JU-ON (2002)

Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on November 9, 2004, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

If you’ve been following my online reviews, you know that I’m not the biggest fan of Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on. It’s not like he needs me, though, since that honor goes to Sam Raimi, who not only sponsored Shimizu’s recent, very successful U.S. remake The Grudge, but provided a commentary (with cohort Scott Spiegel) that gives Lions Gate’s U.S. DVD of Ju-on that little something extra. The company has additionally included a collection of supplements (evidently ported over from the Japanese disc) that make this one extensive package, even if some of those extras are on the insubstantial side.

Raimi says that his appreciation of Ju-on stems from the fact that its subtler approach to shivers sent him “back to horror school,” though you won’t get much of an education about the movie or its maker here. Raimi and Spiegel certainly convey their appreciation of Shimizu’s frights (“Ooh, that’s creepy!”), but there’s little discussion of his working methods or his place in the Japanese cinema scene. That said, there is fun to be had with the commentary, as the duo use the film as a launching pad to discuss topics ranging from the difference between male and female protagonists in horror movies to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The Evil Dead is of course touched on, as is The Grudge (which had wrapped just a day before the talk was recorded); assorted jokes, many of them intentional groaners, are scattered throughout. My favorite is Spiegel’s quip that depicting Japanese characters running from their houses in terror is difficult, since they have to stop to put their shoes on first.

The duo also extol the virtues of subtitled foreign-film releases, disdaining the use of dubbing; as if to prove their point, Lions Gate has included a 2.0 English track on the disc. An admirable stab is made to match the lip movements, but some of the voices seem mismatched to the characters and the overall effect is awkward and distracting. Better to stick with the 5.1 Japanese track (with subtitles), which also better conveys Shimizu’s sparing but effective use of sound. His equally minimalist visual style (which Raimi, for some reason, compares to Dario Argento at one point!) is nicely complemented by the 1.85:1 transfer’s clean picture and naturalistic colors.

The most informative of the special features (all of which are presented in subtitled Japanese) is an interview with Shimizu in which he explains the origins of the Ju-on project and his particular fear filmmaking technique, which he actually finds more explicit than those of his home-country contemporaries. On-camera chats with four of Ju-on’s actresses are included as well, but none of them have much of substance to say, and these bits are mercifully brief. They also receive on-camera time in a trio of behind-the-scenes video segments that, while not especially illuminating, are of interest simply for the opportunity to watch the director in action—even doing the female ghost Kayako’s trademark croak during one scene. The performers playing the spirits themselves are conspicuously absent from this making-of material, perhaps in an effort to preserve their mystique.

Finally, there’s a collection of deleted scenes, presented in fairly rough letterboxed video form with subtitled commentary by Shimizu. Most of these are overstated bits excised by the director lest they come off as “laughable,” though there’s also a five-minute alternate ending that, while it does slow the pace down, adds an extra spooky dimension to the proceedings. And it is in Shimizu’s voiceover for this piece that we finally find out why Kayako keeps making that damn creepy noise.

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