This is going to be a very strange marathon because “Ju-On” is a very strange franchise. My own history with this series isn’t any different from the majority of Americans, in that I saw first Hollywood remake in 2004 and was intrigued enough to check out the Japanese “original”… which was actually the third entry in the franchise. I bring this up because there is no way for me to experience “Ju-On: The Curse” — the original, original, ORIGINAL “Grudge” movie — as it was intended to be experienced. If I had seen it upon release, I probably would’ve had a much different reaction. The saga actually began with two short films, titled “Katasumi” and “4444444444“, but even though they would introduce a lot of the staples of the franchise, as well as introducing us to director Takashi Shimizu and stars Takako Fuji and Ryôta Koyama, they’re packaged as relatively normal ghost stories. It is surreal seeing Toshio (Daiki Sawada) make his grand debut in a somewhat comical manner, especially as “Ju-On: The Curse” strongly implies that these shorts are canon. “Katasumi” also might be the only instance when the victim doesn’t succumb to fear, but instead draws a f@cking weapon on Kayako (Takako Fuji), which is pretty bad-ass. These shorts were ultimately the foundations for “Ju-On: The Curse” and “Ju-On: The Curse 2“, which themselves would become the foundations for the franchise as a whole, even if they’ve arguably faded into obscurity.
I’ve been planning this marathon for awhile, but I could never quite decide how to do it. “Sadako Vs Kayako” nearly inspired me to do a cross-over review series with “The Ring“, especially as both franchises have undergone very similar paths, but that was simply too big of an undertaking for me. So I thought about doing all of the “Ju-On” movies at once, only to learn that they continued making sequels in their native country, even though I hadn’t even heard about the majority of them. To clarify, there are nine Japanese entries and four American ones, not necessarily in any specific order. I almost divided this review series into three parts — the first four Japanese movies, the American trilogy and the remaining Japanese sequels — but I couldn’t figure where to fit “The Grudge (2020)“. I ultimately chose to split the entire franchise in half, but where would I aim the scissors? I decided that the cut-off point should be “The Grudge 3“, because that was when the brand lost its relevancy in the west. I will eventually return to this franchise to review the subsequent entries, including the 2020 reboot, but we’re going to start with the first seven films.
JU-ON: THE CURSE (2000)
(Written and Directed by Takashi Shimizu)
(Starring Yûrei Yanagi, Takako Fuji and Ryôta Koyama)
I have a confession to make… I had absolutely no idea “Ju-On: The Curse” even existed up until a few years ago, as I had mistakenly assumed that “Ju-On: The Grudge” was the ‘original’. When someone brought this up to me, they either gave me an incomplete rundown of the story or I wasn’t paying attention, as I’ve been under the impression that it focused entirely on the murders of Kayako (Takako Fuji) and Toshio (Ryôta Koyama) and how they became infectious ghosts. But as I was watching it, I realized that I recognized nearly all of its content in either the sequels or Hollywood remakes to such an extent that I erroneously assumed “Ju-On: The Grudge” was a remake too. The only difference was that this looked REALLY cheap in comparison.
I would call “Ju-On: The Curse” a low budgeted production, but that would imply that this actually had a budget. “Ju-On: The Curse” is definitely rough around the edges, having only a few sets at its disposal, a limited cast and maybe one or two effects. But the filmmakers work around these technical limitations well enough, doing a stellar job of planting seeds of unease within our minds. For example, when Sensei Kobayashi (Yûrei Yanagi) encounters Toshio (Ryôta Koyama), we keep hearing the cries of a feline. Even though anyone familiar with the franchise will know where that’s leading, it still crawled under my skin when we see Toshio making those noises in the background. Having your villain meow like a cat is incredibly silly, yet it’s played so straight that it somehow manages to be creepy. But I feel like because Takashi Shimizu would get more money and time to work with, he’d refine and improve upon all of the scares present in “Ju-On: The Curse” for his subsequent films. Scenes that are supposed to be shocking and terrifying don’t work if you’ve already seen them done better. This is why I say I will never be able to experience “Ju-On: The Curse” in its intended form.
