Friday, October 15, 2010

Ju-On: Shiroi Roujo (2009)

aka Ju-On: White Ghost

A new series of people falls victim to the malevolent influence of the house that has been at the core of all the unpleasantness of the other Ju-On movies (of which no US remakes exist, you hear?). It's all presented in short, at first awfully simple and self-contained seeming segments that are presented out of temporal order. Only after some time the basic gist of the story will become clear: a family movies into The House, two family members change through the supernatural influences there, until one of them kills everyone, and then himself. Afterwards, the angry dead begin to infect everyone who had come in contact with them or the house - like an unfortunate taxi driver, or a poor guy trying to deliver a Christmas cake to the house years later - perpetuating the evil.

Shiroi Roujo is one of two direct-to-DVD movies that came out in Japan last year to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the start of the Ju-On series in the same cheap V-cinema style as it began. Not surprisingly, given how far the budgets V-cinema has to work under have fallen now, it's less impressive than any of Takashi Shimizu's (who is listed as a "supervisor" for the two new movies, whatever that may mean) originals, although (or possibly because) its director and writer Ryuta Mitake tries his hardest to copy the non-linear structure of most of those films.

Unfortunately, Mitake never manages to create the feeling of disorientation nor the satisfying aha-effect when that disorientation lifts in this viewer. Unfortunately, that disorientation was one of the core elements that made Shimizu's films as terrifying and discomforting as they were. In part, the absence of this effect is certainly caused by the familiarity  of non-linear narratives in the context of the Ju-On movies - which is certainly not helpful in creating the mood of the uncanny these films live on - but I can't help to blame Mitake's rather bland direction style, and the not always excellent acting for it too. At times, especially in dialogue sequences, I couldn't shake the feeling Mitake just doesn't know what to do with the camera, leading to a lot of directionless wavering that stands in an unfortunate contrast to those scenes in which he is trying to imitate Shimizu's typically static, yet intensely eerie scene set-ups.

Mitake isn't too even-handed at producing stylish horror sequences either. Far too often, he puts his faith in jump scares of a dead old woman suddenly moaning into the camera while a sudden music cue plays VERY LOUDLY. This does of course make one twitch, yet it surely does not make one feel frightened or disquieted for more than the second the shock takes.

It's a bit of a shame because there are a few scenes in Shiroi Roujo that show its director to be capable of more interesting and more emotionally complex scenes of horror. There's a truly disquieting guest appearance of that cursed little boy ghost we all have had nightmares about making cat noises through a closed veranda door at a barking toy dog, and an equally creepy scene in which the future family killer is infected by the curse by touching a mirror, his mirror image lingering inside the mirror's frame even after he has left the room.

It's scenes like these, the sort of moments that can still hit me in horror films after decades of watching them, that make Shiroi Roujo watchable despite its unpleasant smell of been-there-done-that filmmaking and its more directly visible flaws. That these moments are hidden away in a routine-at-best cash-in on better films from the past could make one sad, or cynical, but does instead leave me hopeful for the next time I watch a film I don't expect anything from in the first place. You just never know where you'll be able to find a few seconds of the truly weird hidden away.

It does obviously help to get through a film like this one without too much annoyance when you're like me and think that there aren't enough directors trying to learn from Shimizu's best films, even if they - like Mitake - are only at the level of pure imitation.


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