INT: Takashi Shimizu

Set Visit Intro / director Takashi Shimizu / Edison Chen / Amber Tamblyn / Takako Fuji

Director Takashi Shimizu has his work cut out for him with THE GRUDGE 2. Taking into account that he's directed 6 Ju-On/Grudge movies thus far, he has to keep the freshness, the fear and innovativeness flowing in THE GRUDGE 2 , even with having beaten the material to death by now. Well you know what? I have faith in the lad! A bunch of us got to interview him on the Grudge 2 set in Japan and although an obvious introvert, there was a strength and artistic vibe that emanated off the guy that I found quite endearing. He'll pull it off! And here's what he had to say!

Takashi Shimizu

Are you trying to do something completely different or are you trying to keep parts of the original sequel?

The Grudge 1 was a complete remake of Ju-On 1, meaning the storyline was very similar, basically the same, but Grudge 2 is actually different from Ju-On 2, and I don’t think I would have accepted this job, if it was going to be the same storyline. Since it is a different story, my motivation was a lot higher, and I actually enjoyed doing this. I think the story being so different from Ju-On 2, the original, I really enjoyed it.

Did you find it difficult to bring freshness to a film franchise that you’ve already done six times before?

Yes, it is very difficult to keep it fresh, and you know, since I’ve been doing this so many times, I feel like I’m just repeating things over and over. There isn’t really much to do there, meaning they’re so limited and those scary depictions are always similar now. It’s just really hard coming up with new ideas, and if I don’t find it fresh, audiences aren’t going to find it fresh either, so it is difficult.

How do you overcome that?

Those ideas… Well, I just have to say that there isn’t really any method to come up with ideas, and you know, I spent all this time to come up with ideas, but time is really nothing, it doesn’t really help me. Sometimes I just come up with one when I’m walking. It just comes to me all of a sudden.  Because of all that reason, since we couldn’t come up with ideas because the script came in so late for this shoot, that delayed everything, and the staff/crew here have a lot of difficult time because the script came in so late.

So going back to how to find those ideas, I listened to those scary stories that happened to my friends or people I know, and I haven’t seen a ghost, but all these scary, mystery things that happened to me, maybe I can get ideas from that experience. To be honest, I’ve done six of them, and most of those ideas are coming from my every day life. Maybe I can tweak a little bit of something from everyday life. I can bring this into something interesting, and I keep thinking, “What about this? Maybe I can use this for something else.”  That’s how I (come up with ideas?) It’s not just scary things, anything interesting or any (???) scary types of things that happen to me.

Are the cats back? And in what capacity?

Yes, so if anyone likes cats, you should watch it.

Are you tired of the Grudge/Ju-On series, and if so, what do you want to do next?

I do really like making horror movies because it’s interesting, because you have all these tricks to play on, it’s very much fun, but I do want to go for something different, maybe I can do different types of horror, including all these suspense or thriller type things, but the film that I really want to shoot now is a comedy.

Difficulties and limitations of having a PG-13 rating, which you didn’t have to deal with when making the original movies?

The rating issue is always difficult, because it’s never the same. The response they give me is always different, and every time, it is different. The last time I was doing this, I wasn’t that conscious about it, but since I’ve done it once, I’m more conscious about it this time. Every time we have blood or something, I always consult with the producer, so we know what we’re going for, and sometimes, we shoot different versions with less blood, or we even do it without the blood at all.

That’s how I’ve been doing it.  It is actually very… stressful process, because sometimes in the script, it says “splash of blood” or “groteseque” but that’s not what I’m really going for, but if it’s in the script, I kind of have to go for it. Sometimes, I talk to the producers and they have some different opinions from mine, and there is this conflict, and also, it is a big contradiction, I think, because what it says in the script and what we’re doing is very different. So the movie I want to make is this comedy where this leading actress is dealing with this contradiction in between what it says in the script and what we’re doing (on the set to keep it PG-13?)

What did he learn on the first American movie that he’s applying on the sequel? Traps he’s avoiding?

Yeah, very small things but a lot of different things, especially between the actors and I, I think I’m more careful with them, because last time, I just didn’t know anything about this American actor’s system [referring to SAG union rules presumably?], the only system I knew was this Japanese system, and since I know what the American system is like now, I know how to make it work with them.

