Ju-On vs. The Grudge — The Battle of the Pacific
By Cash Melville
What happens when you run out of ideas? You start looking around for inspiration from other quadrants of your industry. If you still can't find anything, you start reaching way out to find something that could possibly reignite the fire in your fans. Just like any other industry in America (or the world for that matter), movie makers do the same thing.
The latest trend in Hollywood horror seems to be a fascination with what is going on across the Pacific. More specifically, in Japan. In fact, chances are you're clueless to this unless you're a diehard movie buff or a Japanophile, and all of these movies would seem so fresh and new. When in reality, they're not at all.
In 1999, a movie named Ringu was released in Japan. Since I'm a horror junkie, I heard the buzz that surrounded it and was being told that it was presenting a whole new style of horror. As most of you might know, Ringu eventually became The Ring. Now you think you know where I'm going with this, but I'm willing to bet that you don't. I just cleverly presented background information that made you think you knew where I was going (and also gave you a glimpse into my next column)!
This column is a comparison between The Grudge (United States) and Ju-On (Japan). Ju-On came first, and Hollywood decided to remake it when they heard how great it was. Ju-On actually happened to be one of the horror movies that I didn't get to see before the remake. I went out and saw The Grudge the day it was released in theaters. After seeing Ringu and then The Ring (which was good, but paled in comparison to the mastery that was Ringu), I was kind of leery of everything. But an amazing thing happened — I came back raving about the movie; I dearly loved it. I didn't go in expecting a great acting job, but I did go in expecting a fun movie and that's what I got. Before going out and seeing it though, I did a little background check and saw that they had even retained the same director. Even though they allowed a new person to write the screenplay, hearing Takashi Shimizu would direct this remake — his remake — gave me pretty high hopes.
My only complaint about the movie was that they didn't allow it enough time to fully develop the plot and skimped on the background information. However, I assumed that the Japanese version didn't have any of these aspects in it either.
I couldn't have been more wrong.
Ju-On provides every character with a background. Their motivations are explained and reasons behind their torment easily seen. Even watching with subtitles (and not seeing all of them), I didn't feel like I missed too much because the acting was so freaking good. One of the underlying traits of the movie is that all of the people who are haunted by this supernatural thing make the same sort of facial expressions after exposure. (I refuse to tell you what it is though. Spoilers, you understand.) Also, in one of the greatest things I have ever witnessed in a horror movie, the music wasn't over done. The suspense was created through the use of atmosphere and actual acting rather than the clichéd heightened crescendo (which they did use sometimes, but it was more of an addition and not a necessity).
Now, after watching both, my opinion on the remake has drastically changed. Both movies were almost exactly an hour and a half long, so they both could have fit in just as much description and plot advancement. And while The Grudge had a bigger budget and therefore could have afforded better production (which, in my opinion, horror movies don't always need), they skimped out.
So what's the deal? One explanation can be the fact that Hollywood movies have to have a main character to revolve around. That person must be in every scene (or at least mentioned in one way or another), or else the audience might become unruly (or so the thinking goes). In Ju-On, the main character, Rika (Megumi Okina), is in just over half of the scenes; the rest is backstory showing you how she ultimately meets her fate. The Grudge, on the other hand, sees Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in around 85 to 90% of the scenes. It's as if Hollywood doesn't think people can follow multiple characters. So, in one, we have about ten developed characters, with more than that being integral parts of the story; in the other, we have about five. Even the five that are fully developed in The Grudge are just as, if not more, developed in Ju-On. Of course, since it is Hollywood, there has to be the requisite love interest. Ju-On doesn't even mention a love interest! This is something that just came out of thin air (and we all know that air must be what's between the ears of screenwriter Stephen Susco). This addition wound up altering the fantastic ending of Ju-On. It's the same result, but Ju-On felt much more satisfying.
It all boils down to this for each movie:
Clocking in at 96 minutes, The Grudge is about a curse that is placed on anyone who steps into a particular house. The curse is ultimately played out so that a sequel can and almost has to be made.
Clocking in at 92 minutes, Ju-On is about a curse that is placed on anyone who steps into a particular house, and the realization the main character has concerning the motivation behind the curse. Ultimately, the curse is played out in a very intelligent way, one that explains to the audience what has happened. The door is left open for a sequel (of which there is), but if there wasn't one (or you never see it), you could accept what happened.
This just raises so many questions as to why Hollywood feels the need to follow a set formula for all their horror movies. Star does this. Star learns this. Star defeats this. SCARY TWIST! Why do they all have to be that way? Why can't they remake a movie and actually stick to what the original did?
I found The Grudge to be a great movie for an otherwise boring night, but Ju-On is a legit horror film that actually makes you think. Ultimately, I recommend that you check both movies out. Watch the remake first, you might like it. If you watch the original first, I can almost guarantee that you will throw a shoe at your screen when you realize what they did to a fantastic story.
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I've been sorely lacking on my writing for the past few months as I've just been almost completely unable to get started on anything. Watching this movie really motivated me to write this, and I'm going to finish up another column that is very much along the same lines (but with a broader scope) sometime in the near future. Let me know what you think via any sort of little communication device:
Thanks for reading and TTFN!
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