Sunday, August 2, 2015

Ju-on: The Beginning of the End (Ju-on: Owari no hajimari) (2014)

Takashi Shimizu’s original V-cinema Ju-on (2000) has never been topped.  While the second Ju-on (2003) was entertaining, the best films to follow in the series were Ju-on: White Ghost and Black Ghost (2009), primarily because they were the most evocative of Shimizu’s original film.  Post Ju-on, interestingly, Shimizu went on to direct more metaphysical, Lynch-ian films like The Shock Labyrinth (Senritsu meikyû) (2009) and Tormented (Rabitto horȃ) (2011).  [His latest American film, 7500 (2014), appears to have a delayed release.]  In any case, I thought the Ju-on series was prime to die, but a new film has appeared from Japan, directed by Masayuki Ochiai and written by Ochiai and notable producer Takashige Ichise, entitled Ju-on: The Beginning of the End (Ju-on: Owari no hajimari) (2014).  At its heart, this new Ju-on is a remake of Shimizu’s original film.
Pretty young Yui (Nozomi Sasaki) has been promoted from substitute teacher to full-time teacher.  During her first class, she notices, from the previous teacher’s roll book, that a particular student, Toshio (Kai Kobayashi), has been absent for the past seven days.  Scared of overstepping her bounds, Yui consults the principal and believes a home visit to Toshio is in order.  Her principal reluctantly agrees and tells Yui that her predecessor has recently died.  With trepidation, Yui visits the home of Toshio and encounters only the young boy’s mother, Kayako Saeki (Misaki Saisho), who reveals that her son and husband are not at home.  Yui visits an upstairs room in the house and she notices a closet completely taped shut at its cracks (a la the red tape in Kairo (Pulse) (2001)).  The mother’s creepy behavior and the taped-up closet forces Yui to flee from the home.  She begins to suffer hallucinations while teaching and having extremely vivid nightmares.  Her boyfriend, Naoto (Shȏ Aoyagi), fears for the health and sanity of Yui and begins an investigation of the Saeki home and its mysterious history. 
Like the original Ju-on, Ju-on:  The Beginning of the End alternates between different periods in time, all involving doings at the Saeki home:  the opening scene of the film, rendered hand-held/”found footage” style, cryptically details the original event which may source the evil In the house; the second time period involves Yui and Naoto in the present; and finally, the last period detailed involves four high-school girls.  One of the girls’ sister is a real-estate agent and is having trouble renting the home, because of its haunted reputation.  Curious of this reputation, the girls visit the house, and each leaves the house to subsequently be overcome with paranoia and fear of a little ghost boy.  Quite a bit of time is devoted to episodes involving the high-school girls, and they are pretty weak, almost retreads of familiar J-cinema scare tactics.  It is extremely anti-climactic when it is revealed how this storyline relates to the present one involving Yui and Naoto.  Too much thought was put into this technique by Ochiai and Ichise.  Shimizu used this technique in the original Ju-on simply:  he showed three families occupying the house at different times with little exposition detailing when each occupied.  He used this technique for a disorienting effect and was highly successful.
There are a couple of creepy moments in Ju-on:  The Beginning of the End, but they are strongly outweighed by the myriad missed opportunities and boring, slow bits which had me grabbing for my smartphone.  The final act had a perfect set-up:  Yui was going to visit the Saeki home for the final time; and as she is standing at the gate, the front door slowly cracks open beckoning her.  The revelations of the final act, like most of the film, are anti-climactic.  The acting is average.  Ochiai’s direction is perfunctory.  His most interesting visual technique is shooting almost the entire film in natural light:  this is a bold palette to craft a supernatural horror film; and had he been successful, it would have been a rare feat.  It did not happen today.
Takashi Shimizu showed with the original Ju-on a talented and creative person making a film intuitively and far exceeding any audience expectations.  Ju-on:  The Beginning of the End shows commercial filmmakers adapting a formula around audience expectations and wholly missing the mark.  Incidentally, I watched Ju-on:  The Beginning of the End via the Malaysian release (which was English-friendly), and it had an extremely choppy frame rate for its picture.  I do not know if it is my DVD machine or a flawed disc.  So, in any case, buyer beware.

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