Friday, June 27, 2008

REVIEW: Ju-Rei: The Uncanny - Koji Shiraishi (2004)

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

It’s impossible to count the number of films that both Hideo Nakata’s Ringu and Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on series has influenced. Despite a countless slew of terrible, soulless knock-offs (Jean-Claude Van Damme Knock-Off bad) emerging from not only Japan, but countless other countries including Korea, Thailand, the US and even Canada, occasionally a film manages to overcome the innate repetitive nature of the legacy it’s channeling, creating something that ends up being more than the sum of its parts. Ju-rei manages to be one of those films, although barely.

The film opens with a group of girls rehearsing a dance routine on a dark city street. Like the opening scene of Ringu, the girls briefly discuss the curse that presents itself in the film, in this case a girl dressed in black who kills all who bear witness to her, before one of the girls is taken by the very same ghost. It quickly, and effectively, establishes the tone. This film is derivative of numerous other films that came before it, setting this up not only with the Ringu style intro, but also by using the exact throat rattling sound from Ju-on as the ghost emerges. However, the film immediately alters our perception of the direction it’s going in when the first chapter heading is revealed: Chapter 10. From here we view the tale through a Memento/Irreversible style setup, playing the entire film out in reverse. This is one of the choices director Koji Shiraishi (Slit-Mouthed Woman) made, giving the film a slight creative edge over other J-horror tripe. Broadway Productions, the company that behind the film, had made a series of short horror anthologies prior to this, mimicking the episodic nature of many horror manga that permeate the Japanese pop culture landscape. Takashi Shimizu used this device to incredible effect with the Ju-on series of films, and here Koji Shiraishi does the same. Each chapter effectively becomes an episode in the story of Ju-rei, slowly unraveling the mystery of the girl in black.

Ju-rei is a cheap film and for the most part it is very evident. The DV quality of the film is rough, muddy and grainy, the acting can be sub-par at best, and the lack of decent special effects or blood at times calls attention to itself, intentionally, but Shiraishi uses these limitations to good effect. The lack of special effects and blood force him to rely on one thing: tension. While some would consider this a good thing (myself included), this is the aspect of the movie that will polarize viewers most. The film plays out in long, static shots, and can test a viewer’s patience if not prepared. Because we are forced to view the same image for sometimes minutes, tension is created just from the sheer anticipation of when the moment of terror is going to occur, and from which part of the screen. Ju-rei is very slow, and built entirely on this simple concept. The plot is incredibly ambiguous, but if you can get past the films limitations, it is in fact an enjoyable viewing experience, containing enough original scares to surprise any J-horror connoisseur. However, if you are expecting something that’s fast paced and keeps moving, this is not the uncanny experience you are looking for.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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