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Ju-on: White Ghost
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by Jay Seaver

"Barely part of the series, not exactly worthy of it."
2 stars

The "Ju-on"/"The Grudge" series burned bright and fast in the 2000s, going from direct-to-video to theatrical features in Japan before jumping the Pacific, doing two American features before dropping to DTV status in the USA and then mostly disappearing, having already started to get self-referential in the second Japanese feature, right along the time it was becoming a general target of parody. As a last gasp, two short direct-to-video features were produced simultaneously in 2009. To see them is to understand why things have been quiet on the "Ju-on" front until this year's relaunch - as much as it seems like an open-ended plot ripe for extension, these flicks made the mine look pretty tapped out.

White Ghost opens with Fumiya Hagimoto (Hiroki Suzuki) delivering a Christmas cake to the Isobe family, only to have the mother say she is tied up like she was in a loop. When he investigates, he finds her and her entire family dead. That's not the only mystery; seven years ago, Hajime Kashiwagi (Ichirota Miyakawa) vanished after dropping his daughter Akane off at cram school; now the teenaged Akane (Akina Minami) seems to have some sort of psychic abilities which flare up big time when her friends produce a homemade spirit board.

Like the previous Ju-on: The Grudge movies written and directed by Takashi Shimizu (credited as a "supervising producer" here), this one written and directed by Ryuta Miyake a series of five or ten minute vignettes (there are eight in this sixty-minute movie), introduced with a character's name and telling the portion of the story from his or her perspective, jumping back and forth in time as necessary. It's not a bad trick for building mystery, as you can end as many segments as you like on bizarre cliffhangers with the implied promise of getting back to them later, but when you make your film into a puzzle, is expected that the solution be clever, and Miyake seldom really manages that. The movie gets its jumps, but rather than having the aha! moment where things come together in twisted fashion, White Ghost practically winds up running down a checklist, never really putting a twist on material that, while horrific, doesn't rise to the level of a rate-powered stain on the world.

There's also little denying that this entry looks unfortunately cheap. The Shimizu entries were based on a sort of horror-movie minimalism - jet-black hair on grey ghosts, an elongated sound effect somewhere between a creaking floorboard and strangulation, and information kept just put off reach - but Shimizu knew how to present it with style; when the Saeki family appeared, the lighting and shadow was always going to accentuate their creepiness. Miyake, on the other hand, just seems to point and shoot, knowing how to keep things just put off frame until they're needed but seldom doing anything to enhance the effect. It's not disastrous, but the resources clearly aren't there to do anything fancy or get a cast that is much beyond blandly capable.

I kind of wonder if this ghost story started as part of this franchise at all. Though elements from the original movies pop up, they seem to be cutting off more organic origins to the story, and the bits that reflect the Ju-on tradition of the curse spreading seem tacked on and extraneous. That would be a pity, because the central story does have a genuinely creepy core and the potential to play as more than just familiar imagery and half-hearted kills, and while being part of this series doesn't necessarily hurt it, it doesn't help, either.

In fact, extending "Ju-on" into an anthology with spin-offs not dedicated to the original characters is a decent idea; that the haunting spreads like a cancer is part of the basic premise. This one, unfortunately, just doesn't have the creativity or the resources to make it work.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27559&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/18/14 09:08:55
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USA
  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 17-May-2011

UK
  N/A (15)

Australia
  N/A (MA)


Directed by
  Ryűta Miyake

Written by
  Ryűta Miyake

Cast
  Hiroki Suzuki
  Akina Minami
  Chinami Iwamoto
  Tsuyoshi Muro



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