Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Produced by Taka Ichise
Written by Takashi Shimizu
Director of Photograpy Kikumura Tokusho
Music by Sato Shiro
Cast: Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito, Yui Ichikawa, Yuya Ozeki & Takako Fuji

2003/92 mins/Color/5.1 Dolby Digital
1.85:1 anamorphic/Japanese/Japan/NTSC Region 1

Review from the Lions Gate Home Entertainment DVD

Like many of you, I've dabbled in the foreign market to try and find something new and different. And when I heard about the JU-ON films, I decided to get the Region 3 version of the first theatrical release and check it out...and I've never been the same. I certainly wasn't surprised when it was announced that the film was being remade in America as THE GRUDGE (which, unfortunately, I've yet to see, and thus won't be commenting on). And although I try to be open to the idea of remakes, I always want audiences to experience the original film, and thankfully Lions Gate brought JU-ON to the States for a brief theatrical run, and now to DVD.

At some time in the past, husband Takeo Saeki (Takashi Matsuyama) killed his wife Kayako (Takako Fuji) and a cat in a house in Tokyo, and their son, Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) mysteriously disappeared. The film then goes on to focus on the house and how the subsequent inhabitants are effected. The movie introduces the idea that if someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, a curse is passed on to others. Through a series of interconnecting vignettes, which take place in various points in time, we learn that anyone who enters the house falls prey to a curse and soon dies. This death often involves the sight of a ghostly boy (Toshio) or a pale, blood-splattered woman (Kayako). As the film progresses, and we see more and more characters enter the house, we learn that no one is immune to the curse.

I've always been a fan of creepy, haunted house movies and I've found that the good ones are few and far between. Although the idea of a haunted house film seems very simple, we've seen in the past that it can be very difficult to pull of the shocks. JU-ON leaps this hurdle to become one of the creepiest and most nerve-wracking movies ever. Writer/director Takashi Shimizu has taken a very simple premise and created a (fairly) unique universe. While the true narrative of the film is very simplified and at times, difficult to decipher (I'm still not sure if I understand the ending), Shimizu eschews traditional character development and storytelling in order to create a true shock machine. In a nice twist, the first ghostly encounters occur inside the house, so we assume that a traditional haunted house film is in store. But, once we learn that the curse can strike anywhere, the stakes, and the suspense, are raised considerably. The use of PULP FICTION-like vignettes makes the film somewhat confusing, but it also forces the viewer to truly pay attention as we slowly learn how these ghosts work.

The DVD case for JU-ON states that the film is rated-R "For Some Disturbing Images". That may be the understatement of the year. While the story in JU-ON is certainly interesting, it's the undeniably creepy visuals which truly make the film work. Many Japanese horror films have gained notoriety for their visuals, but few pour the bizarre imagery on like JU-ON. From the first appearance of a ghost, right until the finale, the movie bombards us with intense images, mostly focusing on the ghostly Toshio and the ghastly Kayako. And as we watch the film, we learn that the ghosts can appear anywhere, so, as with HALLOWEEN, we learn to watch the background for any appearance of the protagonists. These images are combined with an excellent sound design and once you hear that throaty sound effect which accompanies the ghosts, you'll never forget it. JU-ON isn't 100% original (much of it falls in line with RINGU and its clones), but it's a very satisfying film that delivers the goods. Now, I can't wait for the even freakier JU-ON 2 to hit Region 1.

JU-ON haunts DVD courtesy of Lions Gate Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good, as it shows very little grain and no defects from the source print. The picture is very clear and sharp. There is no overt evidence of edge-enhancement and the artifacting is kept to a minimum. The colors look fine and the action is always visible in the dark scenes. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, which is good, but not as impressive as the track on the Region 3 DVD that I have. For example, when the first ghost (the black mist) appears, the throaty sound encircles the room, going from speaker to speaker in rapid succession on the R3 disc. But, on the R1 DVD, that same sound effect simply comes from the front channels. It sounds good, but it's nowhere near as effective. Otherwise, the dialogue is sharp and clear, and there is a generous amount of surround effects and subwoofer action.

Unlike many import DVDs, Lions Gate has graced JU-ON with several extras. We start with an audio commentary from Sam Raimi, executive producer of THE GRUDGE, and his long-time friend, Scott Spiegel. As Raimi was instrumental in having an American remake of JU-ON created, he's a great choice for this commentary (although I'd like to hear Shimizu's thoughts on the film), but this is an odd track. Instead of offering great insight into the film, we soon learn that Raimi and Spiegel know little about the movie, so essentially, it's like watching the movie with a group of friends, as they compliment the film and its style. Things are made even weirder by their constant corny jokes. The remainder of the extras are kicked off with the theatrical trailer for the U.S. release for JU-ON. The rest of the extras are in Japanese with English subtitles. "Behind the Scenes" is broken-up into three segments; "Hitomi" (11 minutes), "Izumi and Chiharu" (8 minutes), and "Rika" (11 minutes). This is simply behind-the-scenes footage from the set which was shot-on-video. The segments contain some interaction with the camera, but we basically see Shimizu directing scenes and rehearsing with his actresses. Next up are five "Cast and Crew Interviews". The longest comes from director Takashi Shimizu (5 minutes), as he discusses the origins of the film and his influences. The other interviews, Megumi Okina (Rika) (90 seconds), Misaki Ito Hitomi) (1 minute), Misa Uchara (Izumi) (1 minute), and Yui Ichikawa Chiharu) (1 minute), are much shorter. The extras are capped off with five deleted scenes, including an extended ending, each complete with commentary from Shimizu. These brief scenes don't bring anything new to the story, but they are certainly worth watching.





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Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2004. ©

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