158 of 192 people found the following review helpful
Despite the $39 million that "The Grudge" earned in its opening weekend to make it the #1 film in the nation, I had low expectations when I popped this DVD in to watch. This was because my youngest daughter had rushed out to see the film (because it had Sarah Michelle Gellar a.k.a. "Buffy the Vampire" in it) and she was bitterly disappointed. While I would not trust her opinion as to what is a great movie (she loves "Gone With the Wind" but does not get "The Godfather"), I thought she would know what was a bad horror movie. Consequently, I think my expectations for "The Grudge" were so low that there was nowhere to go but up once I actually watched it.
I knew this 2004 horror film was a remake of the Japanese movie "Ju-on," in the tradition of "Ringu"/"The Ring," but I did not know that it was filmed in Japan by the same director, Takashi Shimizu (I tend to avoid finding out a lot about films until I actually see them so that I be pure of mind when I first watch them). This makes a big difference because the idea behind this production is behind both the strengths and the weaknesses of "The Grudge" as a film. However, since I lived in Japan for a couple of years, have enjoyed Japanese films in general and "Spirited Away" in particular, and have an ability to understand non-linear narrative forms, I have to admit that I have a peculiar position from which to view the film (so take what follows with a grain of salt).
As the opening of the film explains, "When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage a curse is born. The curse gathers in that place of death. Those who encounter it will be consumed by its fury." When you listen to the DVD extras you learn that there is another key ingredient: the source of that rage is that the victim does not know why they were murdered. This is important because this is not your typical American horror movie where the guilty die grizzly deaths. The innocent are the only items on the menu this time around. If you want other clear indications that this is a Japanese horror movie then notice that Shimizu goes for the creeps over suspense (guessing who is next to die is never difficult), the camera never lingers on the film's grossest images, and seeing the ghost happens early and often. The last one presents the most problems in terms of cultural translation because the Japanese conception of demons is so foreign to American audiences (I know, duh, but it is true) as is the idea of a Japanese monster house ("Obakeyashiki").
Executive producer Sam Raimi had seen "Ju-on" and came up with the idea of remaking the movie in Japan with the same director but with American actors for an English speaking audience. So this is not the same thing as splicing in scenes of Raymond Burr to turn "Gojira" into "Godzilla," but it is somewhat pointed in that same direction. Stephen Susco's screenplay has to come up with reasons why the American actors are working (and dying) in Japan and while he certainly comes up with plausible means of employment, there is an elephant in the living room in that the body count consists mostly of gaijin but that is never a part of the equation. Granted, Detective Nakagawa (Ryo Ishibashi) is suspicious of the house given what had happened three years earlier, but this film really needed to deal with the gaijin issue better (I was going to say that having more Japanese killed off in the movie would help, but then we have the problem a gaijin being the heroine in a story set in Japan).
However, at some point a decision was made for Jeff Betancourt to edit "The Grudge" in a non-linear fashion. Now, what they came up with is an interesting approach, but clearly most viewers are not picking up on what is happening right away. Beginning with the opening deaths before the title credits are over, "The Grudge" follows the first death backwards to the beginning of the tale and the second forward to the ending. These two plotlines alternate to the climax in which they actually come together. Unfortunately, this is just way too convenient as the only way that our heroine can understand what is going on. At a point where the puzzle is coming together we are wondering how this is happening when the focus should be on understanding why everything is happening.
Another way in which the production is more interesting than the movie is the limited use of CGI. Throughout the commentary track, Gellar talks about the lengths to which Japanese filmmakers keep things real. The shot of the hand coming out of the back of her character's head in the shower is not a CGI shot. The ghost creepily crawling down the stairs is all the performance of actress Takako Fuji and not a puppet on wires or anything else. When characters listen to messages on an answering machine, there are actually messages on the answering machine. But, again, unless you check out the DVD extras you have no way of appreciating the realism of this particular movie. The more you check out the more you will rethink what is going on in the movie.
