“Ju-on: A curse born of a grudge held by someone who dies in the grip of anger. It gathers in places frequented by that person in life, working its spell on those who come into contact with it and thus creating itself anew.”
In 2002, the film company “Taphor” released a movie that ended up being one of the most popular Japanese horror films. It was a movie that rivaled Ringu also known as The Ring and Suicide Club.
With several remakes and sequels, let’s delve into a particular film in the franchise. None other than Ju-On: The Grudge.
The movie starts with the murder of a mother killed by her own husband as their child plays in his room. This is the only point in the film we see the blood and violence of a murder. In this film it rarely portrays violence in the sense of the act, but moreso the result of it.
This movie subverts the horror genre in a unique way. It portrays separate stories throughout the film that all led to the same outcome, by having different characters interact with the monster. We become intrigued to see how each death may happen or how the character will escape. The interesting part of the curse is how it passes from person to person. With the sister becoming haunted through her interaction with the house. Her brother and sister-in-law also become haunted through the interaction with the house. It isn’t completely passed on through interaction with one another like I had thought. We’ll get more into that later in spoiler territory.
But the real horror in this film isn’t the deaths of these characters. It is scary to see a ghost you cannot reason with, a ghost that has no motive but to haunt and kill. But is that all the ghost is?
When I began to talk about this film, I had an epiphany. This film in my mind meant something more than, “Scary ghost mom and son kill.”
It’s about the ignorance and lack of acknowledgement of abuse in Japan. Especially spousal abuse.
There are hints throughout the film that act as signs. Before the murder, it appears that the murderer’s mental health was deteriorating, and fast. Yet, it appears no one did anything about it. A line that struck me is when the brother is almost possessed by the murderer, he says, “She had another man. She deceived me. That’s not my child. Not my child. Not my child.”
This may tell the viewer she deserved it. But in my instance it tells me he might’ve been delusional and/or possessive of her. Considering that his mental health was deteriorating beforehand through several hints, as well as the fact that no one goes insane like that immediately. It shows that this murder was not sympathetic or even a murder we can excuse.
In Japan at the time and now, even In America, we often blame the victim for the abuse, for the crimes at hand. When in reality, no matter what. Nothing excuses abuse. Not even cheating on your husband and having bore a child that is not his.
The film’s underlying subtext and theme appears to be one of this.
We ignore the victims, the signs, and what lies under the mask. We do so, so we can live comfortably without asking ourselves what we could’ve done and what we could do in the future. We blame the victim. We do not acknowledge that the pain they have suffered and continue to suffer is not their fault. That they are the true sinful monsters underneath, instead of the hurt humans that they are.
Throughout this film it is present that instead of acknowledging what happened and what continues to happen, the characters begin hiding, turning away and running from it, instead of facing what had happened to this mother and son.
Spoiler Alert for the ending ahead —
Before we go onto the ending, I’d like to talk about the possession real quick. The only instance of the haunting or killing of someone, is the interaction with the sister. She tells the security guard about the ghost in the bathroom, and as he checks it out, the ghost kills him. As far as we know anyways.
Onto the ending:
At the end of the film, the last main character faces the mother’s ghost. She goes to hide from it by covering her eyes, but opens her fingers to see the mother for who she was. A human being. Although a vengeful spirit, she was only acting on what she knew, violence.
The mother was only continuing the cycle of abuse because that’s all she knew. To get revenge on those who turned her away when she needed help. To all those people who turn away from abuse. It doesn’t excuse what happened, but it explains why the deaths happened.
After the flashback, she’s gone and we get a zoom in her spirit’s face. We see that her anger filled and terrified eyes have now closed. She is at peace, for the person sees her for who she was and for what had happened.
In the end, all we can do is accept what has happened, and change what continues to happen in the future.
Afterall, we’re all only human, even in the afterlife.