American sequels mean bigger, more monsters, more gore… how is he going about it to make it a fulfilling experience for the audience?

Shimizu: I was really never into any of those “gores”, because I really like to watch it, but at the same time, if it’s a “gore”, I think it can be done by any director or any actors, and it can be done exactly the same. For the Grudge 2, I was going for this mystery that was never there in Grudge 1, and I think that’s going to fulfill the audience. The mystery is… one is Kayako’s birth (translator gets confused) there’s a secret about Kayako’s childhood life.

So that’s part of the big mystery, and the other part of the mystery is this Grudge will never stop, and it’s going to spread this time, and how is it going to get spread? That’s another mystery. And one more thing, the third, the other mystery is what has happened to Karen, who was the main lead actress in Grudge 1. So that’s another mystery you will find out.

Do you think that you’ll cater this more to American audiences since you’re making it for them, since the first remake wasn’t that well received in Japan?

The Grudge One, the remake was done in just two years from the original, so I don’t think there was enough of a time for people to want to see the remake again, and also, it was exactly the same storyline from the original, so if we do the promotion right for the Grudge 2, meaning it’s going to be a completely different story from Ju-On 2, I think that’s going to attract an audience in Japan. 

In the last question, I have mentioned that in the storyline, there is something about Kayako’s childhood secret, and that idea is actually something I came up with when I was writing Ju-On 1, the original, but I ended up not using it for the ending of Ju-On 1, because I just didn’t know if that would be accepted in Japan, but now, since this is for worldwide and Americans and everything, I thought that maybe this idea can be accepted, and this is Kayako’s childhood secret, so in that sense, that’s something I’m doing special for the worldwide [audience].

Is this going to be a trilogy and did you always have it in mind to do it as a trilogy?

That’s what I hear, meaning that the producers and the production company is saying it’s a trilogy, but you know, if the Grudge 2 is not going to be a major hit, no one’s going to want to do Grudge 3. They just want to say that it’s a trilogy and that’s fine, but who knows? But I would love for that to happen. But if it’s a third one, people are going to expect more, right? It needs to be better and bigger and just everything more, so in that sense, I don’t know if I’m ready to do that, but I haven’t really thought about it.

Considered writing/producing a third movie and not directing?

If there is a director I can count on… the thing is that The Grudge has a very special storyline and this very unique world atmosphere to it, so if there’s any director who can create that, that I can count on, maybe I would take a part of whatever to cooperate. I would give them some ideas. As long as they can maintain the world that I created for The Grudge, but if this person or director is going to take into a completely [different] direction than I’m not going to take any part of it.

Why do you prefer practical FX over CG?

It’s not that I dislike those CGI FX, but the thing is that if it’s a horror film, as soon as they figure out that it’s a CGI, it’s not going to be scary any more and when we see those things with CGI and it’s like fancy and big, it’s interesting, but at the same time, as soon as they find out that it can be real, not CGI, the level of scare comes down to half of it, and that’s just not something I like as a style. If people are not going to be scared of those CGI, I’d rather just do it practically, and if we can maintain the level of the scare I want to go for, I’d rather just do it practically.

One of the most important things that I’m going for in the Grudge is that all these scares can happen in everyday life. Anybody can experience any of these things, because they’ll be very familiar to the characters’ life or characters, whatever they’re doing. So as soon as they see all these CGI things and they think, “Oh, that can’t be real”, they’re just going to lose that scare because that can’t happen to them anymore. If it’s a movie like “Lord of the Rings” or something, it’s all fantasy and people really go for that, so we don’t have to worry about that kind of stuff, but what I’m doing is very much of this everyday life where anything can happen to anybody type of thing.

Having spent so much time developing this curse and its history, have you thought about how the curse can be ended?

In the script meeting, I do talk about that idea with writers and producers, but every time we try to stop the curse, our ideas just don’t go anywhere good, and we just can’t come up with anything interesting to stop the curse, so if that’s the case, I would rather just go for something that could never be stopped. But who knows, something can be stopped in Grudge 3?

How do you feel about the spoofing or satirizing of the Grudge in Scary Movie 4?