"The Grudge" is a creepy movie where the ghost is a lot more interesting than Karen the heroine. But then most of the characters are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time so that bad things can happen to them. Still, my wife screamed twice and jumped three times while watching this, so it can have the desired effect (at least on those unaccustomed to the way modern horror films work). More importantly, the attempt to make a Japanese horror movie for Americans, versus an American version of a Japanese horror movie, is worth paying attention to. Ultimately, I am trying to convince you to watch this movie twice, after checking out all of the DVD features in between.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 15, 2006
WOW. That's the only thing I can say after reading all sorts of negative reviews. I admit, the very first time I watched the Grudge with my father NEITHER of us thought the movie was scary at all and couldn't understand its success, but after watching the movie a second time two months later by myself late at night I REALLY began to see how frightening the movie is. Probably contains the same amount of fear as the original Exorcist, another movie that's really effectively well done. You HAVE to watch the Exorcist and the Grudge at night to get the proper effect.
The Grudge benefits greatly when it comes to maintaining a moody atmosphere and a pretty interesting story. I say "pretty interesting" because the storyline isn't the best, or the easiest to understand. Just interesting enough to get the job done. The Grudge also benefits when it comes to not giving away too much or too little. In fact, this is probably its strongest point.
Every time something scary happens, you see just a "little bit" of that scary monster boy or some kind of strange shadow effect, which is *very* important if you want to effectively scare someone. If the scary boy had appeared on screen for longer than a few seconds it wouldn't have scared me nearly as much because I would have gotten used to seeing it. The boy appears, and then he's gone. Not giving away too much REALLY works with this movie. You see, to really scare me you simply CAN'T put a scary monster on screen for long periods of time and you HAVE to create a moody atmosphere to make the film believable. The Grudge works *extremely* well it this area.
The fact that something scary happens almost always unexpectedly in the Grudge allows me to give the film another compliment. I'm telling you, the scene with the woman inside that building by herself (well, except for a security guard) and having to travel home to an apartment building all by herself is about 10 minutes of total bone-chilling excitement. I *loved* this scene.
I was totally on the edge of my seat wondering when the woman was finally going to have something bad happen to her. The scene where the woman saw darkness coming before walking down the stairs and having to hurry up to get out of there was *awesome*, and the scene a few moments after this happened where she DID see something in the shadow was ANOTHER awesome display of bone-chilling brilliance. There's a bunch of scenes like this throughout the movie. Freakin' AWESOME!
Excellent pacing and suspense makes the Grudge a true horror classic, in my opinion. I've seen a thousand horror movies in my time and I'd easily put the Grudge right up there as one of the best.
People today have drastically different opinions when it comes to what makes a movie scary. Remember the good old days when everyone could agree that the Exorcist was the scariest movie of all-time? I wish everyone agreed that the Grudge is a total classic, and that the Ring is another excellent one.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 21, 2007
This movie had its creepy moments but it wasn't as good as the first. One of the biggest problems I found was that the female spirit didn't make that horrible croaking noise very much. One of the most frightening things about her was the noise she made, so even though many of her appearances were still creepy (except the mirror scene) to me she didn't seem as scary.
The Grudge jumped around in the timeline which was frustrating at first but when I got used to it I found it interesting and actually enjoyed the disorientation. I expected the same jumps in time in the Grudge 2 and sadly found a pretty linear timeline.
Finally, the thing that simply annoyed me was the fact that nearly everything and everyone in the movie was American. The three schoolgirls consisted of two Americans and one Japanese native who for some reason seemed to be attending a basic kanji class. Even the school counselor was American. The main character goes to a little run down village and meets an old Japanese mystic who speaks perfect English. I almost forgot that much of the story was taking place in Japan.
I wanted to like this movie as much as the Grudge but like many sequels it seemed haphazard.
13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2007
Not remotely the same as the Japanese "Ju-On: The Grudge 2", this movie picks up from the same point ("The Grudge" and "Ju-On" were almost identical anyway) but heads off in a completely different direction, with mostly different characters from "Ju-On 2" and different concepts. It's not on par, in my opinion, with "Ju-On 2" but it is a very good movie in its own right, above both the first "Grudge" and the first "Ju-On" and introducing new ideas that beg for further follow-up.
