Ju-On: The curse of one who dies in the grip of powerful rage. It gathers and takes effect in the places that person was alive. Those who encounter it die, and a new curse is born. — Ju-On: The Grudge
The obese prism of film, protruding out of silent, black and white projection – shadows melting down reflective screens in darkness – went vegan and became travel-sized. We sparkle and chime with notifications in place of what once was, taking dictation from an electronic earworm, that train’s famous arrival as pocket pool: the Lumière brothers wept. Place-based activity, like theaters, have been eclipsed by alienated studios-of-one posted via broadband to audiences-of-none. Facebook checklists, a pseudo-participatory chain mail, hail all the streamlined binge-watched soaps. Viewer discretion has been revised. How to update such a taxidermized fate? Which flicker in our peripheral will shield us from banality as life’s LCD screen flashes by?
Ju-On: Origins is a brutal domestic violence crusade. Take its scar tissue with you to cushion each 30-minute dream. Palm-light like the revenge for masturbation manifests in shuttered squints. Premiering in 2000, the first feature length installment of Ju-On was lumped in with the hair-draped folklore of Ringu right when mainstream horror reimagined being self-reflexive. Ringu and its suped-up American cousin The Ring (an on-par remake for once) are narratives, temporally straight shooters (despite the unexpected surrealist genius of the fabled video’s content, a big budget Buñuel virus smeared across the globe). Ju-On: Origins, like many other films in its franchise, is at a ninety-degree narrative angle to itself. Nearly every plot point dots a spatial axis. Harmony caricatured into Japanese formal politeness seethes beneath a timeline bent into the shape of a house. What’s important to this story is inhuman – and not in the ole husband-gives-cheating-wife-an-abortion-with-a-dinner-knife way. Something is worse than rotten inside the structure, from the architecture out. The cursed house did not exist outside of time before it started streaming across the globe at many gigabits per second. Ju-On juts forth like a broken finger, more mythology than film. Dozens of prequels and sequels continue to spawn across continents, perhaps of their own accord.
The cassette tape’s wheels churn. The reel spools and clicks. These tiny analog constructs of sensory detail used to require care. The compound fracture of a boundary becomes a pettily tangible light source. Kuniaki Haishima’s stark score threads tension into the tapestry. Meta tropes work better enacted instead of stated. The house is splattered with the realities digesting within it. No home is stage enough. But we’re all parasites to some structure. Episode one starts as if we’re watching television within a show we’re in. Reporters scramble for the best shot over our overgrown fence. A voice claims that Ju-On is inspired by true events more awful than the films are able to depict. Dread is cultivated through atmosphere alone. This is the brilliance of millennial Japanese horror cinema. Your light source has always been harmed. A trickling eclipse of the sun is droned under by industrial amplification. Obscured and murmuring, exploding in your arms when you dare to peek through your fingers. “Something happened [to my boyfriend], and I don’t want to ask,” Haruka, the “talent” on our reality show, says offscreen to the paranormal researcher, Yasuo. Dry rot gargles the throat. A young girl is held down by giggling teens, raped until her eyes and mouth become cavities inside the house. Shadows darken beyond the contour of learned behavior, thick in the spider web of DNA, showering in evidence. The world follows us home, dog shit tracked on a carpet.
When the original ghost frequents the house, she asks a favor. Almost inaudible, perhaps ashamed at her final request, she wants to be buried together with her dead infant son. Knowing their flesh is rained on together, barely covered with thick mud in the house’s garden: perhaps this will release her. At least we’ll be eaten together. As much as the curse calls attention to abuse, it revels in its link to the wilt of the arts, the intensity of cinema at its beginning and the hypnotic sleep deprivation it’s become. A family, an audience, alive to keep witness, enrolled in monthly subscriptions. If we could only rip the vintage wallpaper from our eyes and get it over with.
— David Kuhnlein’s reviews are featured on Entropy, Expat, Bright Lights Film Journal, and others. He lives in Michigan. Twitter: @princessbl00d