Television Prequel ‘Ju-On: Origins’ Course-Corrects the Franchise
Some 20-plus years since films like Ringu and Ju-On burst onto the horror scene in Japan, the American market for adapted creepy Japanese fare finds itself saturated and unappealing. A reboot of The Grudge franchise earlier this year came and went with a yawn.
The basic stories behind the major Japanese horror franchises stem from the same stuff as folk tales with staying power. So what gives?
If Ju-On: Origins, Netflix’s original take on the Ju-On series, is any indication, these languishing franchises just need a format change and a return to their roots.
The crux of the Ju-On (translated from Japanese as “curse grudge”) brand is the idea of a haunted house that curses inhabitants to die at the hands of a vengeful spirit and then become murderous ghosts themselves. Over the course of both the Japanese and American film series, domestic violence and the untimely death of children born into bad situations are the predominant themes.
Origins is a six-part series of half-hour episodes that leans hard into these familiar ideas. It justifies its existence as the “true” story that inspired the Grudge films, bouncing around from the 1980s to the late ’90s between stories of a paranormal book writer, a troubled high school girl and a young actress.
The ideal reboot
The format change works wonderfully for the franchise’s penchant for telling episodic stories with connected timelines and characters. It doesn’t hurt that the entire first season comes in at less than three hours. It’s the equivalent of a long horror film with five natural breaks.
This version of Ju-On mixes the best of both worlds. It’s Japanese-language, set in Tokyo and benefits from a Netflix budget, whereas it’s usually the U.S. version that gets fancy visual effects.
Still, don’t expect this to be a straight television adaptation of Ju-On (2004). Origins focuses more on the horrors of violent crimes than on spooky parlor tricks. Ghosts still stand motionless in the background before a rack focus. Cats still hiss at specters. Just don’t hope for any sort of subversion of expectations.
And that’s part of why Ju-On: Origins works. The scares come when they should. The violence and gore up the ante to 2020 standards, including an unbelievable sequence involving a kitchen knife and a pregnant belly. It’s exactly what you hope a modern, bingeable Ju-On would be.