“Ju-On: The Curse” begins the episodic narrative that’s told in a non-chronological order, which would define the franchise. This befuddled me when I first saw “Ju-On: The Grudge” and to a lesser extent, the 2004 American remake, but either I’m used to it by now or “Ju-On: The Curse” was easier to follow. I did find myself frustrated with the ending though, which really feels like they either could not think of a satisfactory conclusion or couldn’t afford one, so just… stopped… Nevertheless, it should be noted that many regard “Ju-On: The Curse” to be the best in the franchise, possibly because they saw this before the rest and so rightly feel that this is the more ‘original’ horror experience. I don’t agree, but at the absolute least, “Ju-On: The Curse” certainly accomplished a lot with very little, so you have to respect it… even if you don’t particularly like it.Rating: 5.5/10
JU-ON: THE CURSE 2 (2000)
(Written and Directed by Takashi Shimizu)
(Starring Yūko Daike, Takako Fuji and Ryôta Koyama)
Does anyone know if “Ju-On: The Curse 2 (2000)” was scraped together with leftover funds from the first movie? Or if someone decided to split a single film in two parts at some point? Because that’s what it feels like. The first 35 minutes of this sequel are literally — and I mean literally — the final 35 minutes of its predecessor, without any reason other than to pad out the… 77 minute running time… There isn’t any framing device or voice over, nor is it edited to resemble a recap, so that was pretty f@cking tedious. I almost wanted to call the new footage an epilogue, but I realized that wasn’t an accurate statement, as it continues immediately where “Ju-On: The Curse” left off and continues the episodic narrative, just with new victi — er, characters. The new material isn’t bad, with a few of the effects even popping out as imaginative, but none of it was able to crawl underneath my skin. I do like seeing characters who usually are our pillars of strength and oracles of exposition succumb to fear just as much as everyone else does, but they don’t get enough screen-time… and considering how this cast is comprised of people who do have an idea what the curse is, I was left a lot more confused by the plot developments this time around. Would I say “Ju-On: The Curse 2” is a failure? No, but I do feel like there wasn’t enough original material here to justify its own movie. I would’ve liked it a lot more if it was simply part of the first movie, although it should be noted that the fandom seems perfectly fine with “Ju-On: The Curse 2“. I myself would’ve been more than happy to just fast forward until the Kyoko (Yûko Daike) segment, as I can’t stand clipshow sequels, especially this early in the franchise.Rating: 4/10
JU-ON: THE GRUDGE (2002)
(Written and Directed by Takashi Shimizu)
(Starring Megumi Okina, Yōji Tanaka and Takako Fuji)
When I saw “Ju-On: The Grudge” years back, I had mixed feelings towards it, as while the film did give me a bad case of the shivers, I spent the entirety of my viewing experience struggling to grasp its episodic narrative and… my feelings remain mostly unchanged. Now that Takashi Shimizu has an actual budget to work with, he can do more with lighting levels, makeup, editing, music and the camera, which I think were used to enhance the strengths of his previous films. “Ju-On: The Grudge” is just as reliant on mood, but now the scares are more fully realized, with the sound design in particular being so much more effective this time around. Kayako’s iconic death rattle has been present since the beginning, but it’s never sounded so menacing than it does here. I also felt there was an improvement amongst the cast, as they do a phenomenal job at selling their fear and I liked how their characters can sense that something is amiss — even before they actually witness anything. Something about someone shuddering and getting goosebumps out of nowhere makes my own skin crawl and I find myself wanting to check my place for ghosts too. Takako Fuji reprises her role as Kayako, but Toshio is now portrayed by Yuya Ozeki, presumably because Ryōta Koyama was getting too big to convincingly play a ghost child… I have to admit that I rarely noticed whenever they’d switch out the child actors between movies… Kayako was always the center of my attention and the franchise was more dependent on her.
