Starring: Yoshiyoshi Arakawa, Yuina Kuroshima, Seiko Iwaidô, Dorah Fine, Brock Powell, Ririka
Director: Shô Miyake
Writers: Takashige Ichise, Hiroshi Takahashi
Ju-on was based on events that really happened. It was determined that these horrible things originated from one house. But what happened was much more terrifying than anything in the movies.
Last week, I was taking a leisurely walk in my neighborhood. It’s quiet and dotted with quaint houses, most of which were built well over fifty years ago. But there’s a recent trend in which people are purchasing these, only to tear them down and build much bigger ones. It’s unfortunate as it changes the whole charming personality of the area. And as each house is demolished, what happens to their stories? Who lived in them? What took place within those walls? Were any of them haunted? Horror movies have covered this idea, including The Changeling (1980), Poltergeist (1982), The Others (2001), and The Grudge (2004), a remake of the Japanese movie, Ju-On (2002).
Ju-On (2002) is a story about a house in which a violent and tragic event occurs, creating a curse. It affects people that end up in the house, especially those who have a certain susceptibility because of past emotional or even physical trauma. Unlike the curse in The Ring (2002) that can be passed on, this curse is final for all intents and purposes. The original version and subsequent American remake were successful, spawning a series of sequels. However, the franchise has been dormant for over ten years, until recently. Released on Netflix this past summer, Ju-On: Origins (2020) is available for streaming.
Set in the Ju-On universe, Ju-On: Origins separates itself from the movies by focusing more on the event that initiated the curse. Claiming to be based on real events tells the story of Yasuo (Yoshiyoshi Arikawa) and Haruka (Yuina Kuroshima). They team up to investigate strange occurrences that happen at the house, delving into its history. As the show progresses, our investigative team gets closer to solving the curse, even as the death toll adds up. But would they be able to put a stop to it?
There are a few storylines, each dealing with various victims of the curse, ranging from the 1950’s to the 1990’s. They provide clues needed to determine the root of the curse and if it can be stopped. Transitioning between stories and linking them are Yasuo and Haruka, which the producers did well. But ultimately, is it even possible to stop a curse? It wasn’t in The Woman in Black (2012) nor most of the movies listed above. Is this because of the nature of curses, or is it because of the need to continue a franchise? That there are thirteen entries in this franchise alone could be an answer in itself.
Ju-On: Origins does not shy away from brutality. The source of the curse involves rape, murder, kidnapping, and more. Those vulnerable to it have also experienced similar life events. There is enough material to show horrific scenes with raw violence and, at times, gore. It’s shocking, terrifying, cringe-inducing, scary and at times, was uncomfortable to watch. But it’s a horror show, and in that respect, it works. It’s a refreshing entry in the horror genre.
The tension builds well over the six episodes. As the mystery deepens, the atmosphere gets eerier, the drab settings matching the depressive mood. There are some jump scares, and though they aren’t frequent or original, they are effective. The despair and terror felt by the characters is palpable. Even the woman in white who replaces Kayako is scary. (With Origins, a supposed dramatization of real events, it does not include Kayako from the movies.)
Ju-On deals with a rage curse, and characters experience various emotional states, ranging from anger to utter depression. This wasn’t apparent in the dubbed version of the show. Whether it was the voice-over actors failing to convey them appropriately or the actors themselves failing to do so is debatable. However, perhaps not having subtitles was beneficial, given how the visual aspects influence the show. If the viewer is busy reading subtitles, these cues could be missed, changing the entire viewing experience.
Ju-On: Origins is thematically heavy, touching on kidnapping, murder, rape, abandonment, unfulfilled lives, traumatic childhood, and others. Though it doesn’t spend any time explaining them, the show doesn’t shy away from exposing this ugly side of humanity. It is necessary given the curse easily feeds on these broken souls. And there is no shortage of these people. That this could be a reflection of humanity is as terrifying as the movie.
The flow between episodes isn’t very smooth. Each one is listed at thirty minutes but is, in fact, closer to twenty-eight, given the opening and ending credits. This leaves about two hours and fifteen minutes of actual storytelling. Rather than show it as one movie, it’s broken up. The transitions between episodes are choppy. There are gaps in time that aren’t explained, making it a little difficult to follow.
Ju-On: Origins is good horror. The psychological states of these characters parallel the dark and bleak reality of the setting. It’s terrifying that this could happen to anyone based solely on one’s address. Understandably, given the show’s restricted time frame, the effects of the curse are compounded and hastened. This is done by necessity, as the events’ time span is large and the length of the episodes rather short. However, it doesn’t distract and is not noticeable.
Haunted house stories are so much fun, especially when they offer something new and fresh, grabbing viewer attention. Poltergeist (1982), The Others (2001), and American Horror Story – Season 1 (2011) were among some of the success stories. And now, Ju-On: Origins, which is an excellent show. It may have distanced itself from the movies, but it shines by being true to its roots. It is a good story and an excellent horror entry. Even with a few imperfections, it is a worthwhile watch. Given the short episode lengths, it’s an easy show to binge in one sitting. Oh, and make sure you dim the lights!