Ju-On: Origins - Review
Back in May, I wrote a blog post detailing a rough outline of the Ju-On film franchise to prepare viewers for the upcoming Ju-On TV series hitting Netflix this month. Well, the series arrived yesterday and it turns out, you don't need my timeline post as basically nothing connects this series to any of the previous instalments!
[THIS IS YOUR SPOILER WARNING - ALSO I TALK ABOUT A LOT OF SENSITIVE PLOT POINTS, PLEASE BE AWARE IF YOU STRUGGLE WITH ANY DIFFICULT TOPICS]
Before I get started, here is the lowdown on the new series. Comprised of 6 20-30 minute episodes, Ju-On: Origins was available on Netflix worldwide from the 3rd July 2020. The series was co-written by Ju-On/J-Horror alumni Takashige Ichise who either produced or wrote the screenplay for 4 films in the Ju-On series, as well as producing other J-Horror classics such as films in the Ringu film series and other films such as Infection (2004) and Premonition (2004). With this level of pedigree set to write the new Ju-On series, I figured it would have strong ties to classic J-Horror and relate back to Takashige Ichise's previous work with the Ju-On franchise. More on why this isn't quite the case later.
In typical Ju-On fashion, the story follows multiple characters with overlapping timelines that are told out of order. By appearing on a reality TV show detailing the strange paranormal events that have been happening in her home, rookie actress Haruka Honjo gains the attention of psychic researcher Yasuo Odajima who wishes to gain more information about her experience for an upcoming book he is writing. It is later revealed that Haruka's ghostly encounter is due to her boyfriend Tetsuya accidentally viewing a haunted house and bringing the curse obtained there home. Alongside this story line, we are introduced to high schooler Kiyomi Kawai who has just started at a new school. Kiyomi befriends two girls in her class Yoshie and Mai who offer to take her to the "cat mansion" an abandoned house which supposedly attracts stray cats. On their way to the mansion the girls meet with Yudai, a boy from another school, they invite him to act as a "bodyguard" however it is soon revealed that the 3 are working together in a plan to attack Kiyomi at the house, with Yudai sexually assaulting her and the other girls taking photos of the whole ordeal. The plot gets grislier from here too. There are other plot lines and people introduced as the series goes on however these two stories are the main focus.
Needless to say, I had quite a few issues with this adaptation. Which is incredibly disappointing as I am a huge fan of the Ju-On film series and other J-Horror classics. With Netflix releasing this series worldwide and the series having a rather high production value, I had high expectations; especially considering my disappointment at the start of the year with 2020's series offering The Grudge, which had only 5% of the film referring back to previous instalments. Both Ju-On: Origins and The Grudge (2020) appear to be completely new horror stories that filmmakers just slapped the "Ju-On/Grudge" label on to attract viewers. Although both play with ideas first introduced by Ju-On creator Takashi Shimizu in 1998, they both deviate so far from the original idea that they appear to be their own separate entities now. Both productions don't feature Kayako, Toshio, the original Saeki house (unless you count the first 5 minutes of The Grudge (2020) where we see what we assume is Kayako's arm appear outside the Saeki house but is never featured again) or any kind of death rattle/noise that makes the Ju-On/Grudge films so iconic.
Instead, what we get in Ju-On: Origins is a series full of gore, violence - especially towards women and a multitude of sex scenes that just didn't seem to fit the classic J-Horror mould to me. That's not to say that the original films weren't violent or gory but to say that it was featured in a more ghoulish, fantasy way in past films. The dark scenes in this series were difficult to watch with scenes of rape, child abuse, drug use, prostitution and domestic violence. Not to mention the inconceivable scenes where fetus' are removed from their just murdered mothers and buried in the garden. I'm not new to horror, especially J-Horror but this just all seemed a bit too much to me.
All of my complains may be due to having a purist view of the series though, although I am open to new imaginings of a classic story. Just take a look at the Ju-On films released just before and after 2010; Ju-On: Black Ghost (2009), Ju-On: White Ghost (2009), Ju-On: The Beginning of the End (2014) and Ju-On: The Curse (2015), who have been known to deviate slightly away from the original source material however always keep key tropes in them, which makes them recognisable as Ju-On films and recognisable as J-Horrors. I just couldn't understand why this was called Ju-on: ORIGINS when there's no mention or hint towards Kayako, you know THE Grudge woman that is synonymous with the franchise, her son Toshio who is also key in the series, the house where - to us - it all started or how this series leads to any of the events of the first film. The series jumps between the late 80s and 90s but still there's no subtle hint towards why any of this matters in the grand scheme of things. We see a ghostly figure that could be mistaken for Kayako as she has the typical Onryō ("vengeful spirit") look; long white dress, bare feet, long black hair, however she doesn't manipulate her body, crawl across the floor or croak like Kayako. Kayako is supposedly featured on the series poster/Netflix thumbnail without even featuring in the film, and I have just noticed that it might even be reference to Sadako from Ringu (1998) as you can see below. This is an even funnier coincidence as in Ju-On: Origins, there is a scene where a certain character dies and their face is frozen in terror, a trope prevalent in the Ringu series but never before featured in the Ju-On series (this is me talking from memory, I'm sure someone can prove me wrong.) I actually wrote my final year University dissertation on the tropes of J-Horror (focusing mainly on the Ringu franchise) last year, if this is something anyone wants me to re-write for the blog, let me know! Any excuse to dig out that piece of work!
I think I was just hoping for something along the lines of 2016's Sadako vs Kayako crossover film, not that I was expecting Sadako to rock up at any point but I just wanted a modern take on classic J-Horror. I wanted to see all my favourite characters, in a familiar setting with high-production value and for it to be the best thing I watch on Netflix this year. Instead I was offered confusion, little to no reference to past works and a lot of violence against women. Which I feel slightly tarnishes J-Horror and will leave a negative impression on those viewers who try this series out to dip their toes into the genre. One thing I will praise though is the ending credits - a strange thing to praise I know - but the shots of a quiet pond in the middle of I guess a forest with an eerie, monotone song playing over the top left me all sorts of uncomfortable, in a good way! It got me excited for each episode which unfortunately wore off once the next episode had started.
I guess my final note would be; if you are a super fan of the Ju-On series, why not give this a go. Perhaps the more views it gets the more likely we are to get a second-better season? Wishful thinking, I know. However if the gruesome details I have written about in this post put you off watching it, don't worry - you won't really gain or lose anything by watching/not watching this series. I'm overall disappointed at the continuous pattern that these classic J-Horror stories keep receiving; a remake that cancels out everything the previous films had set up however, we are in a new age, with new audiences who might be sick of the same late 90s/early 2000s formulas that I am so fond of. Perhaps I'm part of the problem!
Have you watched Ju-On: Origins yet? What did you think of it? You can tweet me your responses @hopeelizab and also let me know if you would like to see my J-Horror trope dissertation on the site. For more J-Horror posts, see what else I have to offer here as well as nerdoutwordout.com.
Ju-On: Origins is now streaming worldwide on Netflix.