There is a tradition of privacy in Japanese culture: what happens behind closed doors stays behind closed doors, but for teacher Shunsuke Kobayashi he is obligated by position to ascertain why a pupil has not been attending school, discovering in the school records that six-year-old Toshio is actually the son of a woman he and his wife Manami distantly knew at college, Kayako Kawamata, now Kayako Saeki.
Arriving at the Saeki household, the distraught Toshio is there, bruised, bloody and bandaged but uncommunicative, his parents missing and the house in disarray with rubbish strewn on the street outside, a desperate failing of the expected standards, yet instead of calling the police or child services, Kobayashi continues to investigate, hearing strange noises in the house, coming from upstairs in the loft.
Ju-on: The Curse (呪怨) written and directed by Takashi Shimizu, it was the film which launched the Ju-On franchise, though in fact there are two earlier short films which can be considered missing chapters of the seventy minute feature which is told in six parts named for the principal characters in each, Toshio, Yuki, Mizuho, Kanna, Kayako and Kyoko, with Katasumi (片隅; In a Corner) and 4444444444 covering the fates of the Murikami siblings who appear peripherally in the main film.
Now numbering thirteen films across different timelines and including remakes, the most recent simply titled The Grudge, and Sadako vs. Kayako crossover with the Ringu sequence of films, it is surprising that so much has come from such humble beginnings, a second viewing of Ju-on: The Curse making the tangled out-of-sequence events of the story clearer but the artistic and technical limitations of the film making such an undertaking feel something of a chore.
A straight-to-video production, the lighting is frustratingly poor, particularly in darkened interior scenes where the picture quality drops precipitously, and throughout the finished film the challenges of the low-budget shoot are apparent, each static camera angle lingering to allow the maximum coverage to be shot before grudgingly moving to the next, downtime for actors and crew between set ups kept to an efficient minimum but leaving little footage to work with in the editing room.
The result lacking pace, style or atmosphere, the concept strains against these limitations but the film is dependent on sub-par effects, poorly executed jump scares and screaming schoolgirls, the one moment when it should be truly horrifying failing to land because it is difficult to understand what is happening within the muddled timeline and the murk on screen, Ju-On: The Curse ultimately cursed by the underwhelming circumstances of its creation and struggling to convey its message of rage from beyond the grave.
Ju-On: The Curse and its sequels are streaming on Arrow now