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Fantasia ’15: Director and star talk “JU-ON: THE FINAL CURSE”

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With seven sequels under its belt (10, if you count the U.S. GRUDGE entries), JU-ON has proven to be the most durable series in the Japanese fright genre. Its spine-tingling angry-mom-and-creepy-son ghost combo has been with us since 1998; now, if titles are to be believed, the saga is wrapping up in its latest installment, JU-ON: THE FINAL CURSE, which has its international premiere tonight at Montreal’s Fantasia festival.

As is standard for the franchise, JU-ON: THE FINAL CURSE follows the plight of several people caught up in the from-beyond-the-grave curse of Kayako and Toshio. The story picks up from where last year’s JU-ON: THE BEGINNING OF THE END left off: Distraught Mai (Airi Taira) takes matters into her own hands by attempting to piece together the reasons for her schoolteacher sister Yui’s disappearance. Discovering one of Yui’s class photos, Mai recognizes one of the students from a dreamlike encounter she had with her sister. Checking school records, she discovers him to be Toshio.

Meanwhile, Toshio’s aunt has adopted the orphaned boy into her home, and soon enough, he is targeting his high-school-aged cousin Rio and her friends for death. At the same time, Mai is hot on Toshio’s trail, not knowing that Kayako has begun haunting her boyfriend Sota.

Although the series is closely associated with its creator and original director Takashi Shimizu, the reins of JU-ON: THE FINAL CURSE were turned over to Masayuki Ochiai, no stranger to the genre himself: He has directed a number of well-known horror films, such as PARASITE EVE, THE HYPNOTIST, INFECTION and the U.S. remake of SHUTTER. Ochiai sought to differentiate THE FINAL CURSE from past JU-ONs by removing the series’ unifying force: the Saeki home, the source of the initial curse.

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“This time around,” the director says, “we started with the idea, ‘What if the ghost doesn’t go into the house, but picks up and leaves instead?’ So far, the story has been about someone who enters the house and gets infected with the grudge curse—a kind of virus, if you will. Even if you don’t enter the house and make contact with a ghost, you get infected. Then, before you know it, someone close to you might become infected too.”

For Airi, being cast in a JU-ON film was both a blessing and, well, a curse, as the actress admits to having a serious fear of genre movies. “As I scare easily, I thought, ‘A horror film? Me?’ ” Taira admits. “But as the series is so well-known, I couldn’t help but think, ‘Wow! Am I really going to be in the JU-ON series?’ So, getting cast came as a double shock for me.”

“I learned after she was cast that she has a lot of trauma over scary things,” Ochiai confirms. “She can’t even look at a fright mask. So I think it was difficult for her, but she worked very hard on the film.”

Taira expresses a great deal of gratitude for the director and his staff putting up with her difficulties with scary stuff. “On a regular set, I’d be scolded for crying,” the actress says. “But everyone was understanding and did their best to cheer me up. In return, I tried to live up to their support. This became my motivation on the set.

“This is the finale of a very popular series,” the actress continues. “I’m sure everyone already understands the appeal of JU-ON as a horror film. Moreover, my role of Mai is about the loss of a family member and the loss of someone she lives with. In this way, JU-ON: THE FINAL CURSE is not only about scares, but also about the sorrow of losing things of importance. I would be happy if the audience sympathizes with Mai’s emotions.”

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Norman England
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