"The Grudge 2" follows three paths - Karen Davis's sister Aubrey (played by Amber Tablyn) journeys to Japan where her sister is hospitilized and ends up drawn into the growing Ju-On curse; two private school idiots trick an insecure classmate into going with them to the vacant Saeki house, where they delight in locking her in a closet - admittedly not believing that the house really is haunted and that their poor prank-victim is about to encounter Kakuro; in an apartment building in the United States, the curse set loose in the first movie has somehow crossed the ocean and begun its hauntings there as well. The three plots end up tied together, but not in the way one might expect.
"The Grudge 2" has a lot going for it, but it's also hobbled by some shortcomings - the same thing seems to happen to all the Grudge movies except "Ju-On 2". Although the good outweighs the bad, the movie is still hampered. One of the faults could conceivably be fixed when the Unrated edition of the DVD is release, assuming it's extended in length. Probably the most interesting plot idea introduced here - a horrifying angle that looks at Kakuro's past and explains why she and her son were, of all the people who die violent deaths, the two who ended up transforming into Ju-On ghosts upon their deaths - is given all too brief play in the movie. This angle deserves more, either in a significantly extended cut of "The Grudge 2" or in a further sequel that makes it one of the main focuses.
Also, and though this happens only briefly, there is a single scene where the generally frightening spirits come off, instead of frightening, as kind of campy; it really put a crick in the movie right when it was building up some tension. Also, you've got three seperate plots (four if you count the all too-brief Kakuro backstory) in a one-and-a-half hour movie - it doesn't need to be extended with a couple of scenes, it needs to be Seriously extended, like at least another thirty minutes. The parts of the movie that didn't really work were because it kept 'cutting to the chase' way too quick instead of developing. A number of characters needed a bit more screen time. Personally, I would have liked for Jenna Dewan's character (I can't recall her name) in it longer, and not just because she's hot (although that's a part of it. This movie has some really nice-looking female cast members) but also because, gathering by what was on the screen, her character seems to get drawn quite deeply into the whole web of the Ju-On curse, but we see only a brief moment of its results rather than developing this point.
It probably comes off like I'm saying that everything that could go wrong does, but that's not it. It's just that we've got a really good movie here, but it could have been better - quite a bit better in fact. If there's more scenes shot, I hope they include them in the extended edition (which apparantly Is going to be quite a bit longer, so that's a good sign). The theatrical edition alone is good; with some of the angles allowed to play out longer it could be great. Even the theatrical cut 'as is' is worth getting though. You may also want to check out 'Ju-On 2', for an entirely different story following up the original events.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on December 26, 2004
After seeing the horrible "reworking" done on Nakata Hideo's scare-fest "RING" by director Gore Verbinski and DreamWorks-- and seeing how director Walter Salles intends to 'one-up' Verbinski with his complete mangling of another Nakata masterpiece, "HONOGURAI MIZU NO SOKO KARA" (currently in production as "DARK WATER" with Disney/Touchstone as joint culprit) --I had some hesitation about wanting to see the Hollywood remake of "JUON." But four specific things fueled my interest in this Occidental revision entitled "The Grudge":
(1) It would keep the story set in Japan, using many of the same sets and actors of the original series;
(2) Sam Raimi ("The Evil Dead") not only put up the money to have this movie remade, but he was so appreciative of the original Japanese theatrical production (and so confident of the success of the remake) that he was instrumental in getting "JUON" a wide US distribution even before the remake was completed and released to theatres;
(3) Raimi insisted that Shimizu Takashi, the director of the original productions, be retained as the director of the US remake as well;
(4) The pre-release trailers of the film made it unambiguously obvious that, unlike the distorted crud given to us by the teams of DreamWorks/Verbinski & Disney/Salles, "The Grudge" was going to be a true "remake" that remained VERY faithful to the original material.
