The Grudge director Takashi Shimizu entered the room and shook my hand while grasping an ashtray in his other hand. “Sorry, I’m heavy smoker”, he said in broken English. Through his interpreter we sat down and began the interview. Right in the middle of the first question he looked down at the recorder, lowered his head towards the microphone and began making the eerie signature, Grudge sound. Then after began giggling like a child who had just played a successful prank.
Question: That sound in the film is your voice correct?
Takashi Shimizu: Yes that is me.
Q: Taka Ichise said thatThe Grudge curse is solely your idea and not based on Japanese legend. How did it you develop it?
TS: It is definitely based on Japanese culture and Japanese ghost stories because when I was little I really loved reading ghost stories. In every book the ghost stories were different, so I just wanted to combine everything and add my own world of ghosts and my own rules. So I just combined everything and that is what became, The Grudge.
Q: In terms of mood and tone what kind of compromises did you make for the American audience?
TS: Mood and tone is just something that is inside of me. Something that is really hard to explain. The influence in the film is definitely based on things I have read in the past. I think it was similar among everyone. When it came to performance, I didn’t want to force any of the actors to do whatever I wanted but at the same time there is a definite timing in the tone and the mode that I carry within myself. Sometimes the actors thought it was too long to hold the moment but I just wanted them to trust me for that.
Q: Did your directions ever get lost in translation to the other actors?
TS: (Laughs) My last translator was really good but she talked a little more than she was supposed too. (Laughs) Meaning she was saying things to the actors that I didn’t want them to hear. (Laughs)
Q: What were some of the things she said?
TS: (Pause) I don’t remember. (Laughs) Actually the movie, Lost in Translation was happening during the filming of The Grudge, so Sarah (Michelle Gellar) got the DVD to watch it. I was very conscious about the film and very conscious to make sure Sarah really understands what I am actually saying. What I’m trying to say is that if I hear English I can kind of understand a nuance of it, but Sarah doesn’t understand any Japanese so she probably doesn’t get the feeling even but she is very smart and she was able to sense everything.
Q: Was it weird to basically make the same movie two years in a row?
TS: Very strange. I actually wanted to change as much as I could and bring in as much new stuff as I could. When I was first offered the remake I said no, but when Sam asked me to do this he said, “Bring in the different ghost taste to America.” That was such an honor to be asked for. And I’m such a big fan of Sam and that is just a great honor to do what he asked for so that is why I decided to go for it.
Q: In regards to the locations used in the remake; they looked very similar to those in Ju-On. Were any of the same locations used?
TS: No they were all different but all based on Ju-On so that is why they looked so similar.
Q: Was there anything in the first film that you were not happy with that you were glad you had the chance to do again?
TS: Of course there are things that I am more satisfied with in the remake, but I actually found out that when we were doing the original there were things we couldn’t do because of the low budget and there was no time. In the remake there were still things we couldn’t do with the money and the time. It was kind of hard for me to find that out. But the new one is on a higher level.
Q: Were you surprised how much freedom the American producers in Hollywood gave you to make the film the way you wanted to make it?
TS: During the process I have to say I got more freedom than I expected but that was all because of Sam’s support. I really appreciate him for that kind of support but I still had a difficult time. Sam wanted me to do the remake because he saw the original and he knew the direction I was going in and he completely trusted me to do that, but the other producers were different and they had so much to say. There were times where we argued. There was a definite direction I was going for but the producers didn’t agree with me. When that kind of situation happened Sam came in between and he tried to negotiate for us. I really appreciate what he did.
Q: Was this other American producers?
TS: Yes American producers.
Q: Robert Tapert?
TS: No, Robert was always with Sam and very supportive. After it all I can say it was a lot of fun but there were a lot of fights between the Sony producers and Sam, Rob & I. Sam and Rob completely trusted me, in what I could do to bring the Japanese taste to America. Sony was always thinking about business and they wanted something more typical. They wanted something more understandable for the Americans so there was this conflict, but at the same time I was able to come up with something in between compromising both. So now I can say it was fun.
Q: What about the ending? Was there any conflict about how the film was going to end?
TS: There was no argument about the ending, however there were some issues. When I would watch American DVDs in Japan sometimes the DVDs would have different endings. I wasn’t really going for that idea because as a samurai spirit why don’t I just decide on one thing. (Laughs) I always wanted to go with one idea and just be with it, but experiencing the American production now I understand that here it is just more difficult to make films within the production and now I understand why sometimes there are different endings It was kind of nice that I got to experience the American production that way.
Q: What are the plans for the DVD?
TS: The ending will be the same for the DVD but the MPAA made us cut some stuff to get the PG-13 rating, so I definitely want to release a director’s cut so I can add back in all of the scary things you didn’t get to see, an unrated version.
Q: Was it difficult to make a PG-13 horror film?
TS: I guess I could say that it was strict but I’m not really a big fan of violence and slaughter. Sometimes I think it is necessary for the horror movie but I don’t think those are the only elements that make a horror movie scarier. So in a way yes, but not really.
Q: Do you think there are cultural differences in what Japanese audiences find frightening versus what American audiences do?
TS: Definitely different.
Q: In what way?
TS: It kind of has something to do with religions. In America if there is a ghost in a film they attack you and that is how people get scared. In Japan if a ghost appears and it is just there we get scared. Just because it’s there. Maybe it’s going to do something to me or maybe it’s going to take my life away. It’s just the existence of the ghost that scares us. Maybe that has something to do with the religion. That’s the biggest difference.
Q: What are your future directorial plans?
TS: All I have right now is horror but I am looking for a producer who will let me do a comedy.
Q: How’s about a horror comedy?