REVIEW: DVD Release: The Grudge

Film: The Grudge
Release date: 22nd October 2007
Certificate: 15
Running time: 92 mins
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito, Misa Uehara, Yui Ichikawa
Genre: Horror
Studio: E1
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

The feature-length debut of Ju-On - a vengeful and cursed spirit – which would go on to spawn remakes, sequels, and a proposed video game, whilst its premise would form the inspiration for a countless number of insipid horror rehashes.

As volunteer social worker Rika Nishina arrives at work one morning she receives, with ominous haste and little explanation, an assignment from her superior regarding a house she is required to go and investigate. Upon entering the house, she discovers it full of rubbish and completely abandoned but for an old woman, who merely lies silent on an old mattress. When Rika explores the house further she stumbles upon a ghostly pale young boy, Toshio, and is confronted by a series of unsettling sounds and shadows.

As the film progresses, we begin to discover more about the house and its dark past. The viewer learns of the previous owner’s brutal murder of his wife and child, and the consequent events which have plagued its inhabitants thereafter.

After having learned of the nature of the Ju-On spirit in the film’s short epilogue, we begin to piece together in our minds what lies behind the mystery surrounding the house, its past, and the little boy who confronts and plagues those who enter it…

One of the most prominent aspects about the way the film is shot is the startling realism which defines its character. Far from any kind of overtly supernatural or mystical quality to the film’s depiction, which we might well expect from a haunted house film of this kind, the shots are often unsettling in their asymmetry and skewed, shadow like form. This is not an aesthetically pleasing film with regard to the composition of its shots, and is consequently often difficult to watch.

The film’s narrative, however, in many ways contrasts this realism, with its elegance and non linear pattern. Characters enter and exit with unusual rapidity, and by the time the film is reaching its conclusion, we find we are following and empathising with a set of characters completely different from those with which the film began. This is not directly obvious to the viewer, however, as The Grudge moves with fluidity and effortless coherence. The result is a dissonance between the film’s narrative and the actual filmic depiction of its characters and events, which serves only to create a completely disturbing and often squeamish sense of reality.

The ghosts which haunt both the characters and the viewer throughout are those of the creepy and emotionless kind, which are now synonymous in Europe with J-Horror. The sub genre seems to be saturated with these terrifying characters, and The Grudge is no exception. Pale white, bony creatures contort and stretch their bodies and limbs, clamber down wooden stairways, and appear without warning at the climax of pivotal scenes.

What Takashi Shimizu manages to do in this film, however, is evoke an acute sense of sympathy towards its ghosts as it draws to a conclusion. As the film progresses, police detective Nakagawa starts to unravel the complexity surrounding Rika’s testimony about the day she first entered the house, and the little boy she discovered. The audience begin to contextualise these characters within both their history and the things that were done to them, rather than the things they are now doing. At the climax of one of the film’s final scenes, a ghostly, outstretched hand manages to evoke sympathy alongside terror.

Thus, the film’s narrative, no matter how much it jumps to and from various characters and temporal spaces, has a cyclical nature to it, managing to leave the audience at once unsettled and melancholic. The house itself becomes a symbol for wasted opportunities and wasted lives, both for the victims of the present apparitions and the apparitions themselves. This isn’t a film which leaves you merely with the memory of a few cheap scares, but makes you consider the shockwaves which result when human beings do terrible things to each other, and the negative consequences for those left behind.

The film was remade in America (with the same director), of course, casting Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead role. The introduction of an American girl working in Japan as the protagonist merely cheapened and limited the levels on which the film was able to work. In a sense, it merely served to mould the Japanese people and culture as some kind of post modern Other - an unknown country surrounding a familiar face. Often this created a one dimensional subtext, which missed out on the original’s ingenuity and intelligence. Takashi Shimizu’s original film creates a completely neutral space within which he can explore various themes to terrify and startle the viewer. Culture plays no part in it, as the story affects us only as human beings.

This is one of the best J Horror films to have reached the United Kingdom, and is quite rightly regarded as one of the most terrifying films of this century. IT


  1. This wasn't quite the debut, Shimizu made two feature-length Grudge movies before THE GRUDGE, albeit shot-on video. Called Ju-on: The Grudge 1 and 2, they are also not to be missed.

  2. forget the hollywood remake, this is the real deal. one of the best j-horror films ever