Content Warning: this review features talk of sexual assault and abuse
Ju-On was one of a gateway film to Japanese horror for me, like many American fans of J-horror. This one film created by Takashi Shimizu became a long franchise with multiple American adaptations and even a crossover with another international J-horror sensation, Ringu in Sadako VS Kayako. Now, with JU-ON: Origins, Netflix Japan has released its first-ever original horror series and is tackling the “true events” the 13-film franchise is based on.
Directed by Sho Miyake and written by Hiroshi Takahashi and Takashige Ichise, JU-ON: Origins focuses on the events that inspired Shimizu’s original story. In this series, we get an exploration of the beginning of the “curse” and a raw look at the chain of terror that befalls all of those who come into contact with the infamous house. Each episode of the series weaves interconnecting stories across various years. But, it all starts with Haruka, who after hearing strange sounds in her house, calls upon a psychic researcher to investigate the problem.
Now JU-ON: Origins as a concept is familiar territory for horror fans. That said, prequels about iconic hauntings are a dime a dozen. Because of this, I entered this series with quite a few worries, especially after the latest American adaptation left me taxed and not wanting to see more of the story in Japan or America. That said, Ju-On: Origins quickly took all my preconceived ideas of what it would be and threw it out the window. With atmospheric storytelling, mystery, and truly frightening frames, this series is set to become a must-watch for horror fans across the globe even if the last episode has a different aesthetic than the previous five.
At 6-episodes in length and each one around 30-minutes, each episode feels like a complete story consistently growing darker and bleaker than the last. While the time jumps and change of characters can feel out of sorts at the start of the series when they begin to converge the magic of Takahashi and Ichise’s storytelling comes to life. The horror that they breathe into every scene and the way Miyake sets up each frame, you get to truly understand the meaning and pain of the J-horror ghost stories.
For me, the J-horror films that came about in the 1990s and 2000s have been the closest to seeing my culture’s concepts of ghosts and vengeful represented, and it was Ju-On that brought me them. If you’re unfamiliar with the J-horror sub-genre, these stories often revolve around a spirit that has been transformed by its violent death and influenced by powerful emotions like hatred, sorrow, love, and the like. Now vengeful, they serve as the moral core of the stories and bring violence with them. And it’s on this note that Ju-On: Origins excels but can also be a hard watch for some viewers.
Often, these ghost stories are deeply rooted in the physical trauma of a woman. Her murder, her suicide, her rape, and sometimes a mixture of traumatic circumstances all set the stage for J-horror’s formula. And in a way, JU-ON: Origins is no different. More specifically, it uses trauma to explain the violence that surrounds the house. In the second episode, one of the characters we follow is raped. It’s a shocking scene that shakes you. In another scene, a child is presumably beaten to death. While these scenes come early on in the series, the director takes his time to only ever show the beginning of the act, allowing the camera cut away. Screams to fill your speakers, but your imagination fills in the rest. Now, this series, especially the first three episodes should come with a large trigger warning. That said, it never once did it feel gratuitous. Every act of violence in JU-ON: Origins has a purpose and each of them gets increasingly more visceral.
With all of that said, if you go into this horror series with an open mind and ready to be unsettled, you’ll fall in love with the dark world of JU-ON: Origins. For the majority of the series, its grounded in practical effects, the use of darkness, a few jump-scares, and traditional J-horror imagery. Because of this, each episode pulls out deep emotional moments and ultimately makes every act of violence all the more intense for those watching. Sadly, the last episode begins to rely heavily on CGI special effects that don’t fit the emotion of the story beforehand.
Overall though, JU-ON: Origins is a phenomenal horror series that captures the essence of the Ju-On franchise while maintaining its own unique identity among the 13 other titles. In six episodes, the series is able to make every single of them both feel like contained stories and connect them to a larger one. This is one to watch but be warned the violence may be too much for some.
JU-ON: Origins is available exclusively July 3, 2020.
JU-ON: Origins is a phenomenal horror series that captures the essence of the Ju-On franchise while maintaining its own unique identity among the 13 other titles. In six episodes, the series is able to make every single of them both feel like contained stories and connect them to a larger one. This is one to watch but be warned the violence may be too much for some.