It never forgives. It never forgets.
Running Time: 92 minutes
US Certificate: PG-13 UK Certificate: 15
Country: Japan, United States
To call Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) a ‘reimagining’ of Hideo Nakata’s extraordinary Ringu (1998) would be to imply that there was any imagination at all in the Hollywood retread. Instead, there were some second-hand frights, a few entirely gratuitous new scenes (mostly involving spooked horses), and some misplaced exposition that stripped away all the uncanny irrationalism of the original. Still, what The Ring proved was that there is a lot of money to be made in repackaging (i.e. dumbing down, essentially) the East’s new wave of horror for Western audiences – and with Hollywood rip-offs of Dark Water, The Eye, A Tale of Two Sisters and ‘Ringu 2’ still in the works, the latest example is ‘The Grudge’.
Yet this is a remake with a difference, for although it now features a mostly American cast, this new version of Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on: the Grudge (2003) has been refashioned by the original Japanese director himself – something which, to my knowledge, has only ever happened before with George Sluizer’s remake of his own haunting ‘Spoorloos’ (1988) as the more sanitised ‘The Vanishing’ in 1993 (although Nakata himself is now directing the American sequel ‘The Ring 2’). What is more, ‘The Grudge’ is still set in the same universe as the original (same Japanese neighbourhood, same house haunted by same curse, several Japanese actors reprising their original rôles, etc.) – a universe which, after all, has already been painstakingly created and recreated by Shimizu not just in Ju-on: the Grudge, but also in two previous straight-to-video telemovies, as well as the inevitable sequel, ‘Ju-on: the Grudge 2’ (2003). In other words, this is material which Shimizu has been honing for years with great success in Japan, and here he applies the principle of ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’, revisiting most of the spooky set-pieces from the original feature film, and even throwing in a few less well-known scenes from the earlier telemovies. The special effects have been tweeked a bit, the labyrinthine plotting of the original is somewhat simplified, there is far more explanatory dialogue (unlike Japanese cinema, Hollywood apparently dislikes leaving viewers space to think for themselves), and there are one or two surprises, but at heart this is exactly the same film with one significant twist – that a disparate community of American outsiders (as well, of course, as American viewers) has now been drawn into the implacable, self-replicating curse of the Saeki family.
So if this is your very first encounter with Shimizu’s grudge, this film will scare the pants off you, whereas if you have seen the original(s), it might all seem like a pointless rehash – but at least there is a real attempt here to present in dramatic form something that is essential to this film’s very nature: the strange, often awkward trafficking of ideas and emotions between East and West. For the American émigrés that populate ‘The Grudge’ are portrayed as struggling with the basics of Japanese language, confused even by the products on a Japanese supermarket shelf, and generally lost and out of place and it is a mutually uncomprehending relationship between an American and a Japanese which turns out to have engendered the curse at the heart of the film. Shimizu, it seems, is not only exploiting this cultural clash to amplify his characters’ alienation, hopelessness, and terror, but also to comment wryly on the bizarre love affair between America and Japan which makes a film like this possible. It is as though the original ‘Ju-on’ had been merged with Lost in Translation, and the result is an intelligent reflection on Hollywood’s flawed attempts to recreate Oriental horror in its own image as well as a great scare or three for the uninitiated West.
It's Got: American guests proving to be just as easily haunted as their Japanese hosts; a family of furious Japanese revenants all played by the actors from the original (one of whom still meows like a cat); a narrative structure that confounds normal chronology and logic (but with far more verbal exposition than the original); and Sarah Michelle Gellar for once NOT kicking demon butt.
It Needs: Less exposition the confusing irrationality of the original is part of what made it so haunting, whereas all this mollycoddling explanation just serves to remind us how dumb we subtitle-and-subtlety-averse Westerners can be.
DVD Extras Audio 5.1; English language, optional English subtitles; scene selection; full audio commentary (with optional subtitles) by producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, co-writer Stephen Susco and actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Clea DuVall, KaDee Strickland and Ted Raimi, who discuss (amongst other things) the fact that the entire house was built on the same Toho soundstage where Akira Kurosawas classic The Seven Samurai was filmed, that Yuya Ozeki, who has played Toshio in all the different versions of The Grudge, actually hates cats, that director Shimizu would show off his incredible moonwalking skills between takes, that the scene where Kayako descends the staircase was done without special effects or wires, and that the final sequence was filmed in a real, rat-infested morgue in LA County; A Powerful Rage: Behind the Grudge (48min), featuring interviews with producers Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert, co-writer Stephen Susco, director/co-writer Takashi Shimizu, production designer Iwao Saito, and actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Bill Pullman, Jason Behr, Ryo Ishibashi, Yoko Maki, Ted Raimi, William Mapother, KaDee Strickland, Clea DuVall, Grace Zabriskie and Rosa Blasi, and divided into sections devoted to the rationale behind an American remake, the films Japan-specific mythology, the on-set dynamic of a half-Japanese half-American production, the design of the haunted house, and the talent (and humour) of Shimizu; Under the Skin (12min), a neurological and psychological account by Professor Joseph LeDoux of the fear response and its exploitation in film. Version reviewed: Universal Pictures Video, Cat. No. 8232433 DVD Extras Rating: 9/10
Japanese director gives his own horror film a surprisingly intelligent Hollywood makeover pointless self-replication perhaps, but that is the nature of curses.