Takashi Shimizu: A Director With a Grudge

Takashi Shimizu

Takashi Shimizu is one talented guy. Not only is he a writer and director, but he is also a producer. Shimizu wears all three hats easily. His first foray into the world of cinematic horror was a short two part project to go into a film being produced by a friend. These two shorts were later incorporated into his first ‘proper’ film.

Takashi Shimizu was able to produce his first horror feature because of the popularity of his two short segments in his friends film. With a tiny budget, Shimizu’s first proper film was a “straight to video” called Juon The Curse and Juon The Curse II. Despite the lack of budget and the minimalist approach to special effects, word of mouth soon turned both these films into popular films with audiences in Japan.

With Hideo Nakata‘s The Ring (Ringu) gaining world-wide fan-dom and pretty much starting the J-Horror phenomenon, the popularity of Ringu gave Shimizu the “green-light” to start filming the first of many versions of Ju-on The Grudge.

Ju-on The Grudge is basically Ju-on The Curse with a bigger budget. With the extra money, Shimizu was able to expand the story and increase the expenditure for special effects. He also used the “ghost woman” aka “the grudge girl” who he had first used in the video versions of the film. Takako Fuji has the distinction of being the ‘Grudge Girl’ in all of the Ju-on films until Grudge 3. By the time that Hollywood had taken the reins from Shimizu after the re-make of Grudge 2, they no longer needed the original ghost.

Ju-on: The Grudge 2

*sidenote* Don’t bother watching The Grudge 3, it is execrable.

That Shimizu was able to keep coming back to the “Grudge well” repeatedly is pretty amazing. Especially considering  that right up until The Grudge 2 (Japanese) and the two American re-makes he was able to keep ‘tweaking’ the scare formula and increased the reach of the Ghost each time he re-invented it.

The selling point of all the grudge films is the fact that you don’t have to enter the house or to interact with the ghost to have it come get you. No, the curse or grudge can come calling if you just know someone who has been in the house. Pretty powerful and super scary.

My daughter and I have seen every version of the Grudge films. We have also set through several “making of’s” and listened to several cast and crew commentaries as well.

The first thing you discover is that the man who is responsible for helping to keep J-Horror on the map, loves to laugh and loves to play practical jokes. He is also the one who does the A-h-h-h-h-h-h-h sound that comes from the ghost. We also found out how much trouble he had with the studio brass when they asked him to direct the two re-makes.

Takashi Shimizu had his work cut our for him on both of the American re-makes. The Hollywood producers could not understand why he did not explain the origins of the ghost and a way to defeat it. In their parlance a ghost film had to have a beginning, a  middle and an end. It also had to give the lead protagonist a way to defeat the ghost. They also felt the audience would not be able to follow the film if there was no explanation.

Never mind that the original Grudge films had a rabid international fan-base despite having none of the requisite’s listed by the Hollywood brass. They had gone to the trouble of getting the original director to helm their Hollywood versions and they wanted him to film it their way, damnit.

Shimizu stuck to his guns though and made brilliant remakes of his classic Ju-on series. Ultimately though. he grew tired of the on going battle with the Hollywood execs. That is why on the execrable Grudge 3 (can you tell I didn’t like it?) his name is on the project as being the writer of the original series.

Shimizu has moved on from the Grudge world and continues to make scary films for the J-Horror devotees. He has lost none of his creativity or his humour. His next film, 7500  is due out later this year and Scared of the Dark is currently in preproduction now.

White: The Melody of the Curse (2011) Scream-a-long Terror

 

A little something different for today. Now just to set this up I have to explain that I love films. Especially horror films. Most especially Asian horror films. And top of the list are Korean horror films. My daughter shares this passion with me and she found this little gem of a horror film –  White: Cursed Melody. She has literally been banging on about this film for months. We finally were able to see this when we got our copy from YesAsia.com.

All I can say is…Woah!

