I’ve been waiting for another Netflix horror show series to sink my teeth into. I haven’t come across another decent series since I last watched The Haunting of Hill House. It is painfully difficult to find a decent horror film, but it is especially difficult to uncover a decent show — sorry, but I consider The Walking Dead more of a firmly packed drama than a full-blown horror series. I was ecstatic when Ju-On: Origins was first listed by Netflix. There was something about the film franchise that was captivating; not particularly awe-inspiring, but it brought new elements storytelling to Western Horror.
Ju-On, often referred to as The Grudge by western audiences, is a horror franchise that originated in Japan in early 2000. The film was so commercially successful that it paved the way for a domestic five-film franchise and an American franchise with four films. These films were written in a way that allowed the audience to ingest the multiple nonlinear story arcs being told. These films follow multiple characters and the characters in relation to the curse.
The curse is the staple to the franchise. “When someone dies in the grip of a powerful rage… A curse is born. The curse gathers in that place of death. Those who encounter it will be consumed by its fury. Those who survive will carry the curse with them… until it is reborn.” This curse is the glue that binds the entire series together. You can see the effects of the curse and how they weigh heavily on the characters of both franchises. The phrasing and designated terminology are some key components to observe. Specifically, you can gravitate your attention to the highlighted terms within the text. You must be wondering why those specific words are highlighted. The films highlight them for us. The first three words have negative denotative and connotative value — this is probably mutually agreeable by most. The oddity within the text becomes the term: reborn. In the context of Ju-On and the curse, the word reborn is a conduit for the curse. In rebirth, the curse becomes renewed.
Ju-On: Origins is something different. The Netflix series is not a continuation of either film franchise. It is not a prequel, it is not a sequel and it is not a sidequel. This show destroys the previous narrative that had been established in the films; it actually goes out of its way to pseudo break the fourth wall in an opening monologue. “Ju-On was inspired by true events. All of these events originated from one house. However, the real events were far more frightening than the movies.” In essence, the dialogue serves the purpose of deconstructing the original storyline while maintaining the key components of the curse. This is a new story in itself — so don’t be surprised if the main ghosts aren’t Toshio or Kayako. You can still probably expect to see the variant ghost that those characters were “based on.”
Episodes one and two take place in 1988. There are two stories that follow two different groups of characters. The first group is composed of an actress named Haruka Honjo, her boyfriend Tetsuya Fukazawa, and paranormal investigator and book writer Yasuo Odajima. This is the first story that is introduced to the audience. Haruka Honjo is an aspiring actress that brought on a show to talk about her supernatural experiences with Yasuo Odajima. She hears footsteps — small little footsteps in the night. Haruka and Odajima converse more in-depth about her ghostly experiences as they leave the set. Haruka openly divulges information regarding her boyfriend, Tetsuya, and how he has been acting differently. This conversation sparks the interest of Odajima; he decides to meet with Tetsuya and uncover this mysterious change.
We learn that Tetsuya is the son of a medium. Tetsuya informs Odajima that he was browsing the market for a home to purchase — he wanted to ask Haruka for her hand in marriage. Unfortunately, Tetsuya was allured to the haunted home by the massive clearance price tag. He retells the story to Odajima and the events leading up to his trauma. During the recollection of the story, the audience can physically see the expression of terrifying confusion on Tetsuya’s face; it’s like he can feel the malevolent spirits in the house. This suggests that his character has inherited some form of spiritual sensitivity from his mother. Eventually, while at the house, Tetsuya crosses path with a Woman in White. So although this is the first story in the series, we can conclude that it is not the origin of the curse; yes, it’s another nonlinear timeline.
The Woman in White is a reoccurring legend across the world. In Brazil, she is known as Dama Branca, in Europe, she is the Running Lady, and in Mexico, they call her La Llorona. I grew up listening to the multiple iterations of La Llorona. The Woman in White or White Lady is a type of spirit — commonly associated with maliciousness. These vengeful spirits share commonalities. There are identical themes such as loss, betrayal, suicide, and murder. La Llorona drowned her children in the river because it was the only way that she could emotionally damage her husband for committing adultery. She could not sustain the guilt of her actions, and as a result, she committed suicide and now roams the Earth in search of the lost souls of her children. We can infer that the Woman in White from Ju-On: Origins will have a similar tragic love story.
Tetsuya is haunted — no doubt about it. The Woman in White has clung onto Tetsuya. In his search for love, he found a curse, fear, and death. She preys on him like an eagle preys on a fish. Eventually, the curse consumes Tetsuya and he is killed. After the funeral proceedings, Haruko becomes acquainted with Tetsuya’s mother, and it is revealed that he died from something rather horrifying.
The second group from these two episodes are teenagers. Kiyomi Kawai is the new girl at Nerima City High School. There is a ton of unpacking to do with this character. Kiyomi arrives at the school with her mother, Mina Kawai. They meet with the teacher and briefly brush on the circumstances for the school change. Kiyomi introduces herself to her new classmates and she seems to turn some heads. Later that evening there is an exchange between Kiyomi and her mother — we learn a few things about their family. The reason the daughter and mother combo moved to Nerima was that the last teacher Kiyomi had made “sexual advances.” Mina, in some deranged way, explains that she saved her daughter by sleeping with her teacher. When Kiyomi reacts in anger, Mina leans in close to her and says, “You seduced your father. You slut!”
