Ju-Rei (2004) – By Timothy Martinez

First off, before I go any further, I want to clarify that this movie is actually the American release of Ju-rei 2 and not Ju-Rei: The Uncanny as the DVD packaging would have one believe. I suppose a brief history is in order for those not overly acquainted with the world of Japanese horror, so as to help understand just how the films are related.

The series began life under the Ju-Lei title, a series of low budget straight-to-video releases put out by Broadway Productions – a Tokyo based company that has garnered somewhat of an infamous reputation for inexpensive horror projects. Some might even go as far to call their work cheap and bad. Quite bad in fact, if rumors are true. The trio of installments – Ju-Lei: Shinrei Mystery File, Ju-Lei 2: Satsujin Genba no Noroi and Ju-Lei 3: Noroi no Ekusosist, all followed a similar anthology pattern in that they were comprised of several non-related vignettes. The series spawned a theatrical release called Ju-Rei: the Movie which is also known as Ju-Rei: The Uncanny. The movie we are discussing today is the sequel to that film. Got it? Good.

Ju-Rei 2: Kuro Jurei (Black Spirit) is structured like it’s predecessors, being comprised of eleven segments, but whereas the vignettes in earlier films bore no relationship to one another, the prologue and ten chapters in Ju-Rei 2 are interconnected and tell one overall story. However, much like the film Memento, the sequence is presented in reverse. The film opens with chapter ten and works backward until the film wraps things up with the prologue.

The story is a fairly straight forward and somewhat derivative one, wherein a ghostly chain of events is examined, affecting one person before moving on to another. In each chapter, a character is stalked and ultimately killed by a ghost or group of ghosts. The subsequent chapter (or previous, depending on how you want to view it) shows how the ghost in the chapter just seen, were themselves stalked and killed by a deadly apparition. So in other words, the ghost in chapter ten is the victim in chapter nine, and the ghost in chapter nine is the victim in chapter eight, and so on. This sequence of ghost/victim is deviated from a time or two, but there is always a connection between ghost and victim, though that connection may not be readily apparent until the movie progress backwards through the chapters and the story slowly unfolds.

One element that will be instantly noticeable to fans of Japanese horror is the clicking sound made by the ghosts before they make themselves seen. It is very reminiscent of Kayoko the croaking ghost of the Ju-On films and many people may cry “rip-off” when hearing it. Another derivative component is the whole “curse” angle, where one person touched by the curse passes it on to another. This, too is similar to the curse in Ju-On, but here we never get an idea of how the curse was born and rather, we end up joining the proceedings in the middle as it envelopes a group of people – most notably all the members of a specific family. Yet, unlike Ju-On, where all the ghostly activity was attributed to Kayoko and Toshio, here were get a veritable gang of ghosts and we see the curse spread virus-like from person to person.

The film was not blessed with a large budget and it clearly shows. However, at times this only adds to the creepy atmosphere that permeates the narrative. While it does look like at times as if it was shot with somebody’s home camcorder, it still manages to elicit a few scares and orchestrate several spooky set pieces. The small budget also no doubt gave rise to what I thought was one of the creepiest things about the film – the appearance of the ghosts. Yes, they are decked out in white make-up like their cousins in other films, but here they never seem to be fully in focus, appearing somewhat blurred. This lends a considerable amount of unearthliness to the movie, as it really helped portray the idea that these people are no longer fully part of our world and exist somewhere in between it and another realm. This technique may be inexpensive, but still somewhat effective overall.

While I can’t say this film is in any way original, I can say that it at least takes those staples of Japanese ghost/horror films and assembles them into something effective. Yes, it’s the same scares and creepiness we have seen before, but they are done well enough here to be worth checking out.

In Japanese with English subtitles.