By Admin | August 16, 2005

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last several months with absolutely no outside contact (and by “outside contact” I include “Entertainment Weekly” and pretty much any television channel), you’ve already come in contact with Sarah Michelle Gellar trying to Buffy her way through the remake of “Ju-On: The Grudge.”

And yes, it’s a remake.

That thing sitting on your shelves from Lions Gate, labeled “Ju-On”, is the original. And if the DVD menu is any indication, we are in for one seriously wild ride.

It’s Japanese horror at its most alarming and most confusing, proving conclusively that the Japanese truly know their stuff.

I’m serious about that DVD menu. It’s a repeating thirty second sequence that’ll actually recap (once you’ve seen it) important events. Not only that, it’s also incredibly creepy. The Japanese have a serious talent when it comes to atmosphere in their horror, and love to emphasize the believability of horror. Let’s face it, folks…anyone who’s heard or been part of a ghost story could very well be on the bad end of “Ju-On: The Grudge.” Better still, quoth the IMDB, the “Ju-On” on your shelves right now is actually part of a franchise–this one’s actually part three of five.

You’re watching the Japanese equivalent of Nightmare on Elm Street, folks.

So what we have here is the story of the victims of Ju-On, the Japanese phrase for the curse that apparently takes effect when someone dies enraged. We follow a character named Rika around, a volunteer with the Social Welfare Center who finds herself roped into handling a case at a house where several people recently died, and one more recently went missing. It’s up to Rika to discover the story behind the house, the events that went on inside, while trying her best to avoid falling prey to the Ju-On.

You will notice more than a few similarities between the American version, “The Grudge,” and the Japanese “Ju-On.” By now for many of you it may well be too late, but I do recommend that you see the Japanese version first before seeing the American remake. The two exist on such different overall planes that they are almost (but not quite) different movies.

When I said earlier that Sarah Michelle Gellar was trying to “Buffy” her way through the movie, I wasn’t kidding. She was playing it, in fact it was probably written with her in mind, like an action star. You’ll notice that Gellar’s character, as opposed to Rika, is much more action-oriented. Rika, on the other hand, reacts to things in a more deliberate fashion. Things emerge with much less abruptness (compare the first two times the little boy crops up), and Rika is much more quick to involve others while Gellar takes her own initiative.

This is a clear terminator between American and Japanese filmmaking. American filmmaking tends to spend much less time building suspense and atmosphere in favor of force, violence and action, while the converse is true of Japanese cinema, which by and large puts much more investment on building suspense and atmosphere, letting it pay off with select shocking moments. Notice also the extreme differences in use of special effects, especially CG, in the first appearance of what I can only guess is the Ju-On’s embodiment. Even the scene breaks should give one pause.

But frankly, that’s just me being a film egomaniac. You’re almost certainly going to get your share of thrills out of “Ju-On,” even if it’s not what you’re used to. No one builds suspense like the Japanese–not even the greats like Hitchcock. It’s a cultural difference; the Japanese have a culturally ingrained patience that allows them to focus on the long term, so building ten or fifteen minutes worth of suspense is a drop in the bucket. This means, of course, you need to pay very close attention to the film–little details that turn out to be terribly important can just go darting by in the corner of the frame, just past your notice, unless you’re watching like a hawk.

The ending is a real barnburner, and really ties the rest of the movie together nicely. Check out the killer momentary shot at 1:23:40…not exactly unexpected, but still nicely done.

The special features include yet another killer menu sequence along with a theatrical trailer, a behind the scenes featurette, cast and crew interviews, and deleted scenes. Plus, we get trailers for “Dagon” and “Undead.” Frankly, it’s bizarre, because “Dagon” was released back in 2002. By now it’s been on the general releases of every video store in the United States. “Undead,” on the other hand, just looks amazing.

All in all, “Ju-On: The Grudge” is going to be a real pulse-pounder for you, even if it takes some getting used to.

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