 2 are not—I repeat not—the movies that were remade in America as THE GRUDGE (2003) and THE GRUDGE 2 (2006). They are two other movies that I will deal with in “JU-ON Part Two” in June. THE CURSE and THE CURSE 2 weren’t even released in America.
Both movies are well-written, with an original storyline. Shimizu also did wonders with directing, as both were low-budget films. CURSE and CURSE 2 rely heavily on atmosphere and the imagination of the viewer and it does make for some scary tension. I enjoy the way the story of the CURSE moves around from one vignette to another and slowly weaves together into one solid time-line. I think it was a brilliant move on Shimizu’s part. As I’ve said before, the ghost is a very powerful icon in Japanese horror and can invoke some scary and unsettling imagery. The Japanese believe that the spirits of the dead must be appeased to keep them happy. If a person’s dead ancestors aren’t happy, they can affect that person’s life with some very bad luck. The ghost is the corporeal manifestation of that bad luck. In CURSE and CURSE 2, the basis for the curse is the death of an individual—Kayako, and to a lesser degree Toshio—while in the throes of anger or resentment. Kayako was violently murdered and that death has manifested itself as a never-ending curse. It cannot be escaped by anyone who comes into contact with it, no matter how inconsequential that contact may be. That’s pretty damn scary in my book. Takashi Shimizu is an amazing storyteller and if you can get your hands on these little-seen gems, I think you’d be quite pleased. Again, not to be confused with American film, THE GRUDGE.
© Copyright 2011 by Colleen Wanglund