The Curse is a more effective horror movie than The Grudge

It was in the late 1990s when Hideo Nakataavant-garde masterpiece Ringu sparked worldwide interest in Japanese horror. In the years that followed, films like Impulse, dark waterand A missed call continued the worldwide success of Japanese horror cinema, but the one that arguably had the biggest impact was At Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on: grudge. There have been thirteen films in the Ju-on franchise since 2000, as well as several short films, comics, novels and a Netflix TV series. While many assume the franchise began with The Grudge in 2002, the franchise’s first feature film was actually Ju-on: the cursereleased straight-to-video in 2000.

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The curse followed by two short films by Shimizu – Katsumi and 4444444444. While he was a student at the film school in Tokyo, he was taken under the wing of the Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi KurosawaDirector of Impulse, one of the finest J-horrors of its time. Kurosawa helped Shimizu in his film debut, but few could have predicted the immense creation Shimizu had up his sleeve. The two three-minute short films are true prequels to the Ju-on movies, and while it will be four years before international success comes to the franchise, it’s thrilling to watch them show Takako Fuji like Kayako for the first time, if only for a few seconds. Fuji reprized the iconic role five more times, until The grudge 3, the second American sequel. These two shorts also marked the first appearance of Toshio, the pale-faced boy who became an iconic figure in horror.


When The curse released two years after the Shimizu shorts, it impressed audiences for its mood-setting and tension-building, and this praise spread by word of mouth in Japan. The curse is uniquely told in six short segments shown out of order. Shimizu relishes this experimental presentation of the story and quickly confuses his audience. It also sets a very clear and moody tone immediately and offers subtle hints of unseen horror under ostensibly ordinary circumstances. At the beginning, there is a flashback sequence with schoolteacher Mr. Kobayashi (Yūrei Yanagi) looking back at a meeting with Toshio and his mother, Kayako. This brief but meaningful moment is filmed with a dreamlike light hue and an unsettling score, and Shimizu wisely keeps Kayako and Toshio out of focus for this seconds-long scene. The rumble of the music stops abruptly at the end of the flashback, first laying down the mystery surrounding mother and son. Although brief, Shimizu does more than enough to make their first appearance alarming.


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In The curseIn the opening segment of , Shimizu chooses not to reveal anything and instead chooses to keep building up the tension. The segment ends with Mr. Kobayashi investigating cat meows from outside the window of the house, but it turns out the sounds are coming from Toshio sitting behind him. It’s unexpected and surprisingly creepy, with Toshio out of focus in the background of the shot. The opening segment of The Grudge, while still very tense on its own, lasts much longer and doesn’t shy away from explicitly showing Kayako’s towering shadow in full. Shimizu’s use of foreground and background is much stronger in The curse, which makes many shots more memorable in the long run. These obscured appearances of Kayako and Toshio in their human form in the opening establish something “off” about each of them even before they take on a more demonic form. Shimizu makes brilliant implications and suggestions in The cursewhile the larger budget of The Grudge provided a temptation to openly show horror to lesser effect.


Only after fifty-three minutes The curse when Kayako makes her first proper appearance. Before that, its only real screen time is shaded or blurry. By the time we see it in full, the film is only seventeen minutes long. It’s well worth the preparation for her first appearance in her more recognizable ghostly form, in a scene where she crawls slowly and methodically up the stairs, her tired bones cracking and her mouth spitting out a horrible croak. Completed by the presence of Toshio, this scene is terrifying beyond belief. It is very faithfully recreated in The Grudge, however, due to unsuitable lighting, it doesn’t work as well. It’s odd that Shimizu chose to film the scene this way, because Kayako stepping out of the shadows is a far scarier sight than her in a brighter setting.


It would be easy to compare many similar scenes from the two films, and although The curse Tops The Grudge in several individual scenes it is also superior in its pacing. Only seventy minutes away, The curse is much tighter and allows for a more intense viewing experience. It passes quickly, but it is not easy to forget. Adjustments to the plot that The Grudge stretches it over ninety-two minutes which, while far from boring, pales in comparison to the liveliness and memorability of The curseThe tension stops and resumes in The Grudgebut it remains constant in its predecessor. The curse is a pretty quiet horror movie, and the silence plays a key role in keeping the tension and anxiety going. When noises come, they are high-pitched and piercing. Shimizu uses a similar technique again in The Grudgebut at times the tension is diminished by exaggerated and ineffectual shouting.

The premise surrounding the curse is virtually identical in both films. The curse spreads like a disease and inflicts terror in each character’s life in the form of a vengeful spirit. The vengeful spirit figure has long been an icon of horror associated with Japan. It goes back to old Japanese folk tales and urban legends, which have inspired some of the most startling horror imagery ever constructed, including the one seen in The curse and The Grudge. The plot and iconography featured in both films have been replicated in various imitations as a result of The Grudgeis success. From a visual point of view, while The Grudge can be more aesthetic, grainy and low-budget quality of The curse suits such a dark story.

There has often been a debate as to which is the superior J-horror among The Grudge and Ringu. Both had such an influence on Japanese horror as a whole, and each achieved huge international acclaim. The two franchises even had a crossover in 2016 with by Koji Shiraishi crowd pleaser Sadako vs. Kayako. Generally, the public prefers Ringubut in truth, The curse is a closer comparison to make with it. It can be hard to believe that a straight-to-video original is superior to its theatrically released remake, but that’s the case with The curse and The Grudge. The curse deserves credit for being the first installment in the iconic horror franchise, and it’s truly a shame that such an effective and monumental horror film has seemingly been overlooked. It improves on its successor – the remakes and sequels too – in many ways, and yet a large portion of the audience may not even be aware of its existence. Simply, without The cursewe would not have The Grudge.

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