In the ghostly horror film set for a late October 2004 release, an exchange student studying social work in Japan, agrees to cover for an absent nurse. When she enters the assigned home, she discovers an elderly woman who is lost in a catatonic state while the rest of the house appears deserted and disheveled. As she is tending to the stricken old lady, the young woman hears ominous scratching sounds from upstairs. When she investigates, she is faced with a supernatural horror more frightening than she could ever imagine.
The movie has a young, talented cast, including Sarah Michelle Gellar (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer”), Jason Behr (“Roswell”), and KaDee Strickland (“Anacondas”). One of the things that really makes The Grudge unique is that it is a remake of popular Japanese film, called Ju-On: The Grudge, and is directed by Takashi Shimizu, the same writer/director of the original.
Shimizu talked to Staci Layne Wilson of Horror.com exclusively about directing an American cast in his native Japan; the theatrical release of the Japanese-language version here in the U.S.; and what we can expect from the brand-new version of his tried-and-true ghost story.
You have directed several versions of The Grudge in Japan, but this is the first one that’s being released theatrically in America. How did that come about for you?
I am really, happy that this movie made it to America. When I made straight-to-video versions of The Grudge, I had no idea it was going to be a theatrical version too. The first two versions were shot in nine days and it was really, really low-budget so I was happy when in Japan [the third one] became a theatrical version. Not only that, the movie was shown in Korea, Spain, England, and also in America. That makes me very, very happy.
Can you outline the plot for people who haven’t seen it?
It’s a story about ghosts who kill. Once they are killed, their victims become ghosts as well and repeat the cycle.
And how did that idea come to you?
In my opinion, to American people real things like serial killers or murderous neighbors, that sort of notion is more scary. But in Japan, and in Japanese culture, the ghosts – particularly people who died with a grudge can turn into a ghost. That is the most scary thing in Japan. Since I was a little boy, I’ve always thoughts of ghosts – so I’ve had this idea since I was a kid.
The movie does have a scary little boy in it, and you also have a really memorable scene in the shower, with a woman washing her hair and then suddenly an extra hand appears in the lather. Were these things you’d had in your mind for a long time?
I really didn’t think about these scenes for a long time or anything. But when I was a kid, I was really easily scared. Even when I was in Jr. High School, I could not see a horror movie. I wondered, why would people pay money to be frightened? But ever since I was little, I’ve loved to surprise and scare people, or make them laugh. I’ve always tried to figure out what made them scared, or what made them laugh? I was always thinking along those lines. When people are vulnerable, I learned, that is when they are defenseless and the most likely to be frightened – so that’s how the hair-washing scene came about. I got those ideas just from talking to people, and finding out what would scare them.
One of my favorite things in the movie was the black kitten. Black cats are considered bad luck because of superstition in America and Europe – but how are they perceived in Japan?
In Japan black cats are not considered bad luck like in Europe or in America, but the color black itself is sort of unlucky because it’s the color of funerals and death.
Do you like cats?
Yes. I personally love black cats, but I’m a single guy and I’m always working, so I can’t have one now. So I have a lot of black cat figurines and things that I collect.
What was it like to work with Sam Raimi, who is producing the U.S. version of The Grudge?
He has been very instrumental. Sam Raimi is a great director, and he’s given me a lot of good advice. He’s helped me understand how the American film system works, how the director/producer relationship works, and how the movie studios influence the film-making. He has been a really, really good support for me in working with the American actors. I’ve been a fan of Sam Raimi’s since Jr. High – Evil Dead was the first horror movie I could actually watch. It was unbelievable at first for me to know that Sam Raimi made this offer and so it was a real honor for me to work with him. I’m really happy this happened.
The American actors said that working in Japan was really different for them. How was it for you, working with American actors for the first time?
It was a really great experience for me to work with them. Basic acting and directing is not that different but the big difference was, in Japan actors and actresses can work all day. As long as we put them in a taxi and they get home safely after working, that’s fine. But here, American actors have only a certain amount of hours they can work in a day, then that’s it. It was really hard for me to work around that – the scheduling, the timing – with those actors, actresses, and crews. Other than that, the actors themselves were great. Nobody, not Sarah Michelle Gellar or anybody, was selfish or giving me outrageous requests. It was really good and I felt really lucky.
Exclusive interview by Staci Layne Wilson