Even though I felt like I could mostly keep up with the episodic nature, my problem with it by this point is everything feels woefully inevitable. There are a few characters who can potentially emerge as the protagonists, such as the social worker Rika (Megumi Okina), the school girl Izumi (Misa Uehara) and the former cop Toyama (Yōji Tanaka), but it’s hard to grow invested in them because they’re never around for long and we never feel like they have a chance at stopping the curse. With that said, there is a pretty unique ‘time jump’ twist that did heighten the dramatic stakes for me, so this is really less of a criticism and more of a… warning… that this formula does have an expiration date. Even though I understand that many fans favor “Ju-On: The Curse” for its ‘less is more’ approach, I don’t think the franchise would’ve continued without “Ju-On: The Grudge“. The increased production value allowed Takashi Shimizu to find new and exciting ways to frighten people, with most of these scares being too elaborate to pull off without a proper budget. The theatrical release also drew in a larger audience, with one viewer being Sam Raimi himself, who would go on to produce the Hollywood remake.Rating: 7/10
JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 2 (2003)
(Written and Directed by Takashi Shimizu)
(Starring Noriko Sakai, Shingo Katsurayama and Takako Fuji)
While “Ju-On: The Grudge 2” is well liked amongst the fandom, how much so seems to vary from person to person, as I’ve seen some label this as one of the stronger entries and others dismiss it as one of the weaker ones. The story is MUCH more cohesive this time around, even if they continue the episodic structure. I was initially confused as to why they were labeling the chapters again, as just because one might be labelled “Kyoko”, we’d still be following the perspectives of other people. I think they only did that to alert the audience of a time jump, as these segments are not told in chronological order, but I wonder if there was a smoother way to do so. Yet I guess it doesn’t matter, because I could still keep up with it. I did see this when it was first released in the states about 15 years ago, yet even though I was a dumb teenager who felt like I had been abandoned in a labyrinth by the episodic nature of the “first” (which was actually the third) film, I don’t recall ever losing track of who was who or what was happening during my first viewing. Then again, the only thing I remembered at all was the ‘birthing’ scene, so maybe “Ju-On: The Grudge 2” is just not that memorable. Even though my mind was telling me not to make any emotional attachments to the characters, my heart disagreed and I… did not want to see them die… The biggest flaw with the “Ju-On” formula is that we pretty much know the curse can’t be stopped, so the most compelling characters up until this point were the doomed Father and daughter from “Ju-On: The Grudge“, as their heartwarming relationship made the inevitability that surrounded them that much more tragic. The cast here never cut that deep, but it really makes a difference when you get to see them interact with each-other before the curse gets to them, as then you see what was lost.
The pacing is much slower this time around, which will alienate some viewers. I didn’t mind myself, as I saw it as another tactic for getting under the audiences skin. “Ju-On: The Grudge” definitely had a lot more scares and I need to remind you that I could recall most of the good ones even 15 years later, while most of this sequel had faded from my memory. “Ju-On: The Grudge 2” is never quite as scary as its predecessor, but it also offers a much greater variety of chills. It doesn’t feel quite as repetitive as its predecessor did and part of that is because “Ju-On: The Grudge 2” actually gives us real pay-offs. We see some of the victims explicitly die and even when it falls back to letting our imaginations do the heavy lifting, I liked how the characters would scream instead of just cowering in fear. There’s really nothing more cathartic in a horror feature than a good scream and the cast do a great job at selling us on how terrified they are. Takashi Shimizu also delivers some of his finest work as the director. I loved how the cursed house is unceremoniously introduced to the point of seeming harmless at first, only for the lighting to adopt a sinister hue that immediately puts us on edge. This isn’t to say that “Ju-On: The Grudge 2” isn’t without its problems though. While I liked the characters and could follow the story, was it just me or did the schoolgirl Chiharu (Yui Ichikawa) seem completely superfluous? The rest of the story follows the actress Kyoko (Noriko Sakai) and her filmcrew and they have a repertoire with each-other, but Chiharu just felt like she was there to fill out the runningtime — or fill the required schoolgirl quota. Bizarrely, boy ghost wonder Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) also seemed like an afterthought this time around. I usually find him creepy, but his