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Ju-On: The Prequel
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |
Chiaki Kuriyama
 
Year: 2000
Director: Takashi Shimizu
  Producer: Taka Ichise, Takashima Masaki, Kato Kazuo
  Writer: Takashi Shimizu
  Cast: Yurei Yanagi, Asumi Miwa, Hitomi Miwa, Chiaki Kuriyama, Takako Fuji, Yuko Daike, Makoto Ashikawa, Kahori Fuji
  The Skinny: A creepy little boy and his scary-as-hell mom terrorize unsuspecting victims in this rare re-edit of the first two V-cinema films in the Ju-on horror saga. A spooky, yet humble beginning to what would soon become an Asian horror phenomenon.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      Director Takashi Shimizu must really like Ju-on; he's directed every film in the series. Before the Sam Raimi-produced, Sarah Michelle Gellar horror vehicle known as The Grudge, there were two Japanese films, Ju-on: The Grudge and Ju-on: The Grudge 2. And before that, there was Ju-on and Ju-on 2. The former went direct-to-video, while the latter received a limited theatrical release before landing on video as well. The original V-cinema Ju-on ran a scant seventy minutes, while its equally low budget sequel contained around thirty minutes of recap footage from its predecessor tacked on to some forty minutes of new material. So what exactly is Ju-on: The Prequel? A remake of the two earlier V-cinema films? A brand new movie that serves as a lead-in to those flicks? Actually, it's neither. Ju-on: The Prequel is actually a rare, officially licensed version that edits both Ju-on and Ju-on 2 together to make a single, handy-dandy film. All caught up now?
     Like the many sequels that would follow, Ju-on: The Prequel is divided into numerous vignettes, all of which add up to tell the tragic story of a dysfunctional family, their eerie haunted house, and the killer curse that befalls anyone who enters. Although there are many interconnecting stories, the heart of Ju-on: The Prequel lies in its tale of young Toshio Saeki (Ryota Koyama; the role would be played by Yuya Ozeki in later films), a young boy who has been missing from school for quite a few days.
     Eventually, his absence from class spurs his concerned homeroom teacher, Shunsuke Kobayashi (Yanagi Yuurei), into action. Namely, he decides to check up on his AWOL student by paying a visit to the Saeki residence. Before he embarks on his fatal trip, Kobayashi and his pregnant wife (Yuue) both remember Toshio's mother Kayako (Takako Fuji), a woman they knew during college who also apparently scared the bejeezus out of them. Even so, he believes he needs to clear up the matter and heads off the next morning. During his search of the Saeki home, Shunsuke finds a seemingly mute Toshio, covered head-to-toe in cuts and bruises. Unsurprisingly, Shunsuke suspects something is amiss at the Saeki household. How very amiss things are is something he will soon learn - in a suitably horrifying fashion.
     In addition to this main storyline, the film also jumps around to showcase the lives of the new owners of the house some time in the future: the Murakami family, made up of mother Noriko (Yumi Yoshizuke), daughter Kanna (Asumi Miwa), and son Tsuyoshi (Kazushi Ando). Also featured in this timeline are Kanna's tutor (Hitomi Miwa) and Tsuyoshi's girlfriend, Mizuho (Chiaki Kuriyama). Added to the frenzy are the cops investigating the original crime, the psychic Kyoko (Yuko Daike), and her brother Tatsuya (Makoto Ashikawa), the realtor attempting to sell the Saeki residence at some other unspecified time.
     If you're an Asian horror completist, then Ju-on: The Prequel is a definite must-have. Of course, it's the first official title in the Ju-on franchise so it's got that going for it, but this two-for-one re-edit is also fairly compelling on its own, despite its low budget origins and sometimes cheap horror moments. In fact, there are plenty of creepy thrills and unsettling atmosphere to discover in Ju-on: The Prequel, although some may find the inevitability of the film's curse a bit unsettling; namely, everyone who comes in contact with the house ends up dead, disappeared, or hospitalized. If there's little chance the heroes and heroines can get away, then what's the point of watching?
     Even if that aspect of the film will be an issue for you (And for some, it won't be; more than a few horror fans just like to sit back and watch the carnage.), Ju-on: The Prequel does contain a mystery at its core involving the Saeki family that trumps the one presented in Shimizu's slicker, more polished American update, The Grudge. In fact, once every family secret is uncovered, Ju-on: The Prequel takes things to the next level, boasting a sick, sick, SICK surprise worthy of the most exploitative Category III Hong Kong flicks or even Wong Jing at his worst. Like some of the greatest masters of horror, director Takashi Shimizu makes you believe that you saw something much worse than you actually did. And it is perhaps for that chilling last act alone that Ju-on: The Prequel is head and shoulders above its American equivalent: the grade Z direct-to-video/made-for-cable horror flicks populating rental stores and cable channels Stateside. It may not look good, but Ju-on: The Prequel is just as good, if not better than many of the mainstream studio horror films coming out these days.
     And with a sequel to both the Japanese and American versions of the series coming soon to theatres in Japan and the US, it doesn't seem as if the franchise is showing any signs of slowing down. But even if the Ju-on saga finally ends with a whimper (My money's on Ju-on vs. Ring vs. One Missed Call: This Time It's Personal being the final nail in the coffin) there's little doubt that its humble beginning still packs quite a creepy little bang. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)
Notes: • Currently, Ju-on: The Prequel appears to be a Singapore-exclusive title, available in both DVD and VCD versions.
• Although certainly the first official title in the series, Ju-on, which composes one half of Ju-on: The Prequel, isn't technically the first Ju-on "film." Shimizu was commissioned to direct two brief three-minute segments for a television movie entitled Gakkou no Kaidan G ("School Ghost Story G"). The first short film, Katasumi, not only shows more about what happened to Kanna, but marks the inaugural appearance of actress Takako Fuji as Kayako Saeki, a role that she would reprise for every subsequent Ju-on movie. The second short, 4444444444, elaborates on the fate of Tsuyoshi. Both shorts films are included on the unrated director's cut of The Grudge as special features. Katasumi was retitled In a Corner.
Availability: DVD (Singapore)
Region 0 NTSC
ComStar Home Entertainment
Full Screen
Japanese Language Track
English and Chinese Subtitles
 

   
 
 
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