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Ju-On: Origins Series Review

July 25, 2020 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Ju-On: Origins
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Ju-On: Origins Series Review  

*Yoshiyoshi Arakawa as Yasuo Odajima
*Yuina Kuroshima as Haruka Honjo
*Ririka as Kiyomi Kawai/Kumi Shigematsu
*Koki Osamura as Yudai Katsuragi/Katsuji Kobayashi
*Seiko Iwaido as the Woman in White

Story: The legendary Japanese horror franchise that has become a smash hit worldwide gets its first drama adaptation. In the Netflix Original Series Ju-On: Origins, the story based on a truth more terrifying than fiction returns. Can the people haunted by this house escape from its curse?

The Ju-On series in Japan is one that has a convoluted continuity at best, with a series of movies that are more or less the same and usually told in nonlinear fashion. To date there are nine films in the Japanese series, plus two short films. That’s not even including the American series it spawned, The Grudge, because those films (four of them now) have their own continuity. The series is so worn into the ground that Japan decided to match it up with its other big horror icon, Sadako, for the aptly-named Sadako vs. Kayako. Yes, not even Japan is immune to crossover movies when they’ve exhausted all other ideas.

The latest tale is a six-episode series created for Netflix Japan and as you might guess from the title, promotes itself as a prequel. That’s not quite accurate, as it doesn’t tell the tale of the Saeki family. That would be a waste of time, as the movies have already told that story through flashback. Instead, it’s part prequel and part reboot of sorts, choosing to tell its own tale around the mythology of the curse than bring back familiar ghosts for another romp.

The first thing you’ll notice (because it’s the first thing said) is that this series is set in the ‘real world’, but the Ju-On film series was based on previous events that were ‘more frightening than the movies.’ Honestly that’s a good way to go about it. The continuity of the franchise is convoluted enough and each film is more or less standalone, so trying to tie them all together with a coherent origin story would be pointless. Removing the Saeki family from the equation does mean we lose Kayako, Toshio and the whole gang, but this series has other tricks up its sleeve.

By removing itself from the film series, the show becomes something of a Ju-On in name only. Oh sure, the familiar elements are all there – the cursed house, ghosts of the deceased cast returning to possess/kill the living, the nonlinear storytelling – but it’s very different from the stories you may be used to. This could be seen as both a good thing and a bad thing. On one hand, making it its own thing means it’s not tied down by what came before. On the other, it feels at times like the Ju-On name was only added to get more eyes on it.

The series jumps between different years, starting in 1988 and then going to 1994, 1995 and both earlier and later. In one story, an actress experiences a supernatural event and the death of her boyfriend, which leads her to explore the haunted house. In another, a meek girl is raped and meets a ghost in the same house, which leads to the deterioration of her life. Later on, more characters are introduced as the show keeps jumping into the future and others are killed off.

If there’s one thing that feels very Ju-On, it’s the idea that what ever curse affects the house is very much a ‘curse’. In the films, people not only died, but they lost their minds and their lives went to crap either due to fear or PTSD of what happened to them. Then they died. That happens here too, as characters who aren’t killed right away have to endure a lot of hardship and change drastically in the process. The biggest example of this is Kiyomi (Ririka), who is tricked by friends into getting raped, then runs into the Woman in White in the house. Her life goes from bad to worse and it’s implied that the ghost has a role in it.

A serialized horror film is hard to pull off. Ju-On as a film series was already spotty because of the way the stories are told. 2003’s Ju-On: The Grudge is the most famous (and arguably the best) one, and even that could be hard to follow if you weren’t paying attention. This manages to balance things well, for the most part, by limiting how many stories are followed in a given episode. It tends to fall apart more at the end, as the timelines converge, so to speak, and more is revealed.

The biggest problem with Ju-On, however, is while the series is decently told, acted and technically good, it just isn’t scary. More than that, it doesn’t really try to be scary. There are times when it’ll do a quick jump scare or attempt to evoke dread, but most of the time it is too busy telling its story to focus on the horror aspects. It more has shock value, with horrible people doing horrible things (this is a show that features rape, murder and child abuse, among other things) with the supernatural elements as more of a peripheral thing.

Of course, when it does get supernatural, it really goes into left field, as can be seen in episode four. There’s a problem with that kind of thing too, as it is unintentionally funny and goes completely against the established world of not only Ju-On in general, but this very series. No spoilers, because it really must be seen to be believed.

That said, if you enjoy this series and the loosely-connected events it usually portrays, you may like this. It seems to up the shock value and disturbing content for the sake of it, and doesn’t feel like the ghost story it’s meant to be. But it does play up the titular curse well and there are several moments that will stick with you. It’s a solid effort, but it could have been better.

The final score: review Average
The 411
Ju-On: Origins doesn't feel like the series it's based in, but that allows it to be its own thing. The problem is that it sacrifices attempts at scares for shock value, which hurts it. The story is solid, but does tend to fall apart as the series progresses. It's decent, but ultimately disappointing given what it could have been.

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