Grudge 2, The: Unrated Director's Cut (DVD)
Directed by Takashi Shimizu
Distributed by Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Of all the frightening films to come out of Japan, the Ju-On (translated: grudge or curse) franchise is without question my favorite. Director Takashi Shimizu has created an entire world for his characters to interact and meet horrible demises within. Not to mention the fact that every victim needs a big bad to bring the evil. With The Grudge Shimizu has also created two of the most memorable film villains to grace the big screen in quite some time: the forever croaking and twitching Kayako (Fuji) and her cat-scratch fever infected son Toshio (Tanaka). Every time this lethal pair are on the screen, you know the scary is coming. What some folks may not know is that while this may technically be called The Grudge 2 here in the States, it's actually the sixth film in the series.
It all started back in the year 2000. Shimizu debuted the first Ju-On film to Japanese television audiences, and it was an immediate hit. The film's surreal nature and incredible story had enough twists, turns, and genuine frights to cause even the most jaded of viewers many a sleepless night. In fact it was such a hit that within that very same year Ju-On 2 also graced the small screen. Like its predecessor, it too was met with critical acclaim, and as a result Ju-On made its theatrical debut in 2003 with the second big screen entry, Ju-On 2, to follow later that same year. For those keeping score, that brings us to four films with almost identical titles. Confusing? Maybe a little.
After the success of both the television and theatrical versions overseas, it wasn't long before the franchise was brought to America. The good news? Shimizu was staying at the helm and bringing along the irreplaceable Takako Fuji to play his lead ghostie. In 2004 Western audiences finally got their chance to see what all of the fuss was about as The Grudge headed into theatres nationwide. For the most part it delivered, but for long-time fans of the series the movie played like more of a Ju-On's greatest hits compilation as just about every spooky gag from the Japanese films was recycled for us Yanks.
Finally, that brings us to the subject of the day, The Grudge 2. Anyone familiar with the Ju-On series knows that one of the staples of the franchise is that several intertwining stories are told at once, and this latest Grudge is no different. For starters we follow the exploits of a young girl named Aubrey (Tamblyn), who is the sister of Sarah Michelle Gellar's character Karen from the original American Grudge. After being sent to Japan by her bedridden mother (Joanna Cassidy) to see what's become of her sister, Aubrey (as you may have already guessed) becomes privy to the curse and is in turn haunted by Kayako and Toshio.
The two other storylines of the film are directly related but not told in chronological order. They both follow the exploits of a Chicago girl named Allison (Kebbel). While attending school in Japan, Allison is dared by her friends (two years after the Karen/Aubrey incident) to enter the house where all the evil originated, thus damning herself and her antagonists. Of course the spooky hits the fan, and after a few deaths Allison ends up going back home to Illinois. But she's not alone. Little do her parents know that when they were picking her up from the airport, she had two spectral stowaways. Where's Homeland Security when you need it, right? Probably off seizing somebody's pack of Freshen Up gum because it has a liquid center.
Let's face it. Shimizu, as brilliant as he is, has gone to this well plenty of times. Does this latest trip work? Yes and no. Thankfully The Grudge 2 gives us some truly original scares along with some of the gags from the Japanese Ju-On 2. This comes as a breath of fresh air after the first American Grudge film. Yet, when I saw this movie in the theatre, something still seemed a bit off.
This unrated director's cut DVD does a lot to fix most of the problems. The film seems more complete. More cohesive. The additional footage brings forth a bit more character development and of course much more time spent with our ghostly duo. While still not one hundred percent sold, I have to say that this version plays a hell of a lot better than its theatrical cousin and is well worth a first or second look for fans.
The extras are pretty friggin' sweet too. After you get past a really strange musical montage consisting of people signifying the changing of film reels, we're treated to all three episodes of the previously Internet-only released Tales from the Grudge directed by newcomer Toby Wilkins and introduced by Sam Raimi. Although this trio of short films clock in at just under eight minutes, they sure are effective and true to the spirit of Shimizu's mythos. Good stuff.
From there we get several behind-the-scenes featurettes that run about fifteen minutes each. First up we have a little diddy called Holding a Grudge: Kayako & Toshio. This is an up-close and personal look at the ghosts, their creator, their evolution, and the people who play them. Nothing groundbreaking but nothing bad either. The second and third entitled East Meets West and Grudge 2: Storyline Development focus mainly on the same thing -- the bringing together of two cultures to make one movie. Oddly enough each ends up being absolutely infuriating. Why, you ask? Because I am sick and tired of hearing about how foreign directors need to re-tailor their stories so that American audiences will have an easier time following them. Why not just hire a music video director if you're not going to let the person make his movie? And excuse me, but are we the country that rode to the big game on the short bus? Contrary to the studio reps beliefs, we don't all need to be spoon-fed our entertainment. I don't know of a single person who had a hard time following either of the four Japanese installments, so why must the two American entries be dumbed down?
Listening to Shimizu and producer Taka Ichise talk about some of the studio's ideas to make the series "more accessible" is enough to make you throw something at the TV. Without question, the most ludicrous was their demand to have Kayako have a living twin. What the fuck?! Um ... why? Thankfully Shimizu and Ichise stuck to their guns and shot most of their stupidity down. Yet, one can't help but get the feeling that if there is anything wrong at all with the American versions of The Grudge, it is directly because of the ridiculous meddling of some executive with aspirations of becoming the next Steven Spielberg. Sure, these guys write the checks, but let the people who know how to make movies, make movies! In retrospect I'm starting to think that it's a miracle these films ended up being as good as they were.
The fourth and final featurette focuses on the director himself and is titled Ready When You Are, Mr. Shimizu. While there's still an obvious language barrier between Shimizu and his Western fans, you just cannot help but like the guy. He's a prankster, a comedian, and a genius behind the lens.
Now on to the star of this DVD: the deleted scenes. Well, not all of them actually, just one in particular. The alternate ending. In it we get to see what becomes of Karen and Aubrey's bitch of a mother. I watched this scene several times, and it was so cool that I had to make a small pictorial outlining the events. Never say that I don't care about you sickos! Dig on these:
It's going to be interesting to see where things go from here. Japan will have their Ju-On 3, but will we get our own? Let's not forget that Kayako and Toshio are now loose in Chi-town. If it comes to pass, we can only hope that Sony has the good sense to keep Shimizu in the director's seat. I don't think anyone else could capably handle the material.
This is a grudge that only one man can truly hold.
East Meets West featurette
Grudge 2: Storyline Development featurette
Ready When You Are, Mr. Shimizu featurette
Holding a Grudge: Kayako & Toshio featurette
Tales from the Grudge with introduction from Sam Raimi
Cast and crew reel change montage
3 1/2 out of 5
4 out of 5