By Steve Anderson | August 30, 2005

The Japanese have had a longstanding capability for doing horror movies with minimal set changes, and I think I’m beginning to understand why. Japanese horror tends not to focus on story and plot, but rather in the inexplicable suddenly entering the normal world, and the consequences of that entrance. For instance, Japan’s flagship title here in the United States, “The Ring,” deals with a haunted videocassette that, one week after viewing, kills its viewers. By now you’ve probably seen it as the hollow-eyed ragged monstrosity that is Samara lunges out of a television set to kill whoever’s in front of her. And this is pretty standard fare for the Japanese, who seem to have an utter mania for ghost stories. “The Ring,” “Ju-On: The Grudge,” “Shikoku,” and plenty of others make ghosts to Japanese horror what the undead serial killer is to American horror.

“Ju-Rei: The Uncanny” is one more Japanese ghost story to add to the pantheon.

So what we have here is the story of that perennial favorite: Japanese schoolgirls. Put your eyes back in your heads, o hentai among us. These particular Japanese schoolgirls won’t be having pillow fights, or whipped creme fights, or doing anything involving “experimenting.” These particular Japanese schoolgirls are going to discover the truth behind a local urban legend. Each of them sees a hooded, black figure out on the streets, and shortly thereafter, several of them die under unusual circumstances.

Which leaves us with two important questions: who’s our grim reaper wannabe in the black hoodie and how many survivors are we going to get out of this?

And since this is a Japanese film, it’s gonna get real bizarre, real quick. Even the DVD menu is uncomfortable and disturbing–crank up your surround sound for twenty eight seconds of scrapes, moans, squeals and other things that’ll make you just nuts with terror.

Check out the bizarrity at the five minute mark! If you’ve ever seen a death sequence like that, well, then you’re way ahead of me, because that’s totally new on me.

The incredible Japanese patience shows forth cleanly in “Ju-Rei: The Uncanny,” allowing incredible amounts of suspense to build up and burst forth into scenes of fantastic scariness. They spent two whole minutes focused on a girl’s face as she hid under a fleece blanket before letting her get killed. The kind of patience involved in such a maneuver allowed them to build into this truly nerve-wracking experience.

And then there are other such interesting bits as chapter titles that count backward (we start at ten and end at one), and the incredible bloodthirsty quality of the random ghoul that stalks both our heroines and their families for seemingly little or no actual reason. There is virtually no blood or gore in “Ju-Rei: The Uncanny,” which makes it especially unusual for a decidedly scary picture like this one.

The one big problem with “Ju-Rei: The Uncanny” is that the temptation to just wail on the fast forward button and go past all the buildup scenes is just awful. There are entire minutes where you just stare at one thing. And this will bore some people like there’s no tomorrow. Some people will find this unbelievably tense, and that the slight payoff of a ghost lunging at its next victim is or isn’t worth it. It really depends on your taste. If you have the stomach to sit for minutes at a time, staring at just one thing, and not absolutely know that whatever we’re staring at is probably going to die whenever we stop staring at it, you’re going to just fall in love with “Ju-Rei: The Uncanny.”

The ending, amazingly, actually happened back at the beginning. “Ju-Rei: The Uncanny” has been playing forward, but like life, can only truly be understood backward. Characters that die at the twenty minute mark are back, alive and well, at the fifty minute mark–the movie has been somehow playing in reverse. And the prologue, which you see at the end, is also terribly creepy.

The special features include a still gallery, production credits, English subtitles (which is good, as the movie itself has only Japanese audio), and a trailer for “Ju-Rei: The Uncanny”.

All in all, “Ju-Rei: The Uncanny” is a movie that makes for some serious scares if you’re willing to put up with a movie that actually makes more sense backwards than it does forwards, and is willing to spend entire minutes on suspenseful buildup.

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