scenes here are more comical and his presence didn’t fit with Kayako’s (Takako Fuji) goal of being reborn. I wonder if Shimizu simply didn’t know what to do with him. Speaking of which, I didn’t really care for Kayako’s motivation either, but I understand why the filmmakers went that route. The franchise is really about Kayako and Toshio, not their victims, so you have to do something more with them at some point. Overall, I thought “Ju-On: The Grudge 2” rounded out its predecessor nicely, giving viewers some new material and improving upon some of the weaknesses, while still feeling like a genuine sequel. I don’t think it’s the best of the franchise, but it’s a solid entry. It was the most financially successful of the Japanese films though, reflecting the growing popularity of both the brand and the genre.Rating: 6.5/10
THE GRUDGE (2004)
(Directed by Takashi Shimizu)
(Written by Stephen Susco and Takashi Shimizu)
(Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Clea DuVall and Takako Fuji)
The movie that starts a trend is often not the movie that began the trend… as nonsensical as this sentence might sound when spoken out loud… There is usually the genre defining entry that often becomes a classic over time, but it’s almost as if studios and filmmakers are initially afraid to cash in on its success, as if they’re not entirely sure what made this smash hit work. It isn’t until someone finds this formula that a trend is born. It’s why “Halloween” conquered the box office and even scored all of the good reviews, yet it’s “Friday the 13th” that all of the slashers imitate. I’m not entirely sure if the success “Ju-On: The Grudge“, which was clearly made in response to the megahit “Ringu“, inspired all of the J-Horror flicks of the time period — although the dates seem to match. But their American remakes definitely fit this standard. “The Ring (U.S version)” was a runaway success, but it was only after “The Grudge” showed that there was a hunger for Japanese horror and long haired ghost girls in the west, everyone decided to get a piece of the pie. Unfortunately, this arguably lead to the deterioration of the genre. Regardless of whether you feel “Ringu” or “Ju-On” was more directly responsible for the development of Asian Horror, there’s no denying that many exceptional films were born in their wake. “Pulse“, “Dark Water“, “The Eye“, “Shutter” and “One Missed Call” were among the many to become cult classics in their own right. I don’t think either Hollywood’s “The Ring” or “The Grudge” would want to take credit for… well… the soulless remakes of those aforementioned cult classics. “Friday the 13th” might not fit everyone’s definition of good, but it solved the riddle of what drew audiences to “Halloween” (sex and violence), gifting the studios a recipe for success. But even though “The Grudge” understood what made “The Ring” so successful, it seems like the recipe was too complicated for everyone else to follow. Ultimately, these movies were hits because audiences found them scary… not just because they were remakes of Asian films.
This isn’t to say that “The Grudge (2004)” fits everyone’s definition of ‘good’ either. It received mixed to middling reviews from both critics and fans of the originals, even if general audiences obviously liked it. This was my first experience with the franchise, so part of my lack of enthusiasm towards “Ju-On: The Curse” stems from how much “The Grudge” recreates its set pieces and in my opinion, improved upon them. Many have accused “The Grudge” of dumbing the story down in the same way that all American remakes of foreign films do and… it’s a fair complaint? I guess? I would argue that “The Grudge” made the story more accessible to western audiences, but it definitely feels like they put it through a Hollywood filter, making it seem a little bland in comparison. In hindsight though, it’s surprising that they not only hired Takashi Shimizu to remake his own movie, but they also brought back Takako Fuji and Yuya Ozeki to reprise their roles as Kayako and Toshio. They even retained the Japanese setting, although in true Hollywood fashion, nearly the entire principal cast is played by white people. Even though the story is technically episodic, “The Grudge” gives us an actual heroine in the form of Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) — presumably because American audiences expect definitive protagonists… as long as they’re white… Nevertheless, props to Shimizu and screenwriter Stephen Susco for pulling off the episodic narrative without being confusing. I felt like I always understood whenever the story was shifting focus or jumping through time, even though this was the first time the franchise wasn’t labeling the ‘episodes’. I remember being shocked when characters would die, because seemingly all of them were built up to be potential leads. “The Grudge” spends just enough time on everybody, their circumstances, their relationships and their problems to make them feel important, even if they ultimately became statistics to the curse.
