Running Time: 92 minutes
US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15
In 1998, director Hideo Nakata released Ringu, a chilling old-school horror story furnished with new technology – and ever since then, it has cast a long, dark shadow of influence and imitation. Within a year there was Nakata’s own sequel, Ringu 2, and then a prequel, as well as remakes of the original from both Korea (‘The Ring Virus’) and Hollywood (The Ring) – and now Nakata himself has returned to direct an American version of his own sequel (the forthcoming ‘The Ring 2’). Yet if Ringu has spread through the horror scene like a virus, there have also been some interesting mutations of its uncanny style – Nakata’s own less sensational, more substantial Dark Water, as well as films like The Eye, ‘The Phone’, ‘A Tale of Two Sisters’ – and Takashi Shimizu’s ‘Ju-On’ cycle.
‘Ju-On’ began its life in 2000 as two shot-to-video telemovies, whose spooky success earned Shimizu financial backing to revive them for the big screen in 2002, retaining the basic premise while radically rewriting the story and characters (and improving the horror effects out of sight). A sequel (‘Ju-On: The Grudge 2’) followed in 2003, and then the inevitable American re-make (The Grudge, currently in post-production). Shimizu is clearly travelling in Nakata’s wake, even to the extent that Hiroshi Takahashi, the screenwriter of Ringu, is listed as a ‘creative consultant’ on ‘Ju-On’, and many of the film’s features are familiar from Nakata’s work – from the creepy little boy to the long-haired female ghost, from the terrified schoolgirls to a clairvoyant father and child, from the mirror that plays tricks to the use of telephones, televisions, videotapes and photographs as sources of fear, and from the haunting that results from a brutal murder to the deadly force that propagates itself like a virus.
Yet it is in its non-linear, highly episodic structure that ‘Ju-On’ differs from Ringu. At first the film appears to comprise an arbitrary set of variations on a theme, wherein unconnected characters are seen being undone, one after the other, by a curse that relentlessly pursues all who encounter it. Yet far from being merely a compendium of eerie, if slightly repetitive, supernatural set-pieces (although it certainly is that), the different scenes in ‘Ju-On’ are gradually seen to be linked, albeit linked in a manner that defies chronology, confounds identity and leaves sanity sobbing in the dark – and it is this deep-seated irrationality which will continue haunting the corridors, closets and attics of your mind long after you have recovered from the peculiar horror of a boy emitting the shrieking meow of a cat.
It's Got: An eerieness that transcends its individual episodes, an ensemble cast required by the high deathcount, a richness of incidental detail that all seems to add up to something just beyond grasp, several very unhappy families, and a mindbending conclusion.
It Needs: To be watched through your hands, peekaboo-style (apparently this will keep you safe)
DVD Extras (Update) Scene selection; choice of audio (Japanese DTS/Japanese Dolby digital 5.1/English dub); optional subtitles (English/SDH); full audio commentary by martial artist and Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan, showing his usual breathless enthusiasm for, and encyclopædic knowledge of, all things Asian, with insightful comments on the unconventional (for horror) lack of POV camerawork in the film and the way in which it achieves terror mostly through simple physical (rather than computer generated) effects - Logan is also at times very funny ("if the security guards get eaten by monsters, well, you know, thats what they get paid for", "any man who wears a jacket of that particular shade deserves whatever is coming to him", etc.). There is also a Bey Logan biography (welcome, but a bit odd in the absence of any biographies of the actual director or cast of the film); and showreels of other releases from Hong Kong Legends (A Chinese Ghost Story, Full Contact, Bullet in the Head, Wing Chun, Iron Monkey, Moon Warriors) and Premier Asia (Ichi the Killer, Champion, Volcano High, Bang Rajan, Bichunmoo, The Warrior). DVD Extras Rating: 6/10
'Ringu' redux, but with a haunting disregard for chronology or logic, and lots of cats.