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Enter the Crypt as John "The Unimonster" Stevenson and his merry band of ghouls rants and raves about the current state of Horror, as well as reviews Movies, Books, DVD's and more, both old and new.

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From the Desk of the Unimonster...

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06 June, 2009

DVD Review: JU-ON ~aka~ THE GRUDGE

Title: JU-ON ~aka~ THE GRUDGE

Year of Release—Film: 2002

Year of Release—DVD: 2002

DVD Label: Lion’s Gate Home Entertainment

One of the few sources for original horror for the past several years has been Asia, and the prolific studios of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and most notably, Japan. Fans whose first thought upon hearing the word “Japan” in relation to a genre film is men in foam-rubber dinosaur suits stomping on scale models of Tokyo need to rethink those impressions. Films like RINGU, KAÏRO, TOMIE, ÔDISHON, and others have caught on with American audiences, inspiring in a few cases an on-going string of (what else) American-made remakes. One of these remakes is based on Takashi Shimizu’s excellent series of films entitled JU-ON (THE GRUDGE). I’ll be reviewing THE GRUDGE, the American-made remake produced by Sam Raimi, separately; here, I’ll limit the discussion (except for the purpose of drawing comparisons) to Shimizu’s original version.

As both films were directed by Shimizu, they are unavoidably similar in both style and substance, though there are a few significant differences. While both films are suitably dark, in keeping with their subject matter, the original film has a much more effective use of atmosphere and style than the remake. Shimizu’s direction is subtle and meandering; he doesn’t hit you over the head with the plot, but lets it develop slowly over the course of the film. Don’t expect to have things laid out in stair-step fashion, though. In keeping with the style of most Japanese Horror films, explanations are kept to a bare minimum, leaving the viewer to draw their own conclusions.

The cast is, for the most part, young and attractive, though due to my inability to speak Japanese it’s hard for me to pass judgment on their acting ability. Visually, they are able to convey adequately the emotional impact of the various situations revolving around the hostile spirits, which suffices for my enjoyment. Several of the actors, especially Misa Uehara as Izumi Toyama, are particularly good at conveying a sense of terror as events unfold around them.
The photography, by Tokusho Kikumura, is stunning in its realism and simplicity. Rather than being dependent on a host of Special Effects to create the mood and atmosphere, Kikumura uses a skillfully understated approach to portray visually the ghosts, as well as using slight visual cues to indicate their presence, a’la THE SIXTH SENSE. The Special Effects in the film are used sparingly, and to great effect; not to advance the story, but to enhance it.

The Lion’s Gate DVD release of the film is very nicely done, with more extras than expected. There’s a rather interesting behind-the-scenes segment, deleted scenes, and various trailers, as well as the usual Director Commentary. One bonus that I really like is that it includes both dubbed and subtitled versions. Many people dislike subtitles, but I actually prefer them. I like hearing a film in it’s original language, and subtitles don’t pose any particular challenge to my enjoyment of the movie.

To sum it up, this is an all-around excellent film, and a great introduction to Japanese Horror, if that bug hasn’t already bitten you. It, like most examples of the recent J-Horror invasion, is visually different and appealing; dark and atmospheric; and tremendously innovative. I call it a Must-Have.

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