The Grudge

Face the Fear

A haunted house, a brutal murder, and a curse that lives to kill and won’t die. Journey into the evolution of The Grudge!

by Lesley Smith

'Juon (Grudge): A curse born from a person who dies in the grip of a powerful rage. It grows and lingers in the places where that person lived. Those who encounter it die and a new curse is born...'

So begins each of the five films of The Grudge series, spawned from the mind of Japanese director Takeshi Shimizu. Beginning as an underground hit in the form of two straight-to-video movies with their origins in two short vignettes, The Grudge has now spread to America where a big-budget Hollywood production staring Sarah Michelle Gellar was released last year.

With Juon: The Grudge 3 in production in Japan and a second American sequel in pre-production, now is the perfect time to explore the depths of the curse.

It began innocently enough in 1998. Takeshi Shimizu came up with two short horror vignettes -- each with a runtime of around five minutes -- for Gakkô no Kaidan G (School Ghost Stories G), a collection of four ghost stories that were shown on Kansai TV, later released on video.

The Grudge

Katasumi (In a Corner) follows two teenagers, Kanna Murakami and Hisako Yoshida, as they feed their school's pet rabbit. When Kanna cuts her finger, Hisako goes to get antiseptic and a plaster from the main building. When she returns, Kanna is nowhere to be seen. Moments later, Hisako notices scuffling in the bushes, and she is backed into the corner by the crawling, bloodstained corpse of a woman with long black hair who can only croak as she advances. Hisako then sees the corpse of her friend lying by the still body of the rabbit, and Kanna beings to move...

4444444444 is named after the ten-digit number which appears on a lost cell phone picked up by a teenager -- later identified as Tsuyoshi Murakami -- as he passes by a dumpster on his way to school. He answers the phone, only to hear the sound of a cat hissing. The phone continues to ring. Each time that he answers, the only sound that Tsuyoshi hears is the cat. Finally, he asks why the caller is playing pranks, and a boy, revealed to be sitting next to him, answers. The boy is naked with ash-white skin. He opens his mouth, drooling black saliva and hissing like a cat...

These short films introduce the stars of the series. The unnamed woman, played by Takako Fuji, became Kayako Saeki, and the boy, played by Yuya Ozeki, became her son Toshio. These roles have been played by the same actors in each incarnation of the series. However, no back story was ever given, and the reason why the Murakami siblings and Hisako Yoshida encountered them was left unanswered until 2000.

Released in two parts, the V-Cinema productions of Juon: The Curse were well received in Japan. The two productions overlap significantly, and they were told in an episodic style similar to the movie Memento, as Shimizu had originally intended for the films to be a collection of connected vignettes. Each scene begins simply with a black screen and the white kanji of the name of the person that the scene centers around.

The Grudge

Focusing on a house in suburban Tokyo, and the lives and grizzly deaths of the families who live there, the tale begins at its end. Teacher Kobayashi visits the home of the Saeki family to find out why seven year old Toshio hasn't been attending school. He finds the child home alone, and he goes to sit with him. The house is filled with rubbish. Toshio is covered in Band-Aids, but there is no sign of Toshio's parents, Kayako and Takeo. Kobayashi studied teaching at the same college as both his pregnant wife and Kayako Kawamata, and he recollects seeing her picking up Toshio from school.

Then we move forward in time to where the house is clean and lived in by the Murakami family: Kanna, Tsuyoshi, and their mother, Yumi. The following segments explain the reason why Kanna, previously seen in Katasumi, had a fatal run-in with Kayako in the short film two years earlier. We also meet her brother, and he meets an unpleasant end as well, as does everyone connected to them, including tutor Yuki and Tsuyoshi's girlfriend, Mizuho.

Because of the episodic nature of the film, we get an omnipresent view of the demise of the family and their nearest and dearest. In one scene, Mizuho calls the Murakami house using a haunted cell phone -- the same one found by her boyfriend in 4444444444 -- to find out if Tsuyoshi is home. The scene changes to Yumi Murakami answering Mizuho's call, while her deceased daughter Kanna arrives home, minus her jaw.

