Ju-Rei: The Uncanny (2004)

MAY 22, 2012


Hey now! I understood this J-horror flick! I’m not dumb after all! Or maybe the movie itself is dumb. Either way, despite a potentially disastrous approach and a murky transfer that made it hard to tell some of the younger characters apart in the early scenes, Ju-Rei: The Uncanny (Japan: Ju-rei: Gekijô-ban - Kuro-ju-rei) was pretty coherent once the film’s MO became clear, and was short enough to forgive its flaws.

The main flaw being that it’s kind of a ripoff of Ju-On, with the angry ghosts, a back-story involving a murder in a dysfunctional family, and a “chain” of victims, presented in non-chronological order. It’s also 1.33 like the original (2000) Ju-On film, and shot on video – if someone caught a scene out of context they’d be forgiven for mistaking one for the other. But it’s much easier to follow, and not to mention more action-packed – someone dies every few minutes!

Or, at the end of every chapter. The movie is told backwards, not unlike Memento, so the first thing we see (“Chapter 10”) would be a typical “setting things up for a sequel” scene that’s not really connected to the others as strongly. Then Chapter 9 shows what happened to the girl that the girls in Chapter 10 were talking about, and it ends with her finding the corpse of her father – who is the focus of Chapter 8. And so on, building all the way back to the original murder that spawned the ghosts who do the killings in the first few chapters. It took until Chapter 8 or 7 to fully wrap my head around it (mainly, again, due to the confusion about who was who thanks to the underlit photography coupled with the constant looking at the bottom of the screen instead of the faces), but once I did I found it refreshingly easy to track.

It’s also well written, with little tidbits being dropped into the narrative that won’t be important until “later”. Like Memento, watching the film in sequence wouldn’t work at all (ever try that feature on the DVD? It becomes the boringest movie ever), because halfway through you’d be hearing the vague news report about a killing that you already saw, and it would basically be an aimless movie about a bunch of people dying due to their Kevin Bacon-y connections to the person who dies in Chapter 1. It might be an interesting experiment to watch it in order, but it would ruin the fun and suspense of the film.

Especially because even watching the “right” way it gets a bit repetitious, since it doesn’t take long to realize that whoever we’re following will be dead by the end of their chapter. Thus, you’re always watching “dead men walking”, with the only element of surprise being WHEN they die – I loved that one chapter (3?) was only like 90 seconds long as the person got offed pretty quickly (most chapters run around 7 minutes). And by the end (the beginning) you’re watching characters that you’ve never met for the most part, so it doesn’t really have a “big climax” like a normal movie would – the pacing is pretty level from start to finish. Also, unlike Memento, what we learn at the end of the film doesn’t give much new insight to what we saw before – think about how heartbreaking Teddy’s murder at the beginning is when you discover how Leonard got on his trail to begin with at the end of the film. There’s nothing like that here, which is a drawback of not really having a main character.

The ghosts are cool, however – they’re basically blurry people standing around in the background more often than not, but it gives the viewer a Paranormal Activity-esque desire to constantly be scanning the frame to see where they might appear. There isn’t much actual violence in the film - most segments end with the ghost moving in for the kill, but it has a creepy vibe that should work on those who found even the US Grudge films to be terrifying. And again, it’s only 70 minutes long – people wait longer in line to go on a 3 minute roller coaster.

The disc doesn’t really have any extras; the trailer is there but it lacks any English options (the film itself is only available subtitled, no dub track – sorry, non-readers!), and manages to make the movie look even more like a soap opera or home movie than it already did. Then there’s “production credits” which just shows a few “other titles” (this film among them) along with the names of the disc’s producers. In other words, they might as well have just made this bare-bones and used up that little extra bit of disc space to improve the transfer. Just my opinion.

What say you?


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