With the What We Do In the Shