In the 1990s and ’00s, Japanese “J-Horror” cornered the market on terrifying girls with a mountain of black hair covering their faces. While most will be familiar with the Ring series and the iconic Sadako, some are yet to discover the equally scary Ju-On franchise. Thankfully, Arrow has produced a new comprehensive boxset of the series, with a 4K restoration of the most famous of the films, Ju-On: The Grudge.
The box collects the six feature-length films in the original series: the initial 2000 direct-to-video duo of Ju-On: The Curse and Ju-On: The Curse 2, theatrical features Ju-On: The Grudge (2002) and Ju-On: The Grudge 2 (2003), and the later hour-long instalments Ju-On: Black Ghost and Ju-On: White Ghost (2009). The series was created by writer and director Takashi Shimizu with the short films Katasumi and 4444444444, which were initially broadcast on Japanese television in 1998 as part of a horror anthology. These shorts are not included in the box for rights reasons, but you can start with the original duo of Ju-On: The Curse and Ju-On: The Curse 2.
The concept of the Ju-On films comes from a curse passed on from a murder committed in pure rage, with the series set around the case of Kayako and her son Toshio, who are murdered by Kayako’s husband in a jealous rage. Each film opens with the text “Ju-On: A curse born when a person dies in a powerful rage.” The curse is perpetuated by their spirits on people that visit their haunted home.
Ju-On: The Grudge is about a social worker sent to the house to check on an older woman. She sees a small boy, Toshio, but no one can say he exists when she reports him. Deaths begin to surround her, and she is confronted by Kayako’s malevolent spirit, who walks in a terrifying way where she contorts her limbs. Ju-On: The Grudge 2 has a horror actress who appears in a documentary about the house and its history. Similarly, tragic things happen, with her suffering a miscarriage and a car accident putting her fiancee in a coma, only for the baby to return. Everyone who works on the documentary comes to a terrible end, and there’s a pretty spectacular sequence in the delivery room when the baby arrives.
All of the films in the series are told in a non-linear fashion, which allows you to piece together the mystery and the tragedy of what has happened, although, at first, it can be disconcerting. The films are split into vignettes focused around each character, which is an exciting way of structuring things. The movies are also incredibly creepy, with the horror elements focusing on the terrifying appearances of Kayako and Toshio popping up at inopportune moments.
Ju-On: The Grudge 2 is the better of the two, with an overall scarier effect and a more refined feel. The haunted house TV show is a good gimmick for it to be centred around, and the way the connected crew die is a lot of fun. It’s also crazier, especially with the nutty delivery room scene.
Ju-On: Black Ghost and Ju-On: White Ghost are similarly creepy, with a swifter narrative due to their hour-long running time. White Ghost takes place after Black Ghost, with the former about the murders of a new family, which is instigated by the curse from a tragedy in the latter. They’re also reasonably upsetting, especially White Ghost, which features horrendous but thankfully implied acts of sexual abuse.
How you view Ju-On: The Curse and Ju-On: The Curse 2 will probably depend on your tolerance of the video image, as they were both shot on tape. However, they’re both eerie as anything, if a bit understandably rougher than the following films, and look at the original murders of Kayako and Toshio.
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The new 4K presentation of Ju-On: The Grudge is fantastic; the set is also available with a 4K UHD of the film included. The sequel and the two “ghost” films also look great, and the sound, in particular, is terrific. The sound design is incredible, and you’ll be hearing a specific sound for weeks after. The box is also full of new and legacy bonus features, with introductions on the films by Takashi Shimizu, audio commentaries, interviews, visual essays, deleted scenes, and much more. It’s a brilliant set and a fine complement to Arrow’s Ring box.
The centrepiece of this fantastic set is Ju-On: The Grudge, but don’t discount its superior sequel, as well as the Black Ghost/White Ghost features. The films look great, and the extras are plentiful. The only curse here is the first-world problem of needing enough time to watch it all.
Ju-On: The Grudge Collection is out now on 4K UHD + Blu-ray from Arrow Video.