But I can’t blame purists for hating on this remake, as it is guilty of a lot of Hollywood’s lamest cliches. The exposition is forced and thinly veiled, because the assumption is that American audiences are too stupid to think for themselves… which is true… There is a greater emphasis on jump scares, although I personally don’t mind because they all successfully made me jump, while also retaining enough of the creepiness and tension to make them feel (mostly) earned. There’s a lot more CGI effects, violence and… SIGH… even a cat to provide the expected cat scares, which seems especially pointless considering how Toshio still meows like one. The editing uses a lot of quick cuts, often as part of the jump scares and the pacing in general is much leaner. I don’t think all of these additions and changes are inherently bad. I liked some (WTF happened to her jaw?) and disliked others (CGI Kayako), but I understood the creative decisions involved. I doubt “The Grudge (2004)” would’ve been influential in Japan, but I also don’t think “Ju-On: The Grudge” or any of the other Japanese incarnations would’ve been influential in the west. It’s the same content, just packaged for different audiences. I still thought Kayako was scary and even though Toshio had been losing me these past few films, he managed to be pretty spooky himself. Even though I favored “The Grudge (2004)” over “Ju-On: The Grudge” when I first saw them, I think I now prefer “Ju-On: The Grudge” and maybe its sequel over “The Grudge (2004)“. The reason why is actually kind of silly. “The Grudge” references “The Ring” a bit too much in my opinion, something the Japanese films somehow avoided in spite borrowing from the same source. I don’t consider “Ju-On: The Curse” or its sequels to be rip-offs, but the American remake might be. Nevertheless, I’d take a good rip-off over a bad original… or an original that looks like a student production. *coughs awkwardly*.Rating: 6/10
THE GRUDGE 2 (2006)
(Directed by Takashi Shimizu)
(Written by Stephen Susco and Takashi Shimizu)
(Starring Amber Tamblyn, Arielle Kebbel and Takako Fuji)
Even though only two years separated “The Grudge” and its sequel, “The Grudge 2” found itself in the daunting position of satisfying an audience that was rapidly growing tired of the J-Horror trend. We had been burned by too many bad remakes of Asian properties, with even “The Ring Two” being both a critical and commercial disappointment. The market had simply been over-saturated in too short of a time period, so “The Grudge 2” was sort of the subgenre’s last line of defense. Morale was high when the opening weekend numbers came in strong, but seeminly everyone hated “The Grudge 2″ and the negative word of mouth caused the box office numbers to plummet. For what it’s worth, “The Grudge 2” was still technically a ‘hit’, grossing around $70,000,000 worldwide against a $20,000,000 budget, yet that’s less than half of its predecessor’s intake and the brand was now irreparably damaged (especially in the west). With dwindling box office returns, the whole J-horror remake craze would die a quiet death once “One Missed Call” flopped. The concept of remaking foreign horror films carries a stigma to this very day, making this possibly the most despised trend in horror history. I keep hearing about “The Wailing” or “Train to Busan” getting American remakes, but nothing ever seems to actually materialize and when something finally enters production, the marketing campaign desperately tries to cover its foreign origins up — often even changing the titles. “The Grudge 2” wasn’t the final nail in the coffin, because that honor would ultimately go to “The Grudge 3“… but it’s telling that the franchise contributed to both the subgenre’s rise and fall… In the west that is. Both “Ringu” and “Ju-On” continues to influence the genre in the East and both franchises are still alive, but I’ll reserve that discussion for the ‘Compulsive Franchise Disorder’ sequel of the “Ju-On” film series.
