Poster for original Grudge.
Meets Japanese Horror
Written by Black Moon
Staff - Nov., 2004
Grudge, along with ghost and horror films like
The Ring, and Dark Water, point to the
recent impact Japanese cinema has had upon American
movie making. Japan's revitalized film industry is
generating an astonishing number of box office hits,
and US studios have been eager to cash in on the phenomenon
by remaking the best of them. Why
are we witnessing the spectacle of wildly original
and successful Japanese films being remade by Hollywood
and then released upon an unsuspecting North American
audience? That observable fact must be taken in context.
It's a certainty the movie moguls of tinsel town have
run out of ideas, and so have taken to plagiarizing
the efforts of those more talented. The film industry
is motivated by the pursuit of great profits, not
great art. Simply put, there's less effort and risk
involved in recreating what someone else has already
Grudge, directed by Japan's Takashi Shimizu, became
the number one movie in North America during the last
weeks of October, 2004. Though starring US actress
Sarah Michelle Gellar, the film is very much a Japanese
style horror story. That should come as no surprise
since it was produced and distributed by Sony Pictures
of Japan and written by director Shimizu, who also
wrote and directed the original 2000 release this
remake is based on, Ju-on. That film was enormously
popular in Japan, spawning four movies altogether.
There's no small irony in Sarah Michelle Gellar appearing
in The Grudge. The acclaimed Buffy the Vampire Slayer
television show in which she starred, was itself clearly
influenced and preceded by, Eko Eko Azaraku
(Wizard of Darkness), a 1995 film about a high
school girl who used magical powers to fight the evil
on her campus.
The Grudge's direction by Shimizu, a story set in
Japan, and central actors in the film being Japanese
(notably the ghost mother and son, Takako Fuji and
Yuya Ozeki - who also played the same roles in the
original), the remake doesn't attempt to hide its
Japanese origins. This type of openly acknowledged
cross cultural pollenization is exceedingly rare in
Hollywood, and gives the movie a groundbreaking status
is another example of a remarkably popular Japanese
hit being reworked for an American audience, but less
successfully. The 2002 DreamWorks version of The Ring,
starring Naomi Watts, was a far cry from the quiet
panic and alarm delivered by Hideo Nakata's 1998 original.
Nakata's film was story driven, with the unfolding
awfulness revealed slowly and methodically in scenes
devoid of music and cheap shots designed to make you
jump in your seat. And Sadako, the film's ghostly
protagonist, is possibly the most fear-provoking creature
this side of Hannibal Lecter
from Silence of the Lambs.
Poster for remake of Grudge.
just what is the wellspring that inspires the current
crop of Japanese horror flicks? Tales of the supernatural,
or kaidan, hold a vaunted place in Japanese
culture. Stories of haunted samurai, unearthly geisha,
and malevolent specters reach back for centuries in
kabuki and nô theater arts, traditional folklore,
and literature. Japan's success at making horror movies
is deeply rooted in that tradition, and can be traced
back to the beginnings of Japanese cinema. Perhaps
the best known Japanese ghost film in the West is
Masaki Kobayahi's gorgeous 1964 masterpiece, Kaidan.
horror films are generally different from their US
counterparts in that they are psychological in nature.
A sense of trepidation, foreboding, and dread is created
without resorting to the violent bloodletting and
gore so common in American films of the same genre.
Japan's fright flicks also present their stories without
making a clear delineation between good and evil,
with the endings of such films sometimes being open-ended
As with real life, evil is not always vanquished.
Ghost, Sadako, from the original Ring.
though Hideo Nakata's Ringu sprang from the enduring
tradition of kaidan, it did have many other influences.
Nakata admits to being deeply inspired by films like
Night of the Living Dead (1968 - George Romero),
Carrie (1976 - Brian de Palma), The Shining
(1980 - Stanley Kubrick), The Dead Zone (1983
-David Cronenberg), and Seven (1995 - David
Fincher), to name but a few, proving once again that
cultural overlap and influences work both ways.
Nakata released another blockbuster in 2002 called,
Dark Water. That spine tingler used a couple's
very unpleasant divorce and custody battle over their
child as the backdrop for a tale of terror. The estranged
wife and her young daughter move into a derelict and
relatively uninhabited apartment complex, where they
are beset by spectral water and ghostly apparitions.
Never has a leaky ceiling or bathtub full of water
conveyed so much fear and loathing. The film's surprise
finish is every bit as unsettling as the conclusion
of the director's original, Ringu.
to Hollywood's mission of remaking every film known
to humanity, director Walter Salles (Motorcycle
Diaries) will be directing an American rehash
of Dark Water for Touchstone Pictures. Scheduled for
a summer 2005 release, the redo's story takes place
in the US with Jennifer Connelly
(A Beautiful Mind) playing the lead.
treasure trove of Japanese horror movies that American
studios could raid is vast and relatively untapped.
In late 2003 Wes Craven was scheduled to remake Kiyoshi
Kurasawa's 2001, Pulse, a chilling tale of
ghost inhabited computers. Craven's production company
scrapped the remake scheme, and frankly we're pleased.
There's just no rationale for redoing films that cannot
be improved upon. Undoubtedly US studios will continue
to covet and rip off Japan's cinematic jewels, but
instead of paying good money to see substandard US
remakes it would be much wiser and satisfying to track
down and view the Japanese originals.
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