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Original vs. Remake: Ju-on vs. The Grudge

The GRUDGE franchise returns to the big screen this Friday, January 3rd, with a new installment from director Nicolas Pesce that is said to tie together all of the previous films in the series. While we wait to see what Pesce did with the concept of the GRUDGE, we're taking a look back at two of the most popular entries in the series; the 2002 Japanese film JU-ON: THE GRUDGE and its 2004 American remake THE GRUDGE, both of which were directed by Takashi Shimizu. Pesce has said his movie retcons the '04 movie into a sequel-of-sorts to its Japanese predecessor, so if THE GRUDGE 2004 isn't going to be considered a remake anymore this is our last chance to drop it into an Original vs. Remake Face-Off!

STORY

We're told that when someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage, it creates a curse that effects the place of death. Those who encounter it die, and a new curse is born. One such curse is created when a man named Takeo murders his wife Kayako, their son Toshio, and their cat in their home, creating a curse that instantly kills him as well. Then we see that anyone who dares venture into their home falls victim to the curse - a couple who moves into the place with the man's elderly mother, a social worker who checks in on the old woman, the man's sister, an investigator, a schoolgirl who goes into the haunted house with some friends. It's all straightforward and simple, so the movie consists almost entirely of one scare sequence after another, but the story jumps back and forth in the timeline to try to keep the viewer engaged.

This is almost the same movie all over again, except this time around it's in English and the characters who get mixed up in the curse that was created when Takeo killed Kayako and Toshio are nearly all Americans who happen to be living in Japan for one reason or another. The family who moves into the house are Americans; the social worker who visits the old woman is an American in Japan with her boyfriend, who is attending college there; her boss is an American; Takeo killed his family because Kayako was infatuated with an American professor. It's quite a coincidence that so many characters happen to be from the states, it's enough to make you wonder why they bothered to keep the setting in Japan in the first place. Why not move the story into the states instead of moving so many Americans into the story?

SPECIAL EFFECTS

Takashi Shimizu had a decent budget to work with on this one, but couldn't quite make the effect of a shadowy ghost hovering above one of its victims look convincing. It looks better when we see the shadow effect start to consume a guard on security camera footage. Aside from moments like those, the ghost effects mostly consist of a bloody Kayoko lurking around - and she is creepy - and Toshio meowing while painted white. We also get a cool cameo from some zombie schoolgirls.

The remake had the backing of Sony and Sam Raimi, so of course Shimizu had the means to drop in some good quality CGI... and to take the main scare with the CGI too far, so it's more ridiculous than frightening. The bloody Kayoko is back, Toshio has been painted white again. My favorite effect comes when we see a curse victim who had their jaw ripped off; it's an awesome moment, and the look of this person brings to mind the Dr. Tongue zombie from DAY OF THE DEAD.

ACTING

I don't speak Japanese, but even with the language barrier it seems to me that most of the actors in JU-ON did a decent job in their roles. Megumi Okina made an especially strong impression as Rika, a character who has to deal with this curse nonsense over a long period of time. She goes catatonic for a while, then sees ghosts again after she recovers. There was only one weak link that I noticed - Misaki Ito seemed to have some dodgy moments as Hitomi, sister of the man who moves into Kayoko's house.

Bill Pullman is always a welcome presence in any movie, as is Ted Raimi. Sarah Michelle Gellar did fine work in the role of heroine Karen, who is this movie's version of Rika - but she's more proactive than Rika, because she does research trying to get to the bottom of all this ghost stuff. Ryo Ishibashi stood out to me as Detective Nakagawa, who has been dealing with the Kayoko/Toshio curse for a while and gets the idea in his head that he should burn their house down. That doesn't go well for him.

INTENSITY

Things start off with grainy footage of a man making a bloody mess of his wife and taking a moment to kill a cat while his young son is also in the house. That establishes a dark atmosphere that hangs over the entire movie, giving it an unnerving feeling even when you have a little kid running around meowing. As we watch the curse destroy person after person, it is quite intense and disturbing. There is a sense of hopelessness to JU-ON; everyone is going to fall victim to this curse at some point and there is no escape.

Like its predecessor, THE GRUDGE keeps the scare sequences coming, several of them lifted directly from the previous movie. It covers the same ground (except the zombie schoolgirls), it shows us a man killing his wife, son, and cat... but it doesn't feel quite as dark or intense this time around. The atmosphere is lightened a bit by a coating of Hollywood polish. The theatrical cut of the film softened things further with a PG-13 rating, but even the unrated cut doesn't reach the intensity level of the 2002 film.

DIRECTING

JU-ON: THE GRUDGE was actually Shimizu's third time making a feature film in the JU-ON franchise; the previous two films were shot on video, and this was his chance to take the franchise up to the next level, shooting on 35mm film. I haven't watched the two SOV movies, but this one certainly shows that Shimizu was a capable genre director. It's well crafted enough, it makes sense that Hollywood decided to keep him at the helm when the time came for a remake.

THE GRUDGE was Shimizu's fifth time working in the universe of this franchise, as he fit in another Japanese sequel before signing on to direct the remake. He had plenty of JU-ON practice and clearly had a handle on the material at this point. While this movie isn't as dark and unnerving as what came before, it's a quality production that moves along at a good pace. Shimizu is still working steadily in Japan, but it's surprising he didn't have a bigger career in Hollywood.

IT'S A TIE!

I didn't expect this Face-Off to end in a tie, but that outcome makes sense to me. JU-ON: THE GRUDGE and THE GRUDGE are nearly the same movie, just presented in different languages, and each has some merit over the other. JU-ON is darker and features more curse victims, THE GRUDGE moves along at a better pace and is packed with actors I'm a fan of. This is a rare case where I find that an original and its remake are on equal ground.

Do you agree with the tie outcome, or do you think one of these is better than the other? Share your thoughts on these films, and on the GRUDGE franchise in general, in the comments section below. If you have suggestions for future Face-Off articles, Original vs. Remake or otherwise, you can send them to me at [email protected].

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