There have been few horror properties in the past decade as prodigious as the Ju-on series. From the Japanese originals, to American remakes and even video games, it is a surprising proliferation for a film with a seemingly limited core concept. Even six years after the last Japanese film in the series, the concept has been revived for two new films in the form of Ju-on: White Ghost and Ju-on: Black Ghost.
Around the turn of the century, the J-horror boom was just starting to hit. The cerebral works of Kiyoshi Kurosawa had garnered interest on the festival circuit, along with the more visceral films from Takashi Miike, but it was Hideo Nakata’s adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s novel Ring that truly ignited things.
When Ring came out in 1998, Takashi Shimizu was a young assistant director attending a filmmaking class conducted by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Kurosawa subsequently invited Shimizu to contribute a couple of short films to an anthology made-for-TV project called Gakkô no kaidan G. Shimizu’s contributions would be Katasumi (AKA In The Corner) and 4444444444, two simple one-scare three-minute pieces that would introduce the two key ghosts of the JuOn milieu and set the template for all of the films to follow.
What did follow was the surprise V-cinema hits Ju-on: The Curse and Ju-on: The Curse 2 which would then be conglomerated and reworked into a theatrical version called, Ju-on: The Grudge. This release would also be successful to the point that a sequel, Ju-on: The Grudge 2 soon followed. Then Hollywood came a-knocking and tapped Shimizu to remake his own work into the Sarah Michelle Gellar-starring The Grudge.
The US version would itself spawn two sequels, but Shimizu was no longer involved. When two more Japanese films were announced in 2009, Shimizu was on board, but only in an advisory capacity. The results were the hour-long pieces, White Ghost and Black Ghost.
White Ghost continues (loosely) the tale of the Ju-on Saeki house where Takeo murdered his wife Kayako and child Toshio. Years later, the rage locked up in the house infects another family, resulting once more in mass-murder and a new wave of ghosts who take vengeance on any unfortunates straying too close.
The movie continues the Ju-on structure of a series of chapters, each titled after a different protagonist. These are always told out of chronological order, serving to create a satisfying narrative from what is usually (and again in this case) a pretty threadbare plot. Ultimately, a Ju-on film stands or falls on the quality of its scares; this is very much a set-up that is like a theme park ride – a succession of tense build-ups followed by a sudden fright.
In this capacity, White Ghost is a mixed bag. It has terrific moments (a creepy cassette that plays by itself stands out), but some choices may result in laughs, rather than scares. Electing to make one of the ghosts an old woman is a valid choice, but when it is apparently portrayed by a child in a cheap rubber mask, the effect is badly undercut. This is not helped by having this particular ghost always carrying a basketball.
Black Ghost takes a very different approach and in fact, aside from a fan service nod by having a cameo by Toshio, this does not feel like a Ju-on film at all, rather a generic ghost story with no connection to the mythos. In this story, a young girl named Fukie is committed to hospital suffering from an apparent cyst. Naturally, this turns out to be the remains of her unborn twin…who is angry for not ever being born.
Events progress is a fairly pedestrian manner, bringing neither quality scares nor anything that hasn’t been done in numerous horror films before. It is telling that, even at only 60 minutes long, Black Ghost feels stretched too thinly.
The results are an uneven pairing. White Ghost is a worthy addition to the Ju-on pantheon, being somewhat of a middling entry, but Black Ghost is arguably the worst in the series, possibly even including the dire American The Grudge 3. A mixed bag and really only one for Ju-on fans.
Available on R4 DVD from Madman Entertainment.