Of course, none of that could guarantee that I'd be 100% satisfied with the result because, sadly, I wasn't. But that doesn't mean it was a bad movie or a failed experiment -- there is still much to like about this movie even for hardened "Juon Junkies" like myself. It's just that this film, as faithful a remake as it was, just didn't have the right kind of "texture": Gone was the gloominess & ambiance of the original productions, gone was the slow-paced and the tension build-up, gone was the "REAL" reason Saeki Takeo murdered his family (but, of course, reusing the original Japanese cast as the Saeki family, that really could not have been helped short of casting Jason Scott Lee or Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa in the "Kobayashi-sensei/Peter" role), and gone was the "REAL" reason Kayako makes that unsettling croaking noise (and it's not the reason they try to make you believe it is in the remake). There was never a moment in the film where I was not aware that I was watching a "Hollywood" production -- all of the "Asian qualities" I liked so much about the original series just weren't in this movie, and it's not because of the presence of Caucasian actors and English dialogue. My difficulty in relating to this remake stems from the fact that the presentation was too bright, too loud, too fast, too sanitized, too refined, too perfect -- lacking all the "rawness" and the pure emotion of the original series.
For those not all that familiar with what I'm talking about, "The Grudge" is based on a series of movies called "JUON" or "JU-ON" (literal translation: "curse grudge"). It began as a two-part 'V-Cinema' (Japan's version of 'made-for-television/video') series called, appropriately, "JUON" and "JUON 2" -- which were marketed (but not "officially" titled) with the English companion title, "THE CURSE." Because of the immediate success of these two V-Cinema productions, writer/director Shimizu Takashi was given a bigger budget to work with along with a green light to begin work on a theatrical version, that was released under the name, "JUON" -- which, after a successful run in theatres throughout Asia, was followed by a theatrical sequel called, you guessed it, "JUON 2." In order to alleviate some of the confusion that was certain to arise, "JUON" and "JUON 2," the theatrical versions, were distinguished from their V-Cinema counterparts by being given the marketed (yet still "unofficial") English title, "THE GRUDGE."
Contrary to popular misinformation spreading about, "Juon" (theatrical) is not a remake of "Juon" (v-cinema), but is, along with the theatrical sequel, a "continuation" of the same story; much like "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" is a 'continuation' of the original Star Trek television series' "Space Seed" episode. So, in actuality, the theatrical release of "Juon" and its sequel are best described as "Juon, part 3" and "Juon, part 4" respectively.
Because most of the people who learn of the original story generally become familiarized only with the first theatrical production ("Part 3"), they naturally assume that "The Grudge" is a remake of that film, when in reality the Western remake incorporates important story elements from both the first 'theatrical' production ("Part 3") and the first 'video' production ("Part 1"), thereby providing much of the "back story" one would normally not have if they were only familiar with the theatrical releases of the original story. So, in this sense, "The Grudge" provides some important (but really not all that necessary) background details for those who have seen "Juon" (the movie) but were unable to gain access to the original V-Cinema productions.
Anyway, as the opening screen text explains (in all five films), "Juon" refers to [paraphrasing] a curse that is born when someone dies violently in the grip of a powerful rage where there is great resentment, etc., etc. Because of having died such an undignified death, the resentment (or 'grudge') lingers & festers in the place(s) where the horrific murders occurred, which then indiscriminately lashes out at ANYONE (male, female, adult, child, rich, poor, married, single, Asian, Caucasian, Terran, Martian, whatever) who trespasses upon the cursed site -- in this case, the central location where the curse resides & emanates from is a typical Japanese "middle-class" house (in the V-Cinema, it is the same house plus another apartment in a different part of town). The curse does not always manifest itself right away; in fact, it might take years before the cursed spirits enact their rage against their victims -- and the victims are not always dispatched the same way: some get strangled, some get literally ripped to pieces, others just "disappear," and so on. The spectres are also not bound by the time/space continuum as we know it, often creating temporal shifts and so-forth. Also, in the "Juon" series, each attack has the potential for creating a new "juon" (i.e., the victim could then be 'reborn,' as it were, as another vengeful spirit), but "The Grudge" plays down this aspect of the curse and pretty much just sticks with building up the body count. And unlike "RING," there is no way to break the curse or to keep it from spreading other than to just stay out of that damned house.
