JULY 19, 2012
I have never found much to love in the Ju-On/Grudge series of films, finding their convoluted structure to be way too much work for what boiled down to repetitive tales of people being terrorized by croaking ghosts. They seem to be made for people who scare easily (not me), instead of folks who want suspense and scares wrapped up in compelling stories and characters (me), which is why I haven’t exactly jumped at the chance to watch Ju-On: White Ghost/Black Ghost despite the fact that it’s been on Instant for a while.
But on Thursdays my apartment is besieged by something scarier than any movie monster: loud landscapers. I don’t know how grass and shrubs can possibly grow so much in a 7 day period that would necessitate two hours or so of loud buzzing and cutting, but rain or shine they’re out there, every Thursday, drowning out the sound of whatever I’m doing or watching. Thus, I’ve learned to watch foreign language films on those days, because even though it’ll still drown out the score and such, I’ll at least be able to follow the story. And the only other one that caught my eye was another Japanese anthology, and I just did one of those. So back to the world of Toshio I go!
Well, surprisingly enough, I really dug White Ghost (aka Shiroi Rojo), which had the usual jigsaw puzzle structure but for once it really clicked with me (maybe Ju-Rei, which was basically a simplified Ju-On ripoff, has given me more appreciation for this sort of thing). I had a lot of fun trying to piece together the chronology before they spelled it out for me, and even though I wasn’t all that successful, I never felt confused either, which is far more important. Unlike Ju-Rei it’s not just straight up backwards, it jumps from, say, scene 6 to scene 2 to scene 12 to scene 1… you get the idea. Each of these little vignettes were given a title card (a character’s name) and lasted about 5 minutes each, and it really worked well – keeping you on your toes and never getting too slow.
The scares were also successful, which was even more surprising as I never found these as scary as The Ring or some of the others – the creaking noise is kind of creepy the first time around, sure, but the other films ran it into the ground. Luckily it’s kept to a minimum here, focusing more on traditional jump scares and other bits of creepiness. I particularly loved the sudden appearance of an extra finger on a Ouija board planchette (also, it was a hand-made board – 2nd of those this week!), and even if it gets increasingly goofy, the first time we see the crazed old lady holding a basketball like she’s ready to smash someone’s face in with it, it works like gangbusters.
In fact I began to wish that it was its own full length film, instead of half of an anthology with Black Ghost (Kuroi Shojo), which wasn’t nearly as successful. In fact I have to wonder if the back and forth structure was the director’s intention (each half had a different creative team) or if she had to rework it in order to fit the usual MO of the series. Not only were the scenes re-arranged seemingly at random, but the story didn’t benefit from filling in blanks later. If anything it would have been better to just go in order, as the central mystery wasn’t how everyone is connected but who the real villain was, information that still comes near the end anyway. Yet it comes after some of the needless confusion that plagued some of the other films (and directly after a story where it worked perfectly), so it feels like a giant letdown.
It’s also just not as scary or exciting; the best part comes right at the beginning, to characters who ultimately don’t have much of a role in the story (the only benefit to not going in order – if you re-edited this entry chronologically it would end on a really pointless epilogue, as it’s basically just padding), and it doesn’t quite fit into the usual Ju-On type of story either. Basically, this woman got pregnant with what would have been twins, but one twin absorbed the other. Now the girl is like 8 years old or so and has a “cyst”, which of course is the undeveloped twin – who is angry, I guess. So it’s all about her getting out and killing a few folks, but how is that a Ju-On? How did something not even close to becoming a fully developed being get so angry at a botched, reverse mitosis? It's a fun idea for its own stand-alone movie, but as a sequel it’s way too off the beaten path, I think, and isn’t creepy or unique enough to justify the diversion.
As I understand it, the two films were released separately in Japan, because they’re OK with movies being an hour long over there. However there is one minor tie between them – there’s a cab driver who plays a minor role in White who pops up briefly in Black. And Toshio also appears in little random cameos in both entries, presumably just to tie it into the original series (the house makes a brief appearance as well). What’s Japanese for “Fan-wank”?
Original Ju-On guru Takashi Shimizu (who I believe has directed every entry in the series, including the American remakes except for the DTV part 3) took a backseat this time around; contributing the stories and producing both entries but otherwise leaving directorial duties up to Ryuta Miyake (White) and Mari Asato (Black), neither of whom I am familiar with, but I’ll definitely look into some of the former’s other work if it’s readily available over here. In my opinion he did better than Shimizu himself usually managed, so I’m curious what he can do with original ideas.
What say you?