But were we all fair to “The Grudge 2“? The short answer is “Yes, this was not a very good sequel“. Yet I have to admit that I’ve developed a… grudging… respect for the movie, as Takashi Shimizu attempted to try something different. Instead of continuing with the episodic formula, he chose to focus on three seemingly separate stories that are told simultaneously. It’s all leading to something, but the problem is that every time one story starts getting interesting, it quickly transitions into one of the others, losing all of its momentum. The pacing pretty clunky, as Kayako (Takako Fuji, who would retire from the role after this) can’t appear as often as she did before. In the previous films, characters weren’t expected to last more than 15 minutes, but now they have to survive at least 30 to 45, limiting the actual scares. Theoretically, this means we’d be able to spend more time with the characters, but even though they’re fleshed out a little bit, they aren’t particularly likable. It often seemed like they’d die just as they begun the process of developing. This made me wonder why they bothered, as the hints of nuance go absolutely nowhere and now just feel like padding. In essence, the stories are too short, but the movie is too long. The filmmakers don’t even know what to do with poor Toshio (now played by Ohga Tanaka), although this might only be because they still use archive footage of Yuya Ozeki in the role and didn’t want to draw attention to the recasting.
The movie opens with an accidentally comical visual of someone being wacked over the head with a frying pan and then for some reason, flashes back to how they got to that point, making it a completely unnecessary spoiler. The focus is on a kid named Jake (Matthew Knight), whose apartment complex in America is plagued with strange happenings, all surrounding a stranger whose moved in. This segment is pretty boring, primarily because one big twist was revealed in the opening scene and the other big twist is really f@cking predictable. This is where Kayako’s absence really stands out, as her presence would give away the aforementioned f@cking predictable twist ending. I’m curious what the thought process behind this was, as there is literally only one way this can end. The second story takes place in Japan and surrounds three schoolgirls, Allison (Arielle Kebbel), Vanessa (Teresa Palmer) and Miyuki (Misako Uno; HOLY SHIT A JAPANESE PERSON IN JAPAN), who stupidly wander into the haunted house. The acting was pretty uneven here, as the girls do an admirable job at conveying fear, but their dialogue was often a tough sell. There are a lot of unintentionally amusing moments, sometimes border-lining on parody, like when a character confuses Kayako’s ‘under the covers’ creeping with her boyfriend’s amorous advances. Or when a character pisses themselves, which is always hard to convey in a dramatic way on film, even though we’d all probably be doing that in similar circumstances. I do think that part of what made “The Grudge 2” hard to take seriously though is that earlier in 2006, the series was thoroughly lampooned by “Scary Movie 4“, which was probably still fresh on our minds. I don’t know if the parody ruined “The Grudge 2” upon release, because I could remember the goofier parts here even nearly 15 years later, while I can recall very little of “Scary Movie 4“. But I doubt it helped. It’s a shame too, as “The Grudge 2” does have its good moments. When Kayako makes her big introduction, it is a pretty scary scene that deserves to be in a better movie.
