The Grudge vs. Ju-on

It’s been a long time since a movie scene made me honestly cringe under my collar out of anxiety.

Hollywood continues its march of mediocrity by the very nature of its continued trend in recycling other films. When they’re not preoccupied with remaking their own 30 year old movies, they’re aping foreign cinema.

Case in point: the recent Japanese horror landscape. First was the albeit fantastic remake of Ringu, Verbinski’s The Ring. Next up is The Grudge, originally Ju-on in Japan.

I’m afraid that I must land squarely in the demographic of Stupid Americans, because Ju-on didn’t work for me. Just as with sense of humor and drama, I feel that horror owes a lot to cultural influence. What may scare the socks off a Japanese crowd sometimes makes for unintentional laughter in a Yankee audience, as was the case with my experience.

That’s not to say that there weren’t some scary moments in Ju-on. Quite the contrary, actually. In fact, some of its sequences were genuinely the scariest prolonged moments of claustrophobia and psychological terror that I can remember. Think back to Rear Window and Psycho, but add ample doses of supernatural mayhem. In fact, it’s been a long time since a movie scene made me honestly cringe under my collar out of anxiety. But then, there was that occasional awkward scene that completely broke the credibility.

Not so much with Grudge. I don’t really care what this says about me, but the American remake was a better movie. For one, it didn’t break as many internal rules as Ju-on. At times, the latter was practically stream of consciousness, there was so little concrete logic. With the addition of a couple new characters, Grudge does a much better job being consistent and connecting the dots, with the exception of one dismembered body part that was never explained. This was a misstep by the U.S. producers. They leaned on that old familiar crutch: cheap gore splattered around makes for instant horror.

It seemed odd to me that they chose to keep the location in Japan. Most of the cast was American, but the locale was not. I’m not sure what the reasoning was here. Location changes worked quite well for Ring, as well as the American remake of the Norwegian Insomnia.

Also present in the remake was that bizarre sound that the ghosts make. It’s sort of like the noise someone makes when they are gasping. I was hoping that the foley artists would have improved on the sound effect for the American version, but alas they did not. Why does a ghost make such an annoying sound? Beats me, but after a while, it does have a way of creeping you out.

Still intact are those prolonged periods of shuttering horror. Both movies are great models of economy of terror. Missing in Grudge is any language barrier absurdities.

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  1. Interesting perspective, Alex. I’ve got an American friend that grew up in Japan and yet he has an opposite opinion of yours.

    Your perspective on the Japanese culture is really fascinating. A society’s art and entertainment is very telling of its fears and aspirations.

  2. to be honest… i dont like japanese movies. I have lived in japan for 3 years now. half in tokyo, half in the mountains. Instead of having this experience open my eyes… it has filled me with disgust. the movies represent the mentality of the japanese. their 50 years of peace and safety coupled with a mentality that the government and the community provides everything… has resulted in a foolish laziness. even in fear. they fear things that should not be feared, and ignore things that should. violence is not known to them… so they dont fear it as much. a big angry man down the street… walking angry… no one moves out of his way… people bump into him like he’s nothing. shut the lights off and everyone screams. the movies ringu and juon mimick this. to be honest… that chick in juon… shes hot. not scary. hot! nice ghost. show some cleavage. i am being a jerk… but i am also being honest. i was not looking at the movie under any means as a serious horror movie. just… some weak attempt at copying a western emotion. seems to be a running theme around here. my girlfriend is japanese, and lived abroad for 5 years as well… she agrees with me… hollywood movies… are scarier. but even scarier are european horror movies. i dont know if i can agree… but i will agree that euro movies tend to play on the emotions more than the image side of things.

