Caught the first screening of JU-ON ("The Grudge") at the Nuart on Friday night (July 23). Even after the excitment of the trailer (which promised great things), this Japanese horror film did not disappoint. Easily one of the most excellent stories ever committed to celluloid.
Actually, "story" is not the film's storng point. The structure is deliberately episodic, with various characters encountering the vengeful ghosts haunting an apartment where they were murdered. Each episode is introduced with a title card naming the character who will feature most prominently; then after that character meets his/her fate, we move on to a new character. The film jumps back and forth in time, and there are lose narrative links between the different characters, but there isn't really a strong narrative thread holding the film together.
This has advantages. Most of the obligatory exposition expected in this kind of film is not in evidence here. There are very few "character" or "plot" scenes (you know, the stuff where you know you can sneak out of the theatre and buy popcorn). Instead, the film is a succession of intense horror moments, as each new character stumbles into the deadly situation. Yet somehow, the film does not become monotonous or even overly repetitious.
The crowd responded well to the screening. Afterward, writer-director Takashi Shimizu answered questions through an interpeter. I'll try to get a full transcript up in the near future. Some of the interesting points he made were that, although he is now typecast as a horror director, he enjoys comedy, so he doesn't mind when people laugh at his films.
Shimizu told one confused viewer (who had asked if knowledge of Japanese cultural attitudes toward ghost stories would increase understanding of the film) not to be concerned, because Japanese audiences were confused by JU-ON as much as American audiences -- even if they knew what to expect from Japanese-style ghosts. (The confusion results from the time-jumping narrative structure, whcih sometimes makes it hard to keep track of who's who, especially at the ending, which implies that the old curse is continuing or that a new one is taking its place.)
And Shimizu briefly discussed the American remake he is directing with Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead. The director said he was confused by the offer to remake his film, but he agreed to do it because he was allowed to keep some characters from his original film. "I only know how to make dark-haired Japanese women scary," he explained, saying he wouldn't know how to do the same with a blond. Obviously, this means Gellar is playing a potential victim, not the ghost, but Shimizu only joked about what her role would be. "You just want to know if I kill her off!" he teased, refusing to say more.
For those who don't know, JU-ON is actually the third film in a series. The first two were direct-to-video films whose popularity led to the current installment, a theatrical release in Japan and the first to reach the U.S. Apparently, there is already a sequel to this film in Japan. Shimizu says the American remake will incorporate elements from all the Japanese films.