And though Mr. Raimi chose to keep the story set in its native Japan and limited the use of Caucasian actors, I am convinced that the film could have just as easily been set in NYC, L.A., or here in Honolulu, where heavy Asian populations reside and speak English as their native language, assuming that it was his intent was to cater to Japanese or other Asian cultural themes. Such a move could have been just as effective and would have given him better rationale for using Caucasian-American actors. But because of using a new cast of white American characters in Japan while having key members of the Japanese cast reprise their original roles, the story as it plays out in the remake loses some of its effectiveness and justifications, due to the inability to duplicate certain situations which account for some of the specific behaviors associated with certain characters, thus resulting in slightly different interpretations of the two films.
As far as recommending this movie on its own merits, I'd have no problem encouraging the 'uninitiated' to give it a fair look.
To those who are familiar with any of the "Juon" presentations (esp. those privileged enough to have viewed all four original entries), my recommendation comes a bit harder. Again, as I've already expressed, my specific prejudices have already influenced my decision to not include this remake in my personal collection, but if you're stoked to see a remake that is "truly" a remake, which remains very faithful to the original and refuses to take "dumbed-down" Hollywood-style 'liberties' with the source material, then you just might appreciate this movie on that level. On the other hand, if you, like myself, appreciated the ethereal qualities and slow-pace of the originals, I'm not so enthusiastic about recommending it outright, and I would suggest renting it out first before jumping in head-first.
In any event, it's really not a terrible movie; and for newbies, it could open a whole new window into Asian cinema. ~ Aloha!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 19, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
If I learned anything from watching The Grudge (2004) last night its that malevolent spirits are very messy, and don't pick up after themselves. Perhaps that's part of their modus operandi...they come into your home, create a huge mess, and then while your attention is focused on cleaning up the place, that's when they choose to scare the heebie jeebies out of you. Well, few things, cinematically speaking, scare the heebie jeebies out of me anymore (real life is infinitely more frightening), but I did think this film was, at the very least, entertaining, and provided some spooky visuals and an interesting and fairly simple story. Co-written and directed by Takashi Shimizu, The Grudge is actually a remake of a Japanese film he did previously titled Ju-on: The Grudge (2003), which I have not seen, so I can't comment or compare without sounding foolish. Appearing in the film is Sarah Michelle Gellar (I Know What You Did Last Summer)...does anyone else find it slightly pretentious to consistently use all three names? But I digress...also appearing is Jason Behr ("Dawson's Creek"), William Mapother (Lords of Dogtown), Clea DuVall (Identity), KaDee Strickland (Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid), Grace Zabriskie (Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me), Ted Raimi (Man with the Screaming Brain), Ryo Ishibashi (Dog Star), and Bill Pullman, the guy who played the President of the United States in Roland Emmerich's bloated and flawed science fiction orgasmofest masterpiece Independence Day (1996)...I rip on Emmerich because I think he's one of the worst kinds of filmmakers (load the movie with costly special effects to hide the fact its lacking in everything else, including an actual story) but in a purely visual sense his films can be fun...