    1. Don’t like all Japanese movies or just horror? Even ultra-violent Samurai or Yakuza movies? I find Takashi Miike films even too violent like His 2001 horror film “Ichi the Killer.” You may like older B/W Japanese horror like ONIBABA(1964), KURONEKO(1968), JIGOKU(1960), HAUSU (1977), Tetsuo: The Iron Man(1989), KWAIDAN(1964) Director Masaki Kobayashi adapts four stories from Lafcadio Hearn’s collection of Japanese folklore of the same name.The first is Kurokami (Black Hair), the story of a poor samurai who leaves his devoted wife for a richer, more well-connected woman. And lives to regret it.
      In Yuki Onna (Snow Woman), a young woodcutter witnesses a murder by the ghostly Yuki Onna. The spirit spares him on the condition he never tell a soul. Soon after he meets and falls in love with a woman who looks just like the ghost.
      Miminashi Hōichi no Hanashi (The Story of Hōichi the Earless) is the highlight of the film and likely the reason it won an Academy Award. Hōichi is a blind biwa player, who is an expert in singing “The Tale of the Heike,” a song about the battle of Dan-no-Ura. From this we get a story within a story, and the film takes time to show us the battle, an absolute visual treat. Hōichi’s fame gets him called to play “The Tale of the Heike” for a royal family several nights in a row. However, his friends fear the people he is entertaining may not be people at all.
      The final story is Chawan no Naka (In a Tea Bowl). It’s the shortest of the four and tells of a writer who keeps seeing faces in cups of tea. Check out Majisuka Gakuen TV series starring cute AKB48 girls as wild yankii, juvenile delinquents gangs.

  3. Three of us went to see The Grudge the Saturday night after it came out.

    I have never been in a horror movie where the audience laughed so much. These weren’t even parts that were supposed to be funny.

    Anyway, I give it a 5 out of 10 at best. I was very disappointed in the lack of story development. It seemed to be full of a bunch of cheap tricks.

    There were some quality scare moments but they seemed to use the same tricks over and over again. I got bored.

  4. I actually liked the movie Ju-On, it gives a different twist than the cheesy amercian horror that I am never scared of. I liked that the Japanese actually put out something scarey like the Ring, and theGrudge. I am tired of the same ol same ol bad acting cheesy american flicks. It sounds like you like those type……because as far as scariness goes these movies blow any I have watched out of the water.

    I almost gave up on scary movies until these movies came out. They brought a new kind of suspense into hollywood. It’s original, and not the same as every other horror flick in hollywood, like I said before. I am not in to picking apart every stupid little detail, if you like it you like it………..and as far as story line, when is the last scary movie that had a real good story line?

  5. i’m a collector of horror movies myself. and i have my opinions about japanese vs. american horror movies.. about ju-on.. the original and the remake of the americans… Ju-on (Original) as i can say is one of the most scariest movie i ever watched. The original one from Japan is actually scary. the american remake didn’t even make a single hair on my body stand up. Its just didn’t get to me.. i just think that.. American can’t make them selves scary looking enough to scare me. But japanese people they look scary and pretty at the same time. So i dont know. Like or dislike i need an opinion from y’all.

  6. i just watched Ju-on for the first time and……it was worlds better than the grudge imo, and im American. I found Juon much more engaging. i never knew grudge was a remake, but i wish i did.

  7. As a European, I’d have to say the “American” Grudge film (it’s actually still directed by the same guy who did Ju-On The Grudge) is probably the scariest horror film of its time, and much scarier than mostly everything from the US. That said, I was really disappointed with Ju-On The Grudge, I found it cheesy and a bit repetitive – it just seemed like it lacked production and polish, almost like watching a stage show. It was less scary than American slasher flicks.

    That said, I’m writing in 2020, horror films have hit new heights since Australian filmmaker James Wan’s Insidious. Stuff like The Conjuring 1 and 2, Hereditary, and The Babadook are WAY scarier than anything that came before them. Why? Because they stopped imitating cheesy stuff like Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street and started imitating The Shining instead – a film which was 30 years ahead of its time.

    1. Let me clarify. Scariest to that point! Compared to films like The Conjuring, The Grudge is elementary. There have been much much scarier films since.

    2. Linden, you are dead on (pun intended) with these points! I couldn’t agree more and your examples of Babadook and Hereditary are keen too. I feel this new generation of horror, as you pointed out, has really taken the Shining model and run with it. The scariest reaches of the psyche reside already inside us.

  8. On that bizarre sound that the ghosts make. It’s sort of like the noise someone makes when they are gasping.
    It’s called “The Death Rattle!”
    If you are caring for a loved one in the last days of life you may be distressed when you hear the so-called “Death Rattle” refers to a gurgling sound that individuals often make during the dying process. When people are no longer able to swallow or cough, saliva builds up in the back of the throat and the airways causing a “Rattling” sound when air passes through. About half the dying makes this sound.
    Btw-I prefered the Japanese Ju-On over the American remake!
    That part where you hear that loud thumping from the wall which later was a preview of their own bodies hanging and swinging into the wall, thumping it, freaked me out!

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