Taking over the 'Ju On' curse: Interview with Masayuki Ochiai

By Tay Yek KeakMovies - 09 August 2014 7:00 AM | Updated 11 August 2014

Taking over the 'Ju On' curse: Interview with Masayuki Ochiai

Ju On 3

Blame it on the 2008 global economic crisis.

If not for that diabolical event, we would have gotten a horror move shot right here in Singapore by Japanese horror director, Masayuki Ochiai.

He revealed in an email interview that he had planned to make a film in Singapore several years ago.

“Everything was actually in place.  But due to the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008, the plans were stopped unfortunately,” he said.

Instead, Ochiai released ‘Shutter’ that year, an American remake of the 2004 Thai spook hit, ‘Shutter’, which starred Joshua Jackson (TV’s ‘Fringe’) and Rachael Taylor (TV’s ‘Crisis’)  

Now, Ochiai is back with the third installment of the ‘Ju On’ film series – ‘Ju On 3: The Beginning Of The End’ – replacing the original creator-director and notable horror-meister, Takashi Shimizu.

Just imagine – we might’ve have had maybe ‘Ju On: Haunted Istana’ if Ochiai had come to our shores last time.  

Oh, you know the ‘Ju On’ series, right?  

It has major horror pedigree being the one with the creepy chalk-white ghost kid, Toshio Saeki, and his very pi**ed-off, very terrifying spook mom, Kayako, who has a habit of crawling down the stairs like a demented, contorted spider convulsing into a mega-epileptic fit.  

When the first ‘Ju On’ flick came out in 2002, audiences were so scared by that ghouly-crawly mommy, you thought haunted staircases were going to be replaced by ropes, poles, ladders or maybe a very tall giraffe.  

Director Ochiai is well aware of this built-in fear factor, which fans of ‘Ju On’ have come to expect.  

He’s seen every incarnation of the fright franchise – there have been TV movies along with the films – to basically get into the groove and, no pun intended, spirit of things.  

But the man is no slouch in the chill thrills himself.   

As an award-winning screenwriter and director for both cinema and television, he helmed the 2004 hospital chiller, ‘Kansen (Infection)’ and 1999’s ‘Saimin (Hypnosis)’, along with several TV movies and the Japanese horror TV series, ‘Tales Of The Unusual’.  

Ochiai is pretty prolific when it comes to scaring people as he reveals that ‘Ju On 3’ was filmed at a fast pace with many shots done without prior testing.  

“I like the idea of being “live” on a film set,” he quipped.

Notwithstanding the irony that with ‘Ju On 3’, he’s basically directing most of his actors to end up being very dead.  

Ochiai told inSing more about rebooting ‘Ju On’.          

The previous ‘Ju On’ films – ‘Ju On: The Grudge’ (2002) and ‘Ju On: The Grudge 2’ (2003) – are associated famously with original creator-director, Takeshi Shimizu.  How did you come to direct this third instalment and how does it feel taking over from Shimizu? 

Takashige Ichise, the producer of the ‘Ju On’ films and TV movies, ‘The Ring’, ‘Dark Water’, and also 2008’s English-language ‘Shutter’ which I directed, recommended me for this job. 

To prepare, I watched every version of ‘Ju On’, including the TV movies, and realised that despite an absence of 11 years, the series needed no change or update.  I just had to maintain the look and feel of Shimizu’s films.

I was thinking of creating a new ‘Ju On’ for a new audience but I decided it was unnecessary to change something that has already been done correctly and successfully. 

Regardless of the time period, the minute the characters step into the house, one by one they are cursed.  From teachers and curious schoolgirls to social workers and even the innocent boyfriend of one teacher, the line-up of victims isn’t set in chronological order and the audience is unaware of which victim comes first.  This segmented structure is a trademark of the ‘Ju On’ series.  But isn’t it a confusing one? 

Not at all.  In fact, one of the best aspects of ‘Ju On’ is that the story doesn’t follow a straight line.  Here’s why.  As the characters and settings change, the horror is compartmentalised into separate scenes.  

Each setting is short and the audience does not get tired of watching.  In the first half of the film, viewers see the horror but don’t quite understand the totality.  Different emotions are depicted in each setting.  But when all the scenes are connected later, the feeling of fright escalates as the big picture reveals itself.  

The interesting part is when the audience sees the ultimate horror at the end.  To me, it’s such a brilliant plot device to use just one house to spread the curse and grow the fear.  Endless episodes can be created out of this.

Both spooky roles – Toshio Saeki, the ghost boy, and Kayako, his scary mother – are played by different actors now (Kai Kobayashi and Misaki Saisho) as it’s been 11 years since the last movie.  How did you find these new actors and was it difficult for them to take over such prominent roles?  