Is Kiyomi Kawai a slut? You can make that assessment yourself. Mina seems to expertly cause her daughter to crumble. If we’re looking in from the outside, then it seems as though there may be some form of truth to that statement; maybe it is possible that Kiyomi seduced her father. It is also possible that Mina has forcefully implemented that thought into her daughter’s subconscious. There was a small hint right before that confrontation came forth. Mina says, “I sacrificed my own body to protect you. Could’ve been worse than an affair.” There is a realm, a very plausible one, where Kiyomi’s father left due to the unfaithful and promiscuous ways of Mina. The ONE thing that really throws it up in the air is the facial expression displayed by Kiyomi after her mother calls her a slut. You can decide.
Why is Kiyomi so sexualized? Her mother. The sexual attraction from these particular men may not necessarily be directed at Kiyomi, but rather her mother. This unfortunately gives other students a very poor perception of Kiyomi — they assume she’s some sort of harlot. We heard about the previous teacher and their attraction to Kiyomi, and then we learned about the seduction of the father (talk about an Elektra complex). Mina states that the new teacher is also sexually respondent to Kiyomi — so she sleeps with him too. And then we have Yudai Katsuragi — we’ll dig into him later.
Kiyomi makes two friends on her first couple of days at school. Yoshie Minakami and Mai Hyodo present themselves to her as students that she could befriend. They entice eventually entice Kiyomi into visiting a cat manor which also happens to be the haunted house that Tetsuya previously had walked into. The three of them connect with Yudai and the originally makes Kiyomi mildly uncomfortable but she later assures her new friends that everything is fine. Tetsuya can sense ghosts and Kiyomi can sense sexual predators — intuition is a strange thing.
Yoshie, Mai, and Yudai are not nice people. This portion of the series explores the different horrors that lurk in the world. Sometimes horror is not always supernatural and the audience learns that when those three individuals forcefully rape Kiyomi in the haunted house. Mai seemingly becomes possessed and begins to wander around the house while Yoshie photographs pictures of Yudai raping Kiyomi. We learn that Kiyomi had her innocence taken from her; she was a virgin. Yoshie and Yudai run off into another section of the house to fornicate and Kiyomi stumbles upstairs to writhe in her trauma.
The Women in White returns. Kiyomi is sitting in a closet with a black cat laying across her lap. She closes the closet door and begins to sob. She peers up towards the ceiling and notices the Woman in White looking down at her. She screams and that prompts Yudai to run upstairs to aid her. He opens the closet door and finds her gaze fixed on the ceiling. Kiyomi breaks out of her trance-like states and clings onto Yudai; she clings onto the man that violated and broke her. The Woman in White instilled a fear that far outweighed the trauma that had been committed. They leave the house after not being able to locate Mai. Kiyomi and Yudai leave Yoshie behind — as Kiyomi turns away she reveals this traumatic-like grin.
Quick note: the damage that was seen on the closet door is comparable to the smile she has. But maybe the damage on the closet door only looked like a grin to me.
Yoshie is informed that Mai was seen at a club called the “Rabbit Hole.” It is then revealed that Yoshie and Mai often spent much of their time at the club. Kiyomi enters the room and informs the teacher, Mr. Noguchi, that Mina requests for him to come to their home. Kiyomi approaches Mai and asks her for the photos that were taken during the rape. Yoshie requests that Kiyomi helps her search for Mai but Kiyomi states that she “has plans with Yudai.” Yoshie makes her way down to the Rabbit Hole and finally comes across Mai who is still in her school uniform. She follows her into a hallway, holds onto her hand, and we never see either of them again.
We see the last confrontation. Kiyomi and Yudai arrived at Mina’s residence — where she is actively having sex with Mr. Noguchi. The two confront Mina as Mr. Noguchi leaves their home. Kiyomi reads a letter to her mother:
I cannot stand to live with a mother who would even sleep with my teacher. I’m leaving. Please don’t look for me. For raising me until this point, I’m thankful.
Mina doesn’t respond the way a mother should and we hear a loud meow fill the atmosphere. The sound serves as a reminder to the audience that the curse is active. Kiyomi tells Yudai to kill her mother or she’ll hand over the photographs of the rape to the police; he is forced to oblige. Yudai beats Mina to death with a telephone. They stage the crime scene, fabricate evidence against Mr. Noguchi, and run away together.
What kind of relationship do you get when it’s built on trauma, lies, and coercion? Probably not a good one. But we’ll have to find out what comes of the two in later episodes. There are many other windows of discourse that open up throughout the first two episodes, but not enough to particularly talk about. Many of these scenes lack context and so I assume we’ll visit back to them in further detail.
Stay tuned for episode 3 and 4 Ju-On: Origins!