Directed By: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Megumi Okina, Misaki Itô, Misa Uehara
Trivia: This film was remade by the same director in 2004, as an American update
Nothing gets my heart pounding like a good, old-fashioned ghost story, and there have been some excellent films made on the subject over the years, including The Haunting, The Shining, and Poltergeist. Yet I have to say that director Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On is easily the most frightening I’ve ever experienced. This movie flat-out scared the hell out of me.
The ghosts that make their presence known throughout Ju-On do so as the result of a curse which began with the murder of a mother and her young son, whose angry spirits had taken shelter inside the house where they were killed. Rika (Megumi Okina), a social worker, is sent to the house to check in on its current residents: an elderly woman and her family. What she finds instead is the boy’s ghost sitting in an upstairs closet, kicking off a chain of events that leads the dead, in a permanent state of rage, to prey upon the living, traveling far and wide to spread the curse to those unfortunate few who cross their paths.
What I found truly unsettling about Ju-On was its unpredictability. These ghosts can, and usually do, appear anywhere, at any given time. Aside from the closet, the spirit of the young boy, whose name is Toshio (Yuya Ozeki), materializes under a restaurant table, and his reflection is even seen in the front window of an office building. As if that’s not creepy enough, there’s a sequence where a ghost surprises someone by emerging from under their bedcovers! There are no safe havens in Ju-On, and this alone introduces an atmosphere that’s wholly unnerving. But the film’s most disturbing image, one I simply can’t shake, is that of a pissed-off specter crawling down the stairs, her face half-hidden behind her long, black hair, making an ungodly noise as she closes in on her victims. While I’m no stranger to horror movies, I have to admit this scene led to a few lights being switched on in my living room!
Presented as a series of vignettes and featuring a number of different characters, it may take more than a single viewing to understand everything that’s going on in Ju-On, but this won’t prevent it from making the little hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Bringing a whole new meaning to the word “spooky”, Ju-On is, without a doubt, one of the most effective horror movies of the last 15 years.