There seems to be a grudge held by the media against director Takashi Shimizu for his “naked greed” in making the same damn film seven times over. It seems that it’s okay for a filmmaker to make a profit so long as it’s just collateral damage from the production of art. It also seems as though it’s not only okay but also encouraged for filmmakers to make a career out of repeating the same material so long as each one features a different title and superficially original story. Hitchcock himself once joked that a filmmaker’s “style” was nothing more than “self-plagiarism”. It can be argued very easily that among the master of suspense’s fifty-three films are many which are more than superficially alike, perhaps even virtually identical in form and function.
That said, it is incredible that someone would want to make the same exact movie seven times over, but it’s not yet against any law. For Shimizu, it’s probably just pragmatic. These are the films he is being allowed to make, particularly if he wants to make them in Hollywood. The American studios have no interest in anything new and unproven from some Japanese filmmaker, and in most cases would have wanted to ship him back home before the ink was dry on the contract. I suppose we have Sam Raimi and his Ghost House pictures to thank for sticking with Shimizu instead of some music video maven they could kick around. We should also thank them for allowing this semi-abstract horror film to escape into general release, for there is no doubt Shimizu had more control on this sequel than he did during the American remake of his Japanese remake of his Japanese original.
When we last left Grudge-world, Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) had just set fire to the evil house and was hospitalized in a state of total horror movie shock. No character has been known to have returned from this condition and if they do, it’s only for them to die in the opening reel of the sequel. So, like Adrienne King in “Friday the 13th, Part 2”, Karen returns, still hospitalized, and held by the police for killing her boyfriend as a result of said fire. She is also strapped to her bed, making it very hard for her to fight back against any blue boys or long black wigs that might be trying to get her.
Karen is visited by her younger sister, Aubrey (Amber Tamblyn), whose crazy bedridden mother has tasked her with bringing crazy Karen back home. How she is supposed to do this while charges are being held against her sister by the Japanese authorities is not explained. Thankfully, since this is a horror movie, it’s all for naught since Karen is dead before any serious legal wrangling is begun. Now, Aubrey wants to find out why her sister ended up this way and what mysteries lie in the burned out house.
Ordinary horror movies would take this plot and call it a day, but we’re talking about the “Ju-on” series here, and Shimizu cannot wait to pile on the time shifting plots and counter plots to rebuild the movie he watched the American studio system burn down. Much effort was made in the first film to unravel the abstract structure of the Japanese originals so that it would be friendlier to a mass audience narcotized by linearity. Since abstraction and paranoid, disjointed time zone confusion was the very heart of the “Ju-on” films, the American remake ended up a mediocre success at best. Only the very effective scene where Karen follows Bill Pullman around the house in two separate but oddly sentient time zones resounded with that particular, peculiar Shimizu touch.
So, what of these other plots? Well, one will be very familiar to fans of the six other films featuring uniformed schoolgirls getting into trouble after visiting the cursed house on a dare. Shimizu, however, knows we’ve all been here before and has some new tricks up his sleeve. The other plot is actually set in the United States.
Somehow, the grudge has traveled all the way to Chicago, Illinois and is seriously messing with the tenants of a dark and mysterious apartment building. Jennifer Beals appears in this section as a woman who moves in with her widower boyfriend and his two children. She wants to build relationships with the kids, but has a hard time with the younger of the two, Jake (Matthew Knight), who is the only one to realize that some seriously bizarre things are happening around them. Specifically related to the creepy neighbor who slinks around at night in a dirty hooded sweatshirt.
As opposed to the one story at a time structure of the first film, Shimizu shuffles time and chronology like an experiment in string theory with “The Grudge 2”. What appears to be a “meanwhile” type structure eventually surprises us with its much more complex time and space relations. He shows us something as a prologue which we then forget, we meet some schoolgirls on a dare, jump over to Aubrey visiting her sister, go check out what’s up in Chicago, back to the schoolgirls and then to Aubrey, who hooks up with a doomed Chinese reporter named Eason (Edison Chen) to learn some stuff about the Grudge’s past. We then come full circle to the prologue and then beyond it. It all sounds crazy and annoying but it’s really not, because every scene unfolds logically and without confusion. It merely becomes more complex, and not less, as it unfolds.
Although the movie once again shows the scars of test screening recutting, it seems as though the way in which the movie was made rendered gutting its structural inventiveness impossible. In many ways, this is as much an art horror film as Dario Argento’s “Suspiria”. In fact, I would be very surprised if Shimizu denied the specific influence of Argento’s “Inferno” on this particular film. “Inferno” moved effortlessly from a mysterious apartment building in New York City to Rome, Italy to a room underwater and a library with underground crypts, all under the sway of a black magic dream controlled by Argento.
I always believed there was a clear relation between the Italian genre films and the current new wave of J-horror. It seems as though the one was the catalyst for the other. I recall that all of the bootlegs of the previously unavailable uncut Argento films always arrived in the States on low grade dubs from Japanese laserdiscs complete with Japanese subtitles. I always suspected that the new wave of J-horror was as much a result of the new generation of Japanese directors harnessing the influence of the Italian horror films they watched while growing up as with the basic traditions of Japanese folklore.
Argento himself has basically made the same film over and over. They all have different titles, but most of these are also very similar. So, why hold a grudge against Shimizu for merely demonstrating honesty in his “self-plagiarism”? Especially when he is firing on all cylinders and can make a movie as effective as this one. Shimizu’s mastery over his technique is often breathtaking as he turns scene after scene on the expectations of the viewer, often very subtle and specific expectations he sets up only to bend in some very new ways.
Seriously, there are some things in “The Grudge 2” which are truly innovative even within the context of J-horror. Particularly involving Shimizu’s experimentation with the laugh-scream reflex. Seven films into the series, and with all of the conventions of throat croaking and neck cracking having moved into camp, it’s amazing that Shimizu can still find new ways to turn the old screw. That he can do this while exploring new ground in his own filmmaking is astounding.
Takashi Shimizu (director) / Stephen Susco (written by), Takashi Shimizu (movie “Ju-On: the Grudge”)
CAST: Sarah Michelle Gellar …. Karen Davis
Amber Tamblyn …. Aubrey Davis
Edison Chen …. Eason
Arielle Kebbel …. Allison
Jennifer Beals …. Trish
Teresa Palmer …. Vanessa
Misako Uno …. Miyuki