Returning to the beginning, we meet Kayako, Toshio and Takeo. Despite the fact that Takeo's spirit does indeed roam the house, the spotlight falls entirely on Kayako and the white-skinned Toshio. Despite the movie's budget look, Kayako's eerie croaking -- caused by a crushed windpipe (a sound effect created using a box-cutter) -- and disjointed crawling rivals Sadako of The Ring in its sheer creepiness. Meanwhile, Toshio is a harbinger who is caught in a symbiotic relationship with the soul of his beloved black cat, an unlucky creature in Japanese folklore.

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The second part, Juon: The Curse 2 recaps the last half hour of the original before continuing the story. This time, the curse is spreading to affect not only those who visit the house once belonging to the Saeki family, but also to their family and friends.

The principal protagonist is Kyoko Suzuki, a talented psychic who is asked to take a look at the house by her brother, Tatsuya, an estate agent who is having problems in selling the house since the demise of the Murakami family. After seeing the ghost of Kayako, Kyoko instructs her brother to make potential buyers taste sake before signing the deeds, and if they spit it out or grimace, to not sell them the house.

The Kitada family move in, but Kyoko's curiosity is piqued and she begins to research the house and its bloody history. She discovers how Toshio's teacher Kobayashi was found dead in the house, and how his pregnant wife was murdered by Takeo Saeki, before he met an equally bloody demise in odd circumstances.

Kayako's curse is already at work: Kyoko's nephew Nobuyuki is sick, and the neighbors hear a child crying and the screams of a woman. After Kyoko has a vision of Takeo murdering Kayako, she passes out, and the scene shifts to Yoshimi Kitada and the family's first few days in their new home.

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After receiving a mysterious package containing a picture drawn by Toshio, his school transcripts and Kayako's battered notebook, Yoshimi's personality changes drastically, and she brutally murders her husband with a frying pan before calmly sitting down to eat breakfast.

The curse soon spreads to Tatsuya Suzuki's assistant at the realty office, and when the possessed Kyoko, Nobuyuki and Kyoko’s brother return to their family home in the country, the rest of their family soon falls under its effects. Without an adequate or satisfying conclusion, the story was left open for the first theatrical release.

Juon: The Grudge was released in 2003, and it serves as a companion film to the V-Cinema installments. Shimizu returns to the original episodic short vignette feel that was neglected in the second installment, and he introduces a central protagonist to provide the audience with a recognizable character that provides stability to the movie.

Beginning some time after the events of the V-Cinema releases, the Saeki house has once again been sold, this time to the Tokunaga family: Kazumi, her husband Katsuya, and his elderly mother, Sachie. The protagonist is Rika Nishina, a volunteer social worker who is sent to look in on the senile Sachie after the care department was unable to contact the family.

The Grudge

The house and location is the same as in the previous films, and the sense of chaos remains. The house is filthy, and Sachie is alone, malnourished, seemingly abandoned and distressed. As Rika attempts to tidy up, she runs into Toshio, who despite the Band-Aids is not the pale wraith that we have previously seen. Yet regardless of his human appearence, he is still a portent. As Rika tries to calm a terrified Sachie, the amorphous form of Kayako comes to claim the old woman and marks Rika as a future victim.

The next scene takes place a few weeks earlier, when the Tokunaga family still goes about their lives in the house. The curse is lingering, waiting for a victim, and it spreads to Katsuya's sister, Hitomi. Regardless of whomever it takes next, certain themes continue thorough the franchise.

Kayako's notebook makes a return, along with a faded photograph of the Saeki family with Kayako's head cut out. The film returns to the locations used in the original V-Cinema releases, but two things are different from the previous releases.

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In the V-Cinema releases, each victim had their five minutes of fame before meeting their unpleasant death. This time, however, for those who die at the house, their deaths are a reconstruction of events at the house. Some are possessed by Kayako, others by the enraged spirit of Takeo, as if the house and its occupants' last moments were stuck in a strange dimension where time loops eternally.

Rika, going against the grain of the previous installments, does not simply enter the house and die. She survives for a time, becoming a carrier of the curse, a Typhoid Mary for Takeo's rage-fuelled contagion.

Juon: The Grudge also introduces a more complex timeline to this film. Not only do the episodes move from past to present, they also move to the future, leading to a blurring in reality. A woman, about to die at Kayako's hands, is able witness the death of her police officer father at the house, an event that took place many years previously when she was a child. Because of the various time distortions and holes in reality, Juon: The Grudge is much harder to follow. One fan has ever created a comprehensive timeline, detailing the events of the theatrical features.