Both actors were chosen from auditions.  The moment we saw them, we knew they were the ones we wanted. 

During filming, much effort was put into the movements and horror visuals.  Especially for the role of Kayako, the ghost mother.  Her lifeless personality and creepy behaviour was pivotal to the story. 

She had to show the possessive mindset of someone desiring a child to an intense, insane, angry and terrifying extreme. Misaki Saisho performed the part so well she spooked even us on the set.

Were any of the actors really scared during the filming?  Such as when one of the schoolgirls was caught alone and assaulted in one room or when the teacher was trapped at the staircase by the two approaching ghosts?  

Well, I hope they were.  I’ve worked on many horror films. For a horror movie to succeed, it’s important that the cast itself really feels frightened -- but in a natural way. 

This is crucial because if there are untrue feelings or something’s fake, the audience will be able to sense and see through it immediately. Because through those characters, it must seem as though the viewers themselves are entering a haunted house.  

A horror film is a kind of experiential transference. To act naturally and convince the audience that the fear is real, my cast always ends up being either breathless or gasping for air.  They are in an utter panic.  As a director, although I’m happy to achieve this effect, I’m quite worried about it too.  It’s my job to keep everybody safe.  

‘Ju On’ is unsettling and chilling because the ghosts and the curse are relentless.  Good and innocent people are doomed.  One step into the house and they are cursed even when they’ve done nothing wrong.  Don’t you think that this set-up is too cruel? 

Yes, I agree.  This curse in ‘Ju On’ is very cruel. In nature, kindness exists, but the kindness that exists in motherhood and the goodness extended towards the young and towards mankind, they do not exist in this movie. 

Toshio, the spook child, was born out of this terrible lack of kindness and love.  Meanwhile, his mother, Kayako, unaware of this trauma, is totally immersed in her love towards this child.  She blocks out the past to hold on to something, which is extremely unnatural.  To me, this unnatural, unholy bond between mother and son is the primary reason why the grudge became so unforgiving and so unmerciful.

Why are you so fascinated by horror?  Will you do other genres? 

I’ve directed episodes of ‘Tales Of The Unusual’, a dark Twilight Zone-style series, on Japanese TV.  That’s why I’ve been branded a horror director.  However, I’ve actually done other genres on television. 

One of the titles, ‘Unusual Tales In The Restaurant’, was a comical show for children.  The reason why I’m not deviating from horror at the moment is the same as how I feel about disaster films.  

People do not hope to see disasters happen in real life.  But they do want to see them in the movies.  Same thing with horror stories.  I feel it’s my mission to fulfill this need and I’m committed to it. 

Audiences require this outlet because it’s in our human nature.  That’s why whenever a traffic accident occurs, congestions always happen because people slow down to take a look at the terrible event.

Is there any secret to creating a good horror movie? Is it the ghostly characters, victims, story, place, makeup or atmosphere?

This is my thinking.  At that particular moment, in that particular time, for whatever particular reason a viewer is watching a scary horror film, he or she will feel insecure.  Maybe he’s scared, maybe not so scared, but always there’s a feeling of insecurity or unease right there in the darkened cinema hall.  

But after seeing the insecurity, fear, panic, awful demise, even foolishness shown by the actors in the movie, this same viewer will feel a little bit better.  There’s a huge sigh of relief that the ordeal isn’t happening to him.  In other words, viewers want to tell themselves that the bit of fright they felt earlier is just a feeling of over-thinking and over-reacting to the show.  It’s a sensation.  A thrill.  Nail that feeling and you’ve got a good horror film.

In Japanese horror, the scares often involve the most ordinary and normal of places and things such as homes, classrooms, corridors, cupboards, beds, blankets, etc.  Why? 

Movies like ‘Ju On’ are about horror based on things you were frightened of when you were young but have forgotten while growing up.  A sudden jolt will bring back those submerged memories. 

I think American horror novelist, Stephen King, said something about respecting parents who throw out the garbage at night.  As a child, it’s scary to go out in the dark.  But you forget this when you’re older.  I want my adult viewers to get this scary feeling in their minds again.  In addition, Japanese horror revolves around daily activities because we think that there are spirits – some call it fate – existing within our daily lives. 

It’s very different from American horror where ghosts may attack a person or place randomly.  ‘Ju On’ is an exception to the Japanese custom, but the spirits only went after the unlucky folks who entered the house.  In Japan, there’s always a reason to be haunted.

‘Ju On 3: The Beginning of The End’ is now showing in cinemas

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Ju On 3: Beginning Of The End
  • Ju On 3: Beginning Of The End

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