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The scare on the stair
A region 2 DVD review of JU-ON: THE GRUDGE 2 by Slarek
 

I both know and care not that some will disagree, but for my money Shimizu Takashi's Ju-on: The Grudge was definitely one of the high points of the modern J-Horror cycle. In the shape of the spider-crawling Kayako and the ghostly young Toshio, it added two new characters to the horror hall of fame, plus a sound that is as instantly recognisable as Hannibal Lector's hungry slobber from Silence of the Lambs or the growl of the Thing in the Woods from The Evil Dead. Its non-linear structure provided some very specific narrative pleasures and, most important of all, it was genuinely scary cinema.

Ju-on: The Grudge 2 was inevitable because it had already happened before. The 2003 cinema version of Ju-on was a remake of a TV version from 2000, also directed by Shimizu, and the made-for-TV sequel had followed quickly on the footsteps of its predecessor. Even as the movie version of Ju-on 2 was being prepped, the signs were that a franchise of serious proportions had been born. Over in the States, Sam Raimi had liked Ju-on so much he invited Shimizu to go to America and have another go at it. Just last week Shimizu's American remake of Ju-on 2 was released across the pond, while Shimizu has since returned to Japan to start work on Ju-on: The Grudge 3, which I have absolutely no doubt will be remade in Hollywood in the next couple of years, probably by Shimizu himself. Are you following all this?

Ju-on 2, this Ju-on 2, begins with pregnant actress Kyoko – "The Queen of Horror" we are reliably informed – being driven home by her boyfriend Masashi when they accidentally run over something. Masashi gets out to investigate and discovers that he's hit and killed a cat, and there's nothing they can do to help it now. He gets back in the car and drives off, but when Kyoko looks down she sees the ghostly figure of a young boy (Toshio from the first film) staring up at her from underneath the steering wheel, which he is manipulating beyond Masashi's control, causing the car to crash. Masashi is left in a coma and Kyoko has a miscarriage. Or does she? A short while later, a doctor matter-of-factly informs her that her pregnancy is progressing well, much to her astonishment. By then she's already working on a new horror film, a recreation of the events triggered off the first Ju-on film that is being shot in the very house in which they took actually place. Uh-oh...

Those familiar with Ju-on: The Grudge will very quickly find themselves on recognisable ground, from the non-linear structure and its character-named chapters to the sudden and unnerving appearances of both Toshio and Kayako, visible to some characters but unseen by others. And it all works rather well. Once again the broken mirror approach to the story mystifies moments that are later explained when events are observed from a different viewpoint, and piecing together the story from the provided shards has its very specific rewards.

Nontheless, I must admit that to being a little disappointed by my first viewing of Ju-on 2. This was partly down to an inescapable sense of déjà vu that comes from revisiting ground so effectively covered before in the very same style, coupled with a nagging sense that we haven't really moved on from then. The whole sinister pregnancy storyline dates back to Rosemary's Baby and the satanic cycle that followed in the wake of The Exorcist, and the filmmakers' stated intention of exploring issues of motherhood looks seriously under-developed when compared Nakata Hideo's handling of the same theme in his 2001 Dark Water.

Many of the scares have clearly been designed as stand-alone set-pieces and you can almost imagine the script meetings where new ways of unleashing Toshio and (especially) Kayako on the cast were devised, giving the film a somewhat inconsistent supernatural logic, if such a thing can be said to exist. But countering this is the fact that many of these scenes are skin-crawlingly creepy, and on the second and third viewing, by when I had joined all of the narrative dots, I found myself more appreciative of Shimizu's undeniable imagination and skill as a horror director. Perhaps most impressive is that three viewings in, the creepiest scenes still gave me a couple of shudders, and if a couple of them are a little hokey – Toshio's head appearing as a football, Kayako slowly reaching out to touch a sleeping figure like a ghoul from a 1930s Hollywood horror – others are genuinely unnerving, none more so than the sub-story involving mysterious bangs on a wall and the revelation of a ceiling covered in...no, I won't spoil that one.

If there's a problem here with the episodic, non-linear structure it's that it proves harder to engage with the characters when you only stay with them for short periods of time and have to piece together some of their details retrospectively. It's for that very reason that Shimizu's later Reincarnation, which shares several story elements with Ju-on 2, proves a more involving film, despite the over-familiarity of many of its component parts. But Ju-on 2 still has a great deal going for it and still scores well enough on atmosphere and unsettling sequences to make it worth the while of devoted horror fans and especially fans of the original, which I would say is essential pre-viewing before approaching this film, as a degree of plot and character knowledge is assumed and not filled in for newcomers.

sound and vision

Anamorphic 1.85:1, the picture quality is a little disappointing by Premiere Asia's usually high standards. Not exactly pin-sharp at times, with visible grain and a slightly earthy colour scheme, it has that same low-budget look that has marked several J-Horror films of this period (Kiyoshi Kurosawa's excellent Pulse is a prime example). But this is not consistent – elsewhere colours improve noticeably and even detail is better in some scenes than others. Black levels are, as a result, a little variable. How much of this is down to the original print is hard to say.