The film begins with some text telling us that when a really angry person bites during a fit of unprecedented rage, the negative energies stick around, creating some wickedly awesome bad mojo that waits to glom onto unsuspecting individuals who happen to visit the area, thus consuming their juicy and effervescent life force. Sarah Michelle Gellar plays Karen Davis, an exchange student living in Japan with her boyfriend Doug (Behr) who's quite the hunk with his perfectly tousled hair...you know the style, it's the one that someone spends two hours and a whole lot of money at the hairdressers for to get that `just woke up' look (I get it every morning for free)...anyway, Karen, who's a nurse of sorts, receives an assignment to provide daytime care for a really creepy infirmed elderly woman (Zabriskie) after the mysterious disappearance of the previous caregiver named Yoko...alas, poor Yoko, I knew her not, Horatio, but she was a pretty, young, hello kitty maiden...anyway, Karen arrives at the house, sensing something odd, but goes about performing her chores. Turns out the crazy lady lives with her son (Mapother) and his wife (DuVall), neither of whom return home, prompting Karen to call her boss (Raimi) as she doesn't want to leave the goony old bat alone...but guess what? They're not alone...at least not in that house, as it has a violent history, and something was left behind, something in the form of a small, nekkid Japanese boy with a whole lot of eyeliner...and a big mouth...(the evil takes on many forms, but this was the oddest)
First of all, does anyone else think William Mapother is kinda creepy? I'm not talking about his character, but the man himself...his face is all scrunched up and too small for his head, reminding me of one of those angry midgets from the Phantasm movies...well, I suppose I'm no Adonis myself, and he's probably a very kind fellow...as I said before, I enjoyed this film. It sort of reminded me of a Japanese version of The Amityville Horror, but, instead of Satan moving in and causing all sorts of mischief, we have a nondescript evil entity, the result of a past incident of great anger and violence (the Japanese detective referred to it an `emotional stain'), indiscriminately preying on unsuspecting visitors who happen to enter the abode. I might be tempted to label this a haunted house story, but that's not entirely true as the malevolent force wasn't confined to the house, but rather latched on to individuals who spent time within the four walls, and subsequently followed them wherever they went until...well, let's just say following them around was by far the least harmful thing it would do...the story was actually pretty simple, but told in a way to make it appear more complicated. What I mean is instead of proceeding on a linear path, the film is edited in such a way that we see past sequences mixed in with scenes of the present, as they story crosses timeline boundaries, weaving three, connected tales into one. This kind of thing can get messed up very easily, but here they kept it clean, orderly, and understandable. The main one involves Sarah Michelle Gellar's character, the second involves the family currently residing in the house, and the third features the family that lived in the house three years past, and the ones responsible for all the stuff going on presently. Oddly, there seemed to be less focus on the characters and more on the story itself, which may be a result of cultural differences, I'm not sure, but it felt intentional, so I went with it...there are some good scares throughout the film, many the result of something seemingly innocuous in the background coming forth to surprise an unsuspecting audience, along with a few, drawn out sequences designed to create a sense of suspense. The overall effect for me was a permeating sense of unease, as the evil was clinging to the characters, biding its time. Overall I thought the cinematography was really beautiful, and I especially liked those long and foreboding shots, as they developed a real sense of tension. If you're looking for some visceral thrills, you'll probably be disappointed as the blood n' guts factor is minimal, but in terms of a spooky ghost story, the film does very well. I have only seen the PG-13 version, but there is an R rated directors cut available on DVD, one that features about six or seven minutes of extra footage.
The picture on this DVD, presented in widescreen (1.85:1) anamorphic high definition, looks very sharp and clean and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio comes through very well. The PG-13 version that I have has a commentary track with producer Sam Raimi, screenwriter Stephen Susco, actors Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ted Raimi, KaDee Strickland, and Jason Behr, along with a couple of others. It also features a five part, `making of' documentary titled `A Powerful Rage', a featurette titled `Under the Skin' - A medical explanation of fear response in film, along with trailers, one for this film, along with The Forgotten (2004), Guess Who (2005), Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid (2004), Boogeyman (2005), Riding Giants (2004), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Man of the House (2005), and Mirrormask (2005). The Director's Cut DVD contains a few more extras, so if you are planning on buying this film, keep an eye on which version you're getting, depending on what you're looking for...
By the way, did anyone notice how I got through this entire review without mentioning The Ring (2002)?
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 7, 2005
The violent circumstances of a Japanese family's death have given rise to a curse in which all who enter their old house are stalked and killed by demons representing the dead family. That's not much of a plot, which is why this isn't much of a movie. In scene after scene, we watch a hapless person bumble through an abandoned area, slowly coming to the realization that they are not alone. They all eventually succumb to the fear that envelopes them, and the demons manifest themselves in a variety of creepy ways before dispatching the bumblers. The production values are high, and the scenes are very creepy/scary/disturbing, which is saying something. But any attempt to inject reason or logic into viewing the movie bursts the bubble, and ultimately, there's just not enough to sustain a feature film.