Korea is the capital of “manufactured” bands. Literally dozens of these groups are formed every year, usually by SM Entertainment. Boy bands and girl bands, the younger the better, are formed, homogenised and pasteurised and released to an adoring fan base. White: Cursed Melody (aka White) is about a girl group struggling for recognition in this highly competitive arena.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. How on earth is this a horror film. Well, even without the paranormal slant that is part of this film, you might find girl/boy singing groups quite horrible. Seen X Factor lately?

On with the plot…The “leader” of the group finds a 15 year old video tape that’s been recorded in an old studio – a studio that previously caught fire with deadly consequences – by an unknown girl group. The song on the tape catches the “leader’s” interest and she along with the group’s manager decide to use the song in their competition. This song titled “White”  propels the group into the limelight.

The song turns out to be cursed (no, not like The Ring cursed) and that is essentially the plot of the film.

This film was brilliant. It showed, in the first half of the film, the stresses and strains on relationships between band members. It also showed the ravishing affects of inter-group competition and the “back-biting” and the “in-fighting” that occurs when any band takes off.

The second half of the film was just downright jump out of your seat, goose-bumply scary. I don’t even think that Insidious made me jump as much. The film sucker punches you so many times you start to feel punch drunk. It also has a plot that isn’t easily guessed by the viewer. You literally find out at the last possible moment who the “big-bad” really is.

Considering that most of the actors who played as the girl group were not actors but were singers from existing bands in Korea, it makes the film all the more memorable and amazing. I know that a lot of folks don’t like sub-titles, but believe me this film is worth the irritation of reading them. On a side note, unlike a lot of sub-titled films, the titles themselves are not of book length and quickly read.  They really don’t detract from the film at all.

Like I said it is SCARY.  Not to sound like a big fraidy cat, but, I’m going to bed tonight with the lights on.

Perception is a Wonderful Thing

My daughter just showed me a very amusing trailer on YouTube. Someone had re-done a trailer for the comedy Mrs Doubtfire. With a little editing magic and by changing the music for the trailer, they had turned a comedy trailer into a trailer for a thriller/horror film. It was very funny and, I thought, quite clever. But it did make me think.

It is all a matter of perception. That they were able to re-cut the original trailer, add a bit of creepy sounding music and change it into a very creepy trailer instead of a comic one is interesting. It made me think of Jimmy Stewart explaining about how important the editing process was. “If the camera shows me looking at something and smiling, then cuts in a picture of a baby, I look like a kindly grandfather figure. Change the cut to a girl in a bikini and I look like a dirty old man.”

Cropped screenshot of James Stewart from the t...
Cropped screenshot of James Stewart from the trailer for the film Rear Window (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But it is not just film that can be changed by a matter of perception, Life doesn’t allow  us to re-edit. It does allow us to see things differently, either by a matter of angle or timing of when we see something. I’ll explain.

When I lived in southern California, I drove through very bad section of town daily on my way to work. One day I saw a small boy being chased by a very large angry man. It struck me as funny and I started laughing. I pulled up to a stop light and while waiting for it to turn green a policeman came up and tapped on my window. I rolled it down, it was up because it was a smog alert day, shut off the engine and started to reach for my drivers license.

The policeman asked if I had just arrived in the area. I said yes and asked why. Ignoring my question, he asked one of his own. Had I seen a young boy being chased by a man along side the road? I said, “Why yes. I just passed them, They were heading in the opposite direction. It was very funny looking.” He then thanked me for the information and turned to leave. I asked what was going on.

He paused for the briefest of moments and then said, “That kid just beat the fuck out of an old lady to steal her handbag. The man chasing him is a shop owner who saw it happen. He tried to stop the kid and he just climbed over the guy. He lost the purse though.” He then turned away and went back to his car.

Suddenly the scene I had witnessed was not so comic. I realised that by just a matter of seconds I had missed the events leading up to the chase. My perception of the scenario was completely wrong. So I learned that perception is a wonderful thing, it can also be wrong.

