Sequels sprout from the horror genre as inevitably as long black hair grows from Asia’s female ghosts; and movies in the ghost story/haunted house format are particularly sequel-friendly, since from the start they are themselves sequels of sorts, revisiting the scenes of crimes from the past that still leave their bloody imprint on the present.
Take Takashi Shimizu’s original shot-on-video telemovie Ju-On (2000), which reveals the fates of disparate people all unfortunate enough to have come into contact, directly or indirectly, with the suburban house where several years earlier Saeki Kayako was, along with her young son Toshio and his pet cat, brutally murdered in a crime of passion.
Kayako’s angry curse from beyond the grave engenders all manner of supernatural slayings, but has proven equally viral in the number of sequels it has spawned: from Ju-On 2 (also shot on video in 2000), to the features Ju-on: the Grudge (2002) and Ju-on: the Grudge 2 (2003), to the inevitable American reimagining The Grudge (2004), and with a third Japanese feature (Ju-On: The Grudge 3) and a second American one (The Grudge 2) both due for release later this year.
Yet what has prevented these serial hauntings from falling victim to the law of diminishing returns has been the ongoing, active involvement of writer/director Takashi Shimizu, who over many years has honed to creepy perfection the ever-expanding universe in which the Saeki grudge manifests itself. This has been Shimizu’s vision from first to last, and he knows how to stay true to its vengeful-corpse-in-the-attic origins while making it continue to seem fresh.
Ju-On: The Grudge 2, the second feature-length outing of Kayako and son, takes the same non-linear approach to narrative as its predecessors, allowing its seemingly self-contained episodes to circle gradually in on the event that kick-started all the horror, with little concern for the conventions of chronology or spatial continuity. Pregnant scream queen Kyoko (Noriko Sakai) appears to suffer a miscarriage after a strange run-in with the pale-faced boy Toshio (Yuya Ozeki) that leaves her fianc Masashi (Ayumu Saito) in a coma – but then Kyoko discovers that she is still carrying a healthy baby, even if its sex has mysteriously changed
TV presenter Tomoka (Chiharu Niyama) and her boyfriend Noritaka (Kei Horie) are haunted by the sound of knocking at the same time every night in the living room of their apartment. Make-up artist Megumi (Emi Yamamoto) finds the tools of her trade giving life to someone long dead. After auditioning for a new horror movie, schoolgirl Chiharu (Yui Ichikawa) keeps having nightmarish visions of herself trapped in a house that she has never before seen. Finally, Kyoko gives birth and Kayako (Takako Fuji) finds a new way to express her wrath.
What links all the victims to Kayako in Ju-On: The Grudge 2 is a horror TV show that features the now infamous Saeki house; yet so hermetic is the Ju-On universe that the device of a film-within-a-film, far from being some clever-clever postmodern contrivance (as in, say, New Nightmare or Scream 3), merely adds another layer of disorientation to Shimizu’s carefully constructed hall of mirrors, where past and future repeatedly burst into the present, dreams contend with reality, the dead force themselves upon the living, and characters execute their awful doom as though unable to deviate from a scenario already written for them. Here the trappings of modern life (cellphones, car radios, microphones, photocopiers, etc.) offer not so much protection against, as gateways to, Kayako’s implacable intrusions into reality, and even the security of a team of professional doctors can do nothing to prevent the troubled ghost’s next deadly incarnation.
Ju-On: The Grudge 2 may not have you jumping out of your seat with terror, but its labyrinthine irrationality proves far more haunting and uncanny than the cheap thrills and excessive exposition that have come to characterise Hollywood’s reimaginings of J-horror. And it gives fright wigs a whole new meaning…