16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2005
Japan has a long, ghostly tradition with beings from beyond the grave. Nemerous stories and legends in Japan of these otherworldly visitors abound. Ghosts often play key roles in Kabuki theater and were a favorite though perhaps somewhat overly-used character by Kabuki playwrights. Many of the ghosts that appear in plays and stories are females seeking revenge for wrongs done to them during their lifetime typically by cruel, heartless husbands.
In the old ghost stories, vengeful Japanese ghosts would continue haunt their victims until they went insane, died, or at least made some form of restitution to appease the angry spirits. Some Japanese ghosts were born out of tragedy or sorrow and would haunt any person who came near. These spirits were particularly feared because they represented a danger to all unless they were somehow put to rest.
Although I knew about the horrific nature of old Japanese ghosts, I had thought modern Japanese ghosts would be more polite and demur. I had imagined a modern Japanese ghost timidly coming up to someone and saying "Suimasen (Excuse me)! BOO! Gomen naisai (I'm sorry)!" before whisking away. "The Grudge" (2004) showed me how wrong I was about modern Japanese phantoms.
"The Grudge," starring Sarah Michelle Gellar of TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" fame, depicts a haunting by very impolite spirits. Gellar plays an American student nurse in Tokyo who accidentally gets involved with a haunted house that has the nasty habit of killing visitors. The ghosts of the house were victims of a tragedy and now they rudely kill anyone who comes in contact with them.
The spirits' motivation for killing is explained at the beginning of the film in a brief written prologue which states: "when someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is left behind."
For Western audiences it may seem unusual that the two main ghostly antagonists who having been innocent victims of a violent death themselves would seek to cause the death of another innocent person. This flies in the face of a Western audience's sense of justice and fairness.
In many Western ghost stories, ghosts despite their spookiness are often motivated by the same things as living people namely the pursuit of justice for wrongdoings. The ghost of a murdered person will seek vengeance on the person or persons responsible for their death.
If a ghost is malevolent, it often turns out they were a bad person in life - as in the back-story to the main ghost character in the "Poltergeist" (1982-1986) movies.
To understand the nature of the supernatural entity of "The Grudge," one has to understand Japanese belief in spirits and the supernatural.
In the book "Ghosts and the Japanese: Cultural Experience in Japanese Death Legends" by Michiko Iwasaka, there is a passage which is a direct echo of the opening lines of the movie:
"Anyone who dies under great emotional stress creates an energy which is not easily dissipated; these yurei [ghosts], thus, have an impact on the local environment..."
This type of spirit is called a "goryo" - vengeful ghost. A goryo, however, is less like a consciously aware ghost that plots revenge like those featured in Kabuki plays and which would be more familiar to Western audiences. A goryo is more like the energy of the emotion created at the time of death. And to some degree it represents the unconscious mind free of the limitations and morals of the conscious analytic side.
Formal belief of goryo can be traced to the Heien Period (794-1185) when goryo were believed to be the angry spirits of political enemies that had died in exile or had been executed. The noted scholar Sugawara-no-Michizane became one such goryo. Through guileful manipulations, his enemies at the Imperial Court engineered his banishment from Kyoto. Sugawara died in extreme sorrow while in exile. Shortly after his death, a number of natural disasters occurred from droughts and epidemics to lightening strikes. It was believed to be caused by the angry spirit of Sugawara. To appease his goryo, Sugawara was given ceremonial promotion at the Imperial Court and eventually he was made into a god-spirit whom modern-day students pray to for success on their exams.
Goryo were vengeful spirits from the aristocracy who like Sugiwara have the power to affect the very seasons. Another more commonly experienced type was onryo. While less powerful than the goryo, the onryo were the ghosts that kept Japanese of then and now frightened out of their wits. Onryo are typically depicted with wild unkempt hair in a white burial kimono.
Although onryo could be either male or female, the most popular onryo were women. Often powerless while in life, these female onryo wielded great power in death. They would wreak vengeance on husbands and lovers who spurned or hurt them in life usually by driving them mad with fear.