The final story continues where “The Grudge” left off, as Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn) investigates the death of her sister… Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar, who cameos)!? But before you accuse me of spoiling,remember that Karen’s demise was a significant part of the marketing campaign and happens rather quickly. This is “the best” story in that it has the most creepy parts and the franchise’s overarching plot moves forward — towards a direction that no one wants it to go. Takashi Shimizu apparently was forced into giving Kayako a backstory and it’s pretty unsatisfying, revealing more than we needed to know and yet not enough to actually know anything. Kayako having supernatural origins seems to contract the whole Ju-on mythos, except then they say that the supernatural origins aren’t responsible for the curse, so… Ugh, I think they were trying to draw parallels between Kayako and Aubrey, but it’s just poorly handled. Aubrey was a pretty solid character though, giving Tamblyn more dramatic material to work with than Karen gave Sarah Michelle Gellar. Once again, she deserved a better movie. “The Grudge 2” deserved to be a better movie. The apocalyptic implications are at least conceptually spooky and I appreciated that Takashi Shimizu tried to do something different with the saga. There is even some impressive, creepy imagery. But sometimes… things just don’t work out… “The Grudge 2” left audiences unsatisfied during a vulnerable time for the genre, which would ultimately be usurped by “Saw” and the ‘torture porn’ trend. Yet at least “The Grudge 2” tried to be something special, so I can’t bring myself to actively dislike it even if I do agree that it’s a weak movie.Rating: 5/10
THE GRUDGE 3 (2009)
(Directed by Toby Wilkins)
(Written by Brad Keene)
(Starring Johanna Braddy, Gil McKinney and Shawnee Smith)
If the poor reception of both “The Ring Two” and “The Grudge 2” mortally wounded the Asian horror trend in the west and “One Missed Call” was its actual death, then I guess that makes “The Grudge 3” the final nail in the coffin… right? After all, when a flagship franchise goes from grossing nearly $200,000,000 at the box office to being dumped straight to DVD, then you know the subgenre has been buried. By 2009, J-Horror had not only been dethroned by ‘Torture Porn’ (in the west), but that itself had been usurped by ‘Found Footage’ as the trendy horror gimmick. I actually remembered being confused when I first saw previews for “The Grudge 3“, as I naively assumed that there wasn’t any demand for a sequel. But even though it had a middling reception at best, the movie performed exceptionally well on the home market, with some reports indicating that it sold more DVD’s than its predecessors. I’m honestly shocked that they didn’t develop a direct-to-DVD franchise out of its success, especially as the ending set-up a fourth entry, but maybe Sony Pictures only had a contract for three films. I’m actually a little disappointed they didn’t continue making more, as the sequel hook is far more interesting than “The Grudge 3” itself.
“The Grudge 3” isn’t as bad as it could’ve been. It doesn’t misfire like “The Grudge 2” or even “Ju-On: The Curse 2” did, but only because it seems content to coast off of its predecessor’s creative fumes. The writing can’t be described as either good or bad. Yeah, the dialogue is definitely leaning towards the latter, especially when it comes to exposition, but the cast is stellar enough to almost make it work. The story immediately follows “The Grudge 2“, with sole survivor Jake (Mathew Knight) being institutionalized long enough to… cease being a sole survivor… But now his old haunted apartment complex is being renovated by Max (Gil McKinney), who takes care of his his sisters Lisa (Johanna Braddy) and Rose (Jadie Rose Hobson). Strange happenings are afoot when various residents see glimpses of Toshio (now played by Shimba Tsuchiya) and then start dying in gruesome ways. A mysterious Japanese woman named Naoko (Emi Ikehata) shows up claiming to be the sister of the dreaded Kayako (now played by Aiko Horiuchi), who has some sort of nefarious plan with this building. The story discards the episodic narrative of its predecessors, being told in a traditionally linear fashion, although you could argue that it’s still an ensemble. Lisa is technically the heart of the story, going through some boring drama about wanting to move away to become a model. Naoko’s introduction doesn’t make a lot of sense from a continuity perspective, but at least she’s interesting in her limited screen-time and I wish there was more focus on her than the dull family stuff. There’s also a subplot surrounding Dr. Sullivan (Shawnee Smith), who for some reason becomes the voice of exposition, even though Naoko could’ve easily filled that role. I was growing tired of the formula enough to appreciate the attempts to try something new with “The Grudge 2“, but “The Grudge 3” strips the story of all of its personality. As confusing and frustrating as it sometimes was, the episodic narrative was a big part of what made “The Grudge“… well, “The Grudge“.