There are three tracks available here, Japanese Dolby surround 5.1 and DTS and English 5.1. The DTS is the loudest, but both surround tracks are impressive and really add to the experience – my second viewing was enhanced considerably by knowing my neighbours were out and being able to really crank up the volume. There are some very effective made-you-jump bangs, some solid bass when appropriate and some excellent use of the surrounds to place creepy noises behind your head. The English language track, with its mixture of sometimes flatly delivered and incongruous American and English voices, sounds exactly like what it is, a post-production dub.

extra features

Feeling like a blast from the past nowadays but a welcome one is a Commentary Track by our old friend Bey Logan that was clearly recorded some time back before his departure to US DVDs (he talks only speculatively of a third Ju-on film). Logan is a huge fan of Shimizu and the Ju-on movies and his enthusiasm is certainly infectious, and as usual he provides plenty of detail on the participants and the director. He does express a hope that if a third film does appear (and it's in production) that it will take a lighter turn at the end – personally I'm happy for Shimizu to keep it as dark as he likes.

The rest of the extra features are on disc 2 and are divided up into four sections.

Promotional Gallery

In here you'll find three Trailers, the Original Theatrical (1:30), the UK Theatrical (1:19), which has a silly female horror voice narration, and a UK Theatrical TV Spot (0:22), which is a cut-down version of the same.

DV footage of The Japanese Premiere (4:34) has the director and cast addressing the audience, during which Shimizu mentions the (then) upcoming Hollywood remake of the first film. Similar in style are the Taiwanese Campaign (2:04) and the Korean Campaign (2:32), in which Shimizu gets to make that noise (if you know the film you'll know what I mean) in front of a full audience and wind up his cast in the process.

Kayako Onstage (2:15) has actress Takako Fuji doing a performance as Kayako, but very different from the one you see in the movie.

The Curse Continued

Terror Re-Born – The Making of Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (19:37) is an EPK-style featurette, mixing behind-the-scenes footage with interviews in which the actors spell out what the film's all about. Of interest, but not essential.

More interesting altogether is A New Nightmare – Behind the Scenes on Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (23:55), which details the shooting of three key sequences and is sometimes fascinating for revealing just how low-tech the effects were.

Master of Horror: An Interview with director Shimizu Takashi (17:17) has the director, who looks more like an extra from a film about steelyard workers than the usual image of a filmmaker (this aspect alone made me like him), talk about the film, it's underlying theme of maternal love, and selecting and working with the actors.

The are four Deleted Scenes, three of which – The Curse Continues (1:07), I'll Be Right Back (1:43), and Hidden Depth (1:11) extend existing sequences a little, while Pieces of the Puzzle (4:25) has two of the main characters connecting all the dots and in the process explaining things for the audience. This sequence is mentioned in the commentary, where Bey Logan provides the reasons for its removal.

House of Horrors is not subdivided like the previous sections, but a rather wanky extra in which you use the cursor to move through stills of the house in order to find... oh, try it and find out.

summary

There are a fair few out there who regard Ju-on: The Grudge 2 as superior to its predecessor, but I am not one of them. It's still a very creepy, well structured film, but one that for me re-treads some of the first movie's ground and borrows more from other sources (there's even a direct reference to Hideo Nakata's Ringu at the end, the very same one used to promote the US remake of The Grudge). But it's still very worth your while, and if it catches you in the right mood could still give you a damned good scare.

Picture imperfections aside, this is a sound 2-disc set from Premiere Asia, with great sound, a useful commentary and a couple of very good extras on a decently specified second disc.

Ju-on: The
Grudge 2

Japan 2003
92 mins
director
Takashi Shimizu
starring
Noriko Sakai
Chiharu Niyama
Yui Ichikawa
Shingo Katsurayama
Takako Fuji
Yuya Ozeki
Kei Horie

DVD details
region 2
video
1.85:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby surround 5.1
DTS surround 5.1
languages
Japanese
English
subtitles
English
extras
Commentary by Bey Logan
Trailers
Premiere footage
Making-of documentaries
Interview with Takashi Shimizu
Deleted Scenes
House of Horror
Kayako on stage
distributor
Premiere Asia
release date
9 October 2006
review posted
18 October 2006

See all of Slarek's reviews