It’s hard to have a definitive horror hit in America. It’s even harder to have a definitive horror franchise in America. And it’s most difficult of all to create a franchise in a country other than America, one which has a distinct culture and flavor that doesn’t translate easily, and have it become such a runaway success that the film is remade as an entirely new and successful remake series for American audiences. Takashi Shimizu is one of the few filmmakers who has been able to do it.
Shimizu’s career began when director Kiyoshi Kurosawa suggested that he direct segments for an upcoming horror anthology film (translated in American as “School Ghost Story G,” yet another stunningly direct title from an Asian film company). His two segments, “In a Corner” and “Ten Fours,” were well-received, and were the beginning of the “Ju-on” franchise which made Shimizu so famous.
Though most people know him primarily from his work on that series, he has several projects for which he is known back in his home country, including directing episodes of “The Great Horror Family” (a strange live-action comedy-horror series that is sort of an “Addams Family” for the new century), “Tomie: Re-birth,” another entry in the millennial Asian ghost girl horror arena, and “The Shock Labyrinth,” a 3-D thriller about friends haunted by a ghost inside a run-down hospital. His film “Reincarnation” ran in the U.S. as one of the Eight Films To Die For from After Dark Films.
A filmmaker who relies less on special effects and story twists than genuine suspense and creeping dread, Shimizu has created a franchise worth recognizing as one of the two (along with “Ringu”) films that created the early 2000 J-horror obsession in America, and has made some other, less known but equally as interesting, horror tales along the way.
While not as well known as his other work, the dark and twisted story of an obsessed cameraman trying to research the fear response right before death has elements of later and bigger horror hits like “Midnight Meat Train” and “Thirst.” Building on a strange relationship that the cameraman begins with a bloodthirsty woman he finds chained up in the subway tunnels under the city, the film is unnerving, violent, and worlds away from the spooky and mostly bloodless stories from the “Ju-on” universe.
Definitely one of the strangest ways to create a “sequel” to a film, Shimizu used his own 3-D film “The Shock Labyrinth” as the way of introducing a terrifying rabbit monster into the tale of “Tormented” (which is sometimes also known as “Rabbit Horror”). The story, about a boy who beats a rabbit to death, only to then be plagued by a large demonic version of a toy rabbit from the aforementioned 3-D film, is surprising and definitely unique. The film, shot by famed cinematographer Christopher Doyle, has a polish and beauty that his earlier films, on a much lower budget, were unable to attain.
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Though this is the trailer for the American version of Shimizu’s franchise, there is much to be said about the franchise overall. Starting with two short entries in an anthology film, “Ju-on” had four previous releases (“Ju-on: the Curse” and its sequel, and “Ju-on: The Grudge” and its follow-up) before being given the big-budget (comparatively) treatment from Sam Raimi’s Ghost House Pictures. The film, which retained much of the story and locations and brought in American characters in key roles, was a big hit, making nearly $200 million, and spawning two more American sequels and a strange pair of 2009 hour-long films which Shimizu produced, called “Ju-On: Black Ghost” and “Ju-on: White Ghost.”
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