For the month of August, Castle Of Chills will be taking on a set of themed articles in which contributor’s talk about their personal favorite horror films!
Around the late 1990s, upcoming horror director Takashi Shimizu made two short films named Katasumi and 444-444-4444. These two short films birthed one of the most recognizable pieces of J-Horror of all time, Ju-On. His horror series followed a curse birthed from the murder of Kayako. Her son Toshio and his pet cat took place as Kayako’s husband Takeo killed them in the belief that his wife had been having an affair. Ju-On throughout the years has had several adaptations through games, novels, and even American remakes, like 2004’s The Grudge. Ju-On: The Grudge however has been a personal favorite of mine for years, serving as the third installment in the main franchise. The movie and the series it’s from may arguably be one of the more influential pieces of horror in movies.
When I was fairly little, I first watched Ju-On: The Grudge because I had a growing fondness for horror as a genre. Something about it being an emotion-driven piece of storytelling was fascinating even at that young age. However, for years the film stuck to me due to how it tackles scares and imagery from the American horror I was used to. No jumpscares, the lack of musical score in scenes, it helped create an atmosphere that was unique to me. It was created to not only scare the viewer but also unnerve and make the viewer uncomfortable.
This ongoing theme of feeling uncomfortable is even present in the director’s short films. It’s a type of storytelling that was designed to make your skin crawl and unravel itself. This type of exposure being sent to the audience helps push the biggest core of the movie and series being Kayako and Toshio. Despite the two being terrifying pieces of the story, they are the characters you feel sympathy for the most due to being victims of Takeo’s jealousy and rage.
With the usage of dark and gore filled imagery, the story enters into a perfect horrific tale of tragic deaths from the start. The sheer amount of anxiety the story gives the viewer is one of the reasons it stuck with me for years.
What the series and story of Ju-On really breaks down is the idea of never resting even after a horrific death. The family’s horrifying ending expresses one of the most emotional parts of the series as it leaves the viewer realizing Kayako and Toshiro may be murderous spirits, but they were once sweet people who were forced to live in a constant force of pain due to their deaths. The untimely deaths in the story add to the levels of fear and discomfort the movie gives the viewer. They want you to feel as terrified as the characters entering the house for the first time.
The director creates the idea that pure rage and evil birth a never ending curse on those who are victims of such emotions. A curse that thrives on the murder of others as it creates a disease-like chain reaction of those who enter the house where they all suffer the same fate in the end. Due to the lack of a true protagonist besides Rika, the story switches from character-to-character and shows each murder that had happened.
This concept terrified me as a child and still does in a way. Your death is not special because everyone dies the same way and you have to deal with the fear of death and never resting the way you desire to rest. You are suffering from a disease, a chain reaction that happens to everyone else with death and Ju-On stuck that idea into the viewer like a weapon. The story’s core meaning is only amplified more when you keep in part what Ju-On is based off of as Yotsuya Kaidan is arguably one of the more famous folktales of Japanese culture. Many pieces of J-Horror take inspiration from it due to the story’s ghost Oiwa. She’s a spirit who seeks vengeance and her taste for revenge is ultimately what causes her to still breach the world once again.
Ju-On takes some inspiration from the classic folktale, Oiwa dying and never wanting to truly pass for the sake of revenge and sorrow is essentially what the mother and child of the story face as well even if it’s modernized for the times. In the end, one’s fate cannot be prophesied much like how someone’s spirit cannot rest as intended.
Something that has followed the horror genre for years is the idea that a single emotion can carry immense weight throughout an hour to two hour spectacle of serial killers, monsters, fish creatures, and much like Ju-On: The Grudge, a cursed family. This story however, does not just terrify you but it leaves you upset of the fate of one’s life. The victims and spirits are given an unpoetic death because it’s simply death. There is nothing poetic about death.
There is no risky behavior, adult language, sex, drugs, or satanic imagery of any kind because it is simply a curse, something born from unimaginable rage and violence. There are no dream killers, werewolves, vampires or even man-made people because it’s a story inspired from a country’s culture and beliefs.
Shimizu’s story ended with the fliers of missing people, individuals who had entered the cursed house only to die mysteriously. It’s a haunting sight in the story and after the credits are rolling you can’t help but feel anxious from the events of the story. That feeling of anxiety is still stuck with myself and others who chose to press play.
If you’d like to read more of Piper’s work, you can find their writing here!