Takashi Shimizu was offered the chance to direct once again, but he turned down the project, making this the first entry within the franchise that he would not helm himself. Toby Wilkins was his replacement, fresh off the cult hit “Splinter” and even though he’s a competent director… it’s just not the same. The movie has a completely different tone, aesthetic and pace, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if the changes didn’t feel so… bland… “The Grudge 3” is rated-R, meaning that Kayako’s kills are much bloodier, but they’re nowhere near as chilling as they were when left to our imagination. The locations look ordinary and there’s hardly any build-up to the attacks, drastically limiting the suspense. “The Grudge 3” also marks the first time Takako Fuji chose not to return as Kayako and I never realized how important she was to the role until now. Aiko Horiuchi looks the part, but she’s more of a special effect than a character. They use CGI and editing to get her movements right, although the final result is more cheesy than scary. She’s buried underneath heaps of makeup to disguise the recasting, because for some reason, they chose to include a lot of flashbacks, drawing attention to how it’s not the same actress. We all might remember Kayako’s death rattle and disjointed movements the most, but I’d argue that Takako Fuji’s eyes were equally important. You can see all of her rage and torment whenever she’d glare at her victims, with Shimizu often putting the audience in their shoes using POV shots. Even when Kayako would be completely rendered in CGI, the emphasis was always on her eyes, but Aiko Horiuchi is never given the opportunity to make a similar connection with the viewer because the filmmakers are more concerned with hiding the fact she’s not Takako Fuji. I wasn’t as hostile towards “The Grudge 3” when I first saw it a decade ago, but in hindsight, it was only because I wasn’t binging the franchise back then. If there’s some distance between watching it and its predecessors, you’ll probably see “The Grudge 3” for what it truly is — a mediocre horror flick. But when the other movies are so fresh on your mind, you’ll see that it’s also a pretty crummy sequel.Rating: 4/10
When Asian Horror began its rise in the west, Hollywood didn’t only lure Takashi Shimizu from Asia, they also brought over Hideo Nakata (“Ringu”), the Pang Brothers (“The Eye”), and Takashi Miike (“Ichi the Killer”). But Takashi Shimizu was the only one who had any success over here, as all of them became attached to critical and box office failures… except Takashi Miike, whose ‘Masters of Horror’ episode was simply too shocking to air at all (typical Miike). Takashi Shimizu followed up his work on the franchise with “Flight 7500” which encountered distribution problems. I remember seeing the trailer in theaters and thinking that the concept was intriguing (haunted airplane!), but then it got delayed for like 4 years before being unceremoniously dumped straight to demand. It’s kind of like “The Grudge 2” where you can tell that he’s trying something different, but it’s just not working out and that was pretty much the last I heard from the director. He still makes movies in Japan, but none of them have really caught fire like “Ju-On” did. But even if the genre moved on, you can still see some of J-Horror’s influences in subsequent trends. Both ‘Torture Porn’ and especially ‘found footage’ arguably owe their cynical endings to J-Horror, with even “The Conjuring” — whose sequels and spin-offs practically became the horror genre for awhile — borrowing some of its visual cues. So at least there is a worthy legacy. I actually do hope that Takashi Shimizu comes out with something awesome once more, as I think he’s very talented and his works are unique. I will always on the side of visionaries, even when their visions often misfire.
If it seems strange that I’m more comfortable discussing the Hollywood entries of “The Grudge” franchise than their original Japanese counterparts, it’s only because I am an American and remembered how the trend flowed throughout my country. When discussing the influence of Asian movies or how they were received within their native countries, I have to rely more on what I’ve read online… or simply how I interpreted their success. It doesn’t help that I watched “The Grudge” before either “Ju-On: The Grudge” or “Ju-On: The Curse”, so found myself struggling to not talk about “The Grudge” when reviewing any of its predecessors. I experienced these movies in the wrong order, so my perspective is arguably skewered. I decided to contribute this review series to the cultural impact of Asian Horror as a whole, especially once it became popular in the west, but when I return to the “Ju-On” saga, I’ll probably just stick to how I felt about the movies themselves. I just don’t know enough about the cinematic landscape of Japan, as the country’s horror output no longer has the full attention of the world. These days, South Korea is the center of attention for horror fans… and yet you can still see J-horror influencing even those movies.
Now let just hope that this does not lead to another shallow remake craze.