Fellow Chiaki fan Max Sterling wrote this Film and DVD Review for the Chiaki Kuriyama Fandom.
NOTE: Ju-on also goes by Juon. It can be found on Internet Movie Database (IMDB) under the name Ju-on, so for the purposes of this review it will go by Ju-on as well.
Supervised by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, one of Japan's most respected directors, and directed by Takashi Shimizu, Ju-on started out as two V-Cinema films before spawning two theatrical films in 2002 and 2003. V-Cinema is the Japanese version of "direct-to-video", but don't let that fool you into thinking that this is a cheap, poorly made piece of dreck, because it isn't.
Ju-on begins with a definition of the term "juon", defining it as a curse born from one who dies tragically that affects and kills all who come into contact with it. It's basically a terse description of what you are about to see over the next 70 minutes. Afterwards, the filmmakers waste no time in setting the mood of the film through a series of establishing shots of the house (where most of the film takes place) and its surroundings. We've got eerie music, we've got ambiguity, we've got spider webs, and we've got a macabre ambience, all centered around a tree-sheltered domicile where something tragic has happened. Enter Kobayashi Sensei (Yuurei Yanagi from Ring and Ring 2), a seemingly good natured teacher whose very pregnant wife is expecting their first child. When we meet him, he is nearing the end of his home visits, having only one more student to see. This student, Toshio Saeki, happens to be the son of Kayako, a girl Kobayashi and his wife knew in high school. Upon visiting the Saeki residence, Kobayashi discovers Toshio's parents are nowhere to be found. What's worse, the interior of the house looks like a landfill and Toshio is mysteriously covered in scratches and bruises. Now no review of a good horror film should delve too deeply into the story (for fear of giving something away to the audience), but should instead let the audience enter the film with as little knowledge as possible. So that's all I'm saying about the story. What follows is a series of events that culminate in a disconcerting revelation made by Kobayashi while leaving the film open for its V-Cinema sequel. It's not the most original, or logical, plot, but horror films rarely try to imitate reality.
As it is a V-Cinema film, it has a noticeably small budget. It has that "TV look" which may turn some people off, the music is mostly synthesized and sounds as if it was pulled from an X-Files episode, and the one major special effect looks a little "cheap" (you'll know it when you see it). However, the low budget could also be seen as an advantage because it helps the film in other ways. This isn't exactly like James Cameron's Terminator or George Lucas' original Star Wars trilogy where necessity led to groundbreaking filmmaking techniques, but rather it concerns the visual style of the film. With the exception of a few films (such as The Others and The Sixth Sense), Hollywood thrillers and horror films are too glossy, flashy, and "pretty". Gore Verbinski's version of The Ring is a far cry from the original as it relies less on atmoshpere and more on cheap scares. Resident Evil was a ridiculous brain dump of a film that, had it retained the game's campy horror, could have become an Evil Dead for the new millenium. This low budget visual style is where Ju-on excels. It has a grainy, pseudo-documentary look that screams "last known video" and really helps generate an uneasy feeling in the audience.
The interesting aspect of Ju-on (and Ju-on 2) is its nonlinear approach to story telling. The film is comprised of a series of segments that are shown out of chronological order. I've read reviews that criticize this approach, calling it a difficult film to follow. Those reviews are only half right and are completely ignoring the critical advantage that a discontinuous narrative could bring to this particular horror film. To the casual viewer, it can be a bit difficult to fully grasp after the first viewing, but remember, this isn't some meaningless Aston Kutcher vehicle. This film requires multiple viewings, and the viewer who takes the time to dissect the film and put it back in order will hopefully come out of it with the sense that the curse in the film is powerful and is able to transcend both time and space. That's not to say this is the scariest, most mind-bending film out there, but watch it alone, at night, and in the dark and you just might find yourself looking over your shoulder every now and then for little blue children.
Chiaki Kuriyama has a fairly small role (again), but it's probably the most effectively creepy scene in the film. She plays Mizuho Tamura, mild-mannered school girl and girlfriend of Tsuyoshi Murakami. While looking for her boyfriend at school, she has an encounter with a focused, non-terminal repeating phantasm (or a Class-5 full-roaming vapor). Of all her major film roles, this is easily her weakest one. She's simply not given much to do other than to look confused and/or scared for about ten minutes. This is not criticism of Chiaki as horror films are rarely about the characterization. As in Battle Royale, she's one small pixel of a much larger picture. She plays her character well and keeps the film moving along at a nice pace, which can really be said about all the actors/actresses. For veteran J-Horror fans, keep an eye out for Asumi Miwa and Taro Suwa from Uzumaki.
Ju-on and Ju-on 2 can be found at http://www.angelfire.com/ny/ctenosaur/dvd. Keep in mind that these are not official DVDs. Neither film was ever officially released with English subtitles, but thanks to the good people at CTENOSAUR DVD and their consistently high-quality custom subtitling, you can enjoy both films with excellent English subtitles. Remember that these subtitles are embedded (much like subtitles on a VCD), so you can't turn them off. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 4:3 and has one audio track, Japanese 2.0. It also has a few special features on it. First is a V-Cinema trailer for Ju-on and Ju-on 2 (don't watch this before you watch the film). Second is a trailer for the first theatrical Ju-on film. Third is textual information on a few members of the crew. Finally, there is a commentary with the director and other members of the crew. The only problem is that none of the special features are subtitled, so most western viewers probably won't be able to get much out of the commentary. But when all is said and done, this is the only version available with English subtitles, and it looks and sounds pretty darn good.
Ju-on doesn't have the most original story. Heck, it basically borrows (visually and narratively) a multitude of elements from Hideo Nakata's Ring. But like Ring, The Others, and The Sixth Sense, Ju-on ultimately succeeds as a modern horror film because it challenges the unknown in a very non-exploitative manner. With the upcoming remakes of Dark Water, Ju-on (theatrical), Chaos, and countless other J-Horror films, it looks like Hollywood has finally understood that more gore does not necessarily lead to more scares.