It really makes me happy because Scary Movie 4, they’re doing a spoof of War of the Worlds and King Kong and these are the movies with big budget, big movies, and then next to that, there’s Grudge, and I just feel like I’m getting such recognition, those movies, and in my mind, horror and comedy are very close, so in that sense, I would love to make movies like the Scary Movies in the future.  So actually, the year before last, I did this TV series of something very similar to a Scary Movie type of thing. It’s a comedy version of a horror film, and that was on the air really late at night, so it wasn’t that big, but I did something like that and I enjoyed it, so that’s something I’d really like to do.

I think that the TV series that I just talked about will be released in America. I don’t think it’s going to get big promotion, but I think it will be released in America soon. These are the ideas that I got when I was shooting Grudge and Ju-On “If I do this, or if I do it in this way, it can be funny” so I used all those ideas for this TV series.  For Grudge 2, it’s all about scares. I have to think about how to scare people, but I think scaring people and entertaining people, I mean making them laugh, is so close that I think it’s always back-to-back, so when I’m thinking about this (horror), I can always come up with this (humor).

What’s the TV series called?

We only have a Japanese title, and it’s called (Yeah, right.. you think I can spell what she said? Just write a bunch of Japanese symbols.) “Scary Big Family” {?)

Can you talk about the state of horror in Japan right now, since a lot of the directors like yourself are making movies in Hollywood? Are there any new directors worth looking out for?

There are young directors who are doing horror movies, there are new young directors, because horror movies are easy to make in a way, because it can be low budget and they sell really well. But I have to be honest about those young directors, because I don’t think there’s anybody standing out that great yet. There isn’t anybody who is that unique or that different, who’s got that tone or taste of the horror that I think is that amazing yet. All I see lately is just very similar types of horror, over and over. There are always relatively the same, and sometimes, it’s clearly somebody’s just been [offered like copy?] other people’s work and I just don’t want this horror boom to be ending cause that’s how I’m seeing it right now.

What horror directors does he respect now?

Well, those names that I’m going to mention, I just want to be careful, because sometimes those directors don’t want to be called horror directors, but still… Yoshi Kurosawa, Norio, Hideo Nakata and writer-wise, Hiroshi Takahashi.

What about American horror?

When I watch American horror films, what I'm going for is something we can't find in Japan. Bride of Chucky or Freddy vs. Jason. I love those two, and I really like Ronnie Yu's taste, because it's almost funny that I can laugh. Recently, all these horror movies are using those old horror heroes, they're starting to go for something funny, and I really like that movement. I actually couldn't watch any horror movies when I was little, and finally, I was able to see them when I was in junior high, and around that time, those Freddy type and Jason type [movies] were there. Since that was the first type of horror films that I got into, I really enjoy it still.

Why weren't you able to watch horror movies? Your choice? Parents?

I always liked reading scary books and hearing or listening to the stories, and I always liked to imagine how scary it could be, but I just never wanted to see them directly. So at that time, when I was little, I couldn't really believe all these people who were going to see horror films to see something really gory.. I just couldn't believe those people. But now I'm used to it, and I can enjoy it.

What is scarier to you, the presence of the ghost or the attacking of a ghost?

The presence of the ghost. Those direct-attacking type of ghosts are really not matching to the Japanese ghost, culture wise. If they're attacking you directly, they're like living dead or zombie type, it's more toward the monster. And if they're attacking you, that means we can actually touch them, and if you can touch them, why don't you just run away from them? If they're not attacking, if it's just the presence, it's more about this Grudge, the presence is there because what they left behind when they're living is there, and I think that's more scary, cause we can't touch them, we can't run away from them, because it's a presence. But to be honest, once we have to present in a film, we can't just have a presence. We have to have it attacking, so in that sense, Grudge is the fine combination of American attacking type of ghost, and Japanese presence-type of ghost.

In America, more recently, the trend has been more towards torture films, is that something you'd ever think about making?

That's not a case I'm going for, because I don't like to do anything painful. I like things scary, but nothing to do with pain. Of course, if the story itself is interesting, and if that is standing out, rather than the torture part, I would do it, but I just don't like the pain.

We're rooting for you Takashi! Grudge us to oblivion with this one!




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