Originally written by Jack Wilhelmi for Screen Rant
The Grudge has already been made twice, had lackluster sequels, and will be remade in 2020. The reason the franchise has been so successful is partially do to the rich lore surrounding its ghost's origin story, which is rooted in Japanese culture.
The writer and director of Ju-On: The Grudge, Takashi Shimizu, created the original story as the third installment in the larger Japanese franchise, Ju-On, which Shimizu started in 1998. The original The Grudge was released in 2002, and after the success of The Ring in the US, Shimizu was asked to remake his own film for American audiences. More often than not, Americanized versions of foreign films fall flat, but under Shimizu's directorial hand, the 2004 American remake of The Grudge, which starred Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, KaDee Strickland, and Clea DuVall, was successful.
The Grudge and The Ring are responsible for the uptick in Japanese-style horror made for American audiences, and still holds up as terrifying films. Like many other foreign horror franchises, The Grudge maintains its success and effectiveness through its ability to tell a good story.
The Grudge's Ghost Origin Story Explained
The entire Ju-On series focuses around a curse that has become attached to a house after being created by a deceased family's rage. In some ways, the effects of the curse are viral; it affects everyone who comes in contact with it. Though much of The Grudge franchise is presented in a non-linear fashion, it is important to note that the curse persists throughout time and only grows stronger as it claims more victims. Though many families have succumbed to the curse, the Saeki family's tragedy is one of the most potent contributors. Kayako Saeki was a housewife who lived in Tokyo and fell in love with her college professor. After her husband, Takeo, found out about the affair, he brutally murdered Kayako, their son Toshio, and their pet cat, then hid their bodies in the house. Takeo was later murdered by his son's vengeful spirit.
Kayako's role in the franchise is linked to the Japanese folklore of the onryō, which translates to "vengeful spirit." According to folklore, onryō are spirits who can return to the world of the living to exact physical vengeance. They can kill living enemies, and even create natural disasters to aid them in their plight. All of this is done in an attempt to right the wrongs they suffered whilst alive, as they are usually created when a person dies in a state of extreme rage, pain, or sorrow. Onryō are a popular myth utilized throughout Japanese horror, not just in The Grudge franchise. However, the lore goes deeper than onryō, and Kayako's story is loosely based on the Yotsuya Kaidan ghost story, which is a traditional Japanese onryō story.
Originally written in 1825 as a kabuki play, it is one of the most well-known Japanese ghost stories. In the story, Oiwa and Tamiya lemon are a married couple; lemon is a rōnin of unscrupulous morals, and murders his own father-in-law. After the granddaughter of Oiwa and Tamiya's wealthy neighbor falls in love with Tamiya and wishes to marry him, the granddaughter's family schemes to have Oiwa disfigured; they give her a poisoned facial cream, which causes extensive scarring. After seeing Oiwa's disfigured face, Tamiya is disgusted by Oiwa and plots to have her raped, since he needs an honorable reason for divorce. The man he hires to commit the crime cannot go through with it, and shows Oiwa her disfiguration, which enrages her when she realizes she's been deceived; she ends up tripping on her own sword in an attempt to exact vengeance and kills herself.
After her death, Oiwa's ghost (an onryō) tricks Tamiya into murdering his new bride and her grandfather on their wedding night. Oiwa continues to torment Tamiya until he fully descends into madness. Japanese legend states that those who retell Oiwa's story can suffer major illness or even death, so many within the film industry travel to Oiwa's grave to ask for her blessing before proceeding with their various projects; perhaps this was even done with The Grudge.
The Grudge opens this Friday at Regal.