Rika Nishina (Megumi Okina) works for a social services agency in Tokyo, although she's never seen any clients. When a new case comes in and they're short on staff, her boss has to send her out. Her first case is a doozy. When she enters the client's home, no one seems to be there, and the house is a mess. She hears scraping on a door--the old woman she is to care for is there, but in a semi-catatonic state. Soon after, she learns that there is much more wrong than bad housekeeping and a neglected old woman. There just may be threatening supernatural forces behind the scenes.
This film is really the third in the Japanese Ju-On series. I won't usually watch a series out of order, but this is the only Ju-On film officially and thus easily available in the U.S. I was very anxious to watch the American remake, The Grudge (2004), and actually watched it the day before watching this film.
The first 40-something minutes are closest to the American remake, but it was surprising that this film is much more linear. It's also more episodic. Neither of those facts are negative here, and both lend to a somewhat easier understanding of the broader mythology behind the Ju-On "monsters", which is presented much more clearly in this film. However, the episodic nature also means that the viewer has to pay attention to the various characters and their names, or there is a good chance that one will get lost--this story touches on many different people, in many different scenarios. Occasionally, there are characters brought into each other's episodes, sometimes as subtly as a name mentioned in a news report. These cross-references, which can also slightly break the linear timeline, are effective if one is alert.
There are things that writer/director Takashi Shimizu does better in this version, and things he does better in the American version. In this version, I loved the brutal opening sequence. Although it's somewhat present towards the end of the American version, it is much more effective here. I enjoyed the more traditional Japanese home--this film was shot on location in an actual house, whereas the American remake was shot on a house constructed on a soundstage. The Japanese house is more claustrophobic. On the other hand, the soundstage house was a bit grungier, which works nicely in the context of the remake. I liked this film's transition in the famous "stair crawling" scene (although I thought the flashbacks weren't necessary), and I also loved some of the more dissonant music here.
The biggest differences occur after the first forty minutes, when Shimizu expands the number of monsters. The film seems to threaten a Romero-like plague that I'd like to see explored more in other Ju-On films (if that hasn't been done already).
The bottom line though is that this is a nicely atmospheric horror film, with a creepy scene per minute. There were a couple very minor flaws--occasionally awkward performances or editing being the primary one, but overall this is highly recommended. It earned a 9 out of 10 from me.
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