Way back in 2000, Japanese director Takashi Shimizu sent a shiver down the spines of TV viewers in his home country with his scary ghost story Ju-On and its follow-up. So successful was he at creating genuine chills without bloody spills, and on the back of the success of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, that he remade Ju-On for the big screen.
Combining the classic haunted house story with the tale of a vengeful ghost, which the Japanese have always loved (all the way back to 1964’s Kwaidan), Ju-On (which translates as curse or grudge) sees a curse take on a life of its own. Born out of rage and tragic death, this vengeful ghost then seeks out new victims, who then spread the curse.
By using this premise and setting it in a typical urban setting, inside the claustrophobic confines of a typical middle class home, Shimizu weaved his minimalist magic to create a truly terrifying experience.
Just like the original, these new dramas are shot using minimal settings, a handful of actors, and running at an hour each, are tightly constructed so that they achieve the right amount of chills and suspense.
White Ghost is the superior of the two. It starts with a man hanging himself. He leaves behind a cassette recording of his last words alive, and a bag containing the head of his sister, Mirai, who he killed along with the rest of his family.
Mirai’s vengeful ghost then kills a taxi driver, leaving behind ectoplasm, which infects the driver’s young daughter, Akane. Years later, Akane has developed psychic powers which lead her back to the house of the murdered family and to the vengeful spirit of her childhood friend, Mirai.
The second film is Black Ghost. In a cramped apartment block, a young man has trouble sleeping because of the noise his neighbour, a nurse called Yuko, is making. But when he bangs on the wall, the returning bangs are loud and very scary indeed. The next day he goes to see Yuko, but is taken by a dark force.
It is later revealed that Yuko’s young charge at the local hospital, a young girl called Fukie, has a cyst inside her body that is revealed to be an unborn child. Full of rage, this unborn now manifests itself as a dark force. The only chance of saving Fukie is an exorcism. But when that fails, all hell breaks loose.
Produced to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the original Ju-On films (my, how time flies), these two new additions to the franchise reminded me of the TV series Hammer House of Horror which attempted to carry on the spirit of Hammer films for TV viewers.
Chilling and genuinely scary, White Ghost/Black Ghost have spooky pay offs that work well. And as for the throaty croaking of the Ju-On, well that will haunt me forever.