Westerns

When I lived with my parents, in the long ago days before video and DVD players, it was a family tradition to watch any westerns that came on the television. This usually occurred on the weekend, most specifically on a major TV network (NBC I think) on Saturday Night At The Movies.

It was on Saturday nights that I sat with my folks, and later my bother as well, watching The Duke,Gary Cooper, and Robert Mitchum.  In fact, all the old actors who had moved into the genre when they got too old to play romantic leads any more.  We popped lots of popcorn and then rushed in to watch The Sons of Katie Elder, Rio Bravo  or some other John Wayne “Americana” western. Or indeed whatever western happened to be on.  If we didn’t watch westerns on the television, we saw them at the Drive-In.

It was at the Drive-In that I first saw Sergio Leone‘s “Spaghetti Westerns.” Specifically the “Man With No Name trilogy. I was enraptured and captivated by this anti-hero. I was so enthralled by this character that I lost the tendency to emulate The Duke and began to squint a lot and speak softly through gritted teeth. This was at the ripe old age of ten. Oh I never fell out of love with the John Wayne westerns  or old Duke’s characters.  I could still do the swagger and do the “Well, Pilgrim” drawl like a trooper.

I remember staying over  at a cousin’s house and horse riding for hours, wearing the standard western uniform of cowboy boots and hat, riding for about three days straight from sun-up to sun-down. We were both so saddle sore it was hard to sit in a chair let alone walk. But every minute spent in the saddle was a minute spent recreating our favourite scenes from westerns of the day. I believe we were both about twelve.

I remember at the ripe old age of seventeen, playing “Spaghetti Western” with my younger (and only) brother. We would strap on toy guns in the fashion of Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef to do battle as “Blondie” – The Good –  and “Angel Eyes” – The Bad –  oddly neither of us had the urge to portray Tuco (the Ugly); even though Tuco was the more “overblown” and fun character to emulate. I mean really, who doesn’t admire actor Eli Wallach’s  portrayal of “Bandito’s?”

It wasn’t just “film” westerns I was infatuated  with either. I also devoured every book I could read by the authors Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. Zane Grey was my fathers perennial favourite. I liked old Zane, but, didn’t care for his colloquial dialogue that he insisted on using. All his characters said words like pahdnuh and  mistuh just to name a couple. They were all spelt just like that, it could drive you to distraction after a while. L’Amour’s characters talked in the archaic language of the cowboy without the colloquialism’s.

Unfortunately Hollywood stopped making decent westerns just after the bumper crop year of 1969.  1969 saw great westerns like The Wild Bunch, True Grit, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to name but three out of the many that were released that year. Then “The Dream Machine” started making psychological westerns instead of  traditional or spaghetti westerns. These were a complete waste of celluloid. One such film did not have one gun in it. What kind of western is that?

I knew though, that if I waited long enough that Hollywood would start making  decent westerns again. I was right. My old Man-With-No-Name hero came out with the odd gem now and then.The Outlaw Josey Wales, High Plains Drifter  and Pale Rider (really just a re-working of Drifter, but still good) and then…Unforgiven.

Unforgiven showed that not only did old Clint still have the chops as a “western” actor, but that he was still one hell of a director as well. I still feel that Unforgiven was the “last hoorah” of the genre. I know I still like the cross genre westerns and some of the “modern” westerns (No Country For Old Men being the best thus far) and I even enjoyed the True Grit re-make that came outin 2010. But I do miss the old fashioned westerns as well as the “anti-hero” ones that came out in the late 60’s.

Now  I watch my old favourites via the DVD player and remember how much I loved them the first time I saw them. Watching them makes me feel simultaneously young and old. They also make me feel like strapping on my guns and looking for my brother to see if he remembers our gun battles and also feels young enough to have a go again. I think I might even want to play Tuco.

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