The Grudge

Juon: The Grudge 2 was released theatrically shortly after the original theatrical version hit DVD shelves in Japan. Once again, it is built upon the mythos of the previous films. This time, the protagonist is Kyoko Harase, the 'Queen of Horror,' who comes into contact with the house during the filming of a TV program on the cursed house's history.

However, the house has already infected Kyoko. One night while driving home, the spirit of Toshio steps into the path of her car, leading to an accident that leaves Kyoko's husband in a vegetative state. While she miscarries their unborn child due to the accident, her doctor seems convinced that she is still pregnant.

Despite an off-putting reincarnation subplot, Juon: The Grudge 2 allows Shimizu to further the warping of time and space that he had been playing with in the previous film. For example, one character is tormented by the noise of her corpse banging against the walls days before her demise. Then there are three girls, last seen in missing posters in the previous film, and the two school friends who get dragged into a 'what-if' alternate reality that allows the victim to experience death at Kayako's hands and a less painful demise in her friend's arms.

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Unfortunately, the storyline is so complex that it dulls the impact of this second sequel, but both of these theatrical explorations ultimately allowed Shimizu to refine his ideas for his Hollywood debut.

The American adaptation of Juon: The Grudge was announced in the wake of Hollywood's affair with Japanese horror, started by Gore Verbinski's remake of The Ring.

The film remains true to its Japanese predecessors by being set and filmed in Japan. Directed by Shimizu, it is mainly in English and features American actors. Essentially a re-telling of Juon: The Grudge, The Grudge is aimed at Western audiences who refuse to sit through a subtitled Japanese movie, particularly one which would require the audience to view the film several times before gleaning even a tiny part of the storyline. However, the film manages the perfect balancing act of unadulterated Japanese horror with Western actors.

The Grudge

The plot was altered slightly to include the American characters, and this included changing Toshio's demise to death by drowning, and changing the point of Kayako's fixation from primary school teacher Kobayashi to college professor Peter Kirk. Partly because of its all-star cast, which includes Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, KaDee Stickland and Bill Pullman, The Grudge made such an impact at the box office that a sequel was announced on the Monday following its theatrical debut.

The movie was released on DVD at the beginning of 2005, only for the Director's Cut to be released a few scant months later. The re-release was even alluded to by the cast and crew in commentaries included on the original disc. Aside from added footage and new documentaries, the American release also includes the Japanese shorts Katasumi (In a Corner) and 4444444444.

Japanese horror movies are filled with both haunted houses and vengeful female spirits, but the two concepts are melded together in a freakish symbiotic fashion in The Grudge series. This is an alien theme for many Western horror fans, who are used to seeing the protagonists unraveling the mystery and laying to rest vengeful spirits.

Not so in either the original Japanese movies or in the American adaptation. The curse itself is created in the moment when the enraged Takeo Saeki murders his wife Kayako and hides her body in the loft, staining the very soul of their once happy family home. In turn, each person who enters the house succumbs to the curse in dying a violent and terrifying death, thus renewing the curse. There is no way to stop from falling under the curse; it is eternal and ever-growing, and that is what makes the series so terrifying.

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The Grudge series took inspiration from other classic Japanese horror films, such as The Ring and the vengeful ghost subgenre as a whole, and in turn, it has inspired others. An infamous scene from both Juon: The Grudge 2 and The Grudge was recreated in the horror video game Zero: Shisei no Koe.

In Japan, the popularity of the films has spawned two novels, a pair of manga, and it is even possible to buy a charm to ward off the curse.

The third and final Japanese movie, Juon: The Grudge 3 is currently in pre-production. The second American sequel, once again directed by Shimizu and written by Stephen Susco, is due to begin filming in the new year, with a tentative release date of October 2006.

Note: In order to differentiate between the Japanese and American incarnations, the original Japanese V-Cinema films has been referred to as Ju-on: The Curse and the Japanese theatrical features as Juon: The Grudge. Collectively, the films have been referred to as The Grudge series, while The Grudge refers to the American film adaptation.

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