Director Takashi Shimizu has built on this old concept to create a deadly onryo of a very frightening ghostly Mother and Son duo. "The Grudge" is an American remake of the original Japanese thriller "Ju-on" (2003). "Ju-on" is Shimizu's horror franchise. "Ju-on" grew out of a short TV story to become a successful and scary theater-release movie which was followed by a sequel. Famed Spiderman director, Sam Ramie, who helped produce the American remake thought "Ju-on" to be one of the scariest movies he had ever seen.
"The Grudge" opened in America during the Halloween season last fall but it has only recently opened in Japan. One notable difference is the inclusion of a few extra violent moments that were left out in the American version in order for the movie to keep a PG-13 rating in the States.
Overall there's not much of story. Some people die, then some other people die. Most of the film is just one scare after another with little character development or plot. "The Grudge" is more like a series of creepy vignettes strung together to make a film. However, these vignettes are quite scary. Its the cultural nuance of the goryo/onryo-type spirit that "The Grudge" represents and the genuinely frightening moments that makes the film an interesting experience for Japan-o-philes and horror fans alike.
On the Scare-O-Meter, "The Grudge" rates about 4 out 5 Screams.
On Plot, it rates about 2 stars out of 5; however the concept behind the movie rates about a 4.
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2006
I caught the theatrical release of this film on HBO and loved it! Definitely a must-see for any fan of Asian-style horror, creepy atmospherics, and nightmare imagery.
What really surprised me, though, was how much BETTER the Director's Cut is. The ending in this version is absolutely terrifying and macabre, much more so than the PG-13 release, and easily on par with the chilling climax of "The Ring". (It's not surprising they had to tone it down for the MPAA.) If you saw this in the theater and liked it, you have to check out this version.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Unlike The Grudge, which I found to be a total dud of a horror movie, The Grudge 2 actually has its creepier moments. In my opinion, this sequel is vastly superior to the original, so I'm a little perplexed as to why it has gotten such bad reviews. Like the original, it tells its story in a nonsequential manner. That's not as big a problem this time around, as you know to expect it, but I was a little frustrated by the fact that one big story arc seemed to have nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the movie until the very end. Of course, what matters here, even more than the story, is the scare factor, and The Grudge 2 greatly ratchets up the creepiness and atmosphere to satisfying levels, and it does so from the very start.
The story picks up immediately after the events chronicled in The Grudge, as Aubrey Davis (Amber Tamblyn of Joan of Arcadia fame) is dispatched to Japan to bring her sister Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) home. Gellar turns in a memorable cameo appearance, but the Grudge mantle is quickly placed solely around the neck of Tamblyn as she tries to figure out what happened to her sister. With no one but an interested journalist (Edison Chen) to help her, she eventually succeeds in learning much more than is healthy about "the house" and the curse associated with it. At the same "time" (remember, this is "Grudge time"), you have three young girls who make the mistake of visiting the ghost house; it's basically a prank by two cool girls to scare new girl Allison (Arielle Kebbel) - scare her they do, but let's just say this prank really, really backfires. It makes for a great, really creepy opening to the film and supplies some great moments the rest of the way. Then you have yet another story arc playing out that has the creepy little Japanese boy doing double duty in a Chicago apartment building. Following the arrival of a mystery guest next door, things take a very bad turn for the family of a little boy who is just far too curious for his own good. I didn't really care for this storyline, as it just seemed to interrupt all the good creepy stuff going on in Japan, the changes in family behavior happen far too drastically, and, most importantly, it's hard to put this aspect of the plot into context until the very end.
When I reviewed The Grudge, I said it would only be scary if you think hair and kids wearing mascara are scary. The Grudge 2 isn't what I would call scary, either, but it does deliver a number of really creepy moments. Gellar makes a most memorable exit from the story, Allison's experience in the "closet" may have you gripping the arms of your chair, and Aubrey makes for a most sympathetic character. Tamblyn doesn't have the screen presence of a Sarah Michelle Gellar, but the all-too-brief appearance of Jenna Dewan (the hottest woman on planet Earth) is enough to make you forget Gellar altogether. If you weren't impressed with the first film, you should definitely give this sequel a try.