The new Netflix TV-series Ju-On: Origins gives a new spin on the franchise. From going from classical jump-scares to an actual social commentary installment.
The legendary horror franchise that is “Ju-On” is back, Japanese style. Please America, don’t try to make any more remakes. Enough. But is the franchise really strong enough to carry a full fledged miniseries?
Netflix Japan tries to do just this in the first-ever horror of Netflix Japan Original, “JU-ON: Origins”. We once again visits the cursed house, seeing lots of unkempt long hair and listens to the sound of a growling cat. Usually when I see a franchise installment marked “origins”, I go NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO, as most of them is just. Well, just plain lazy. But here, I have to give it to them, props for making this, but not for the reasons you might think. Written by Written by Hiroshi Takahashi and Takashige Ichise, the well known story gets a new lens to be seen through.
Haruka Honjo (Yuina Kuroshima) is a rookie actress. She hears the sounds of footsteps at night in her house. When she learns of psychic researcher Yasuo Odajima (YosiYosi Arakawa) from a TV variety program, she seeks counseling from him about her problem. She teams up with a paranormal investigator to find out the truth is. Also, there are a lot of parallel stories to follow.
Classic Ju-On, Confusing the Audiences Since the Birth of the Franchise
The atmosphere is what driving the story, mentions of the Chernobyl disaster, the fashion trends together with a moody music. It is more an exploration of the psychological drives of the characters and their story more than the scares. If there is one thing that I was left with, it was that I liked it, it just didn’t scare me. Perhaps that is because I compared it to how I felt as a younger viewer in the early 2000 watching the original. Or it could simply be that the scares they did put into it, relied more on very dramatic screaming, blood and many weird and wonky film effects.
There are some nods to the fans of the franchise, like the cats and the their screams, working like an image of the human grief, and anger the character feels. The narratives and plot is overlapping, going in circles and bites itself in the back, just as the rest of the installments. But as a six episode long series, not a movie, does this work? Jury is out!
The characters are in the first episode all over the place, with a lot to keep tabs on in what seems to be unrelated people. And they continue to be confusing to follow, at times frustratingly so throughout the series. If you want complete closure and all questions answered, you will be truly disappointed. It takes a while until the characters really cross paths except all being connected to the house. And the only connecting device they have in the start are the same news feed through the news on retro TV’s and in passing.
The violence is the worst. So graphic, so grotesque. Always coming as a surprise in the most mundane situations, lasting for so long, reminding us that humans really is the worst. Also, in addition to that, it truly have some of the more bizarre scene I’ve witnessed in a long time. Bento in prison scene I’m looking at you.
Based on a True Story
A lot of marketing for the series have been, a “based on a true story” spin. It is not uncommon for horror movies to go this route. But is this it? What is the true story?
The legend of Ju-On is based on the legend of the Onry from Japanese folklore. A vengeful ghost, most often a woman killed by the hands of her husband or another man in close relation. And although the legend may be old stories, the news stories connecting the characters in the TV, sure reminds us about some real stories.
In many cultures, ghosts are put in different categories. Such is the case with Onryō (怨霊 onryō,) It basically means “vengeful spirit” or “wrathful spirit” in Japanese and is a mythological spirit of vengeance from Japanese folklore. They also have ghosts, called yurei, but these differ in the will of the ghost. As opposed to…
But a clever thing they did was to subtly, or nor so subtly, actually, show real cases of murders. Poorly disguised with cover up names they always makes references to real cases when the characters are sitting, watching the news. And they do that, a lot. For instances this one case her:
In the second episode they show a news footage of the body of a girl in cement. It is 17 year old Sakura found that were held captured by three peers for a month. Something that surely reminds us of the real case of Junko Furuta back in 1977.
They also mentions the Matsumoto sarin attack in 1994 that killed eight and injured 500, perpetuated by a doomsday cult that would attack the year after in the Tokyo subway sarin attack, with the desire to kick start their apocalypse and World War 3. Mindless violence.
This is just some of the cases they referenced. Some actually happened in the years they are telling the stories in, from 1988 to 1997. Like for instance, they show what seems to be the Kobe Child Murders where a severed head in school 1997. And the perpetrator, a 14 year old boy, was responsible for several murders.
In my opinion this is a clever way of showing the audience a more sinister truth, lurking under this low crime country, filled with politeness and pride. There is this taboo of domestic abuse, parental neglect, misogyny, rape and intense violence that seeps through the cracks of the society.
A Social Commentary on Violence
And this is were I think the series stays strongest. Not in the jump scares, but in the social commentary. It is like a well written essay were it keeps punching away criticism of being over the top. “Oh, you think this gruesome murder of pregnant women was bad? BOOM, have a look at this actual true murder case”. It is truly were the heart of the series is, and always have. Now, the showrunners are just confident enough to rely mostly on it.
It is a lesson on violence repeating itself. Of how quickly domestic violence goes away, it is just inherited to others, creating this cycle of violence and a want for revenge in death as the characters had no way of protecting themselves in life. And so the abused becomes the abuser, and the cycle continues.
And no, I wasn’t as scared as in 2004 when Sarah Michelle Gellar introduced me to the franchise, or later when I watched the original Japanese version. But I still liked it, standing on its on. It begs the question, can men and women ever live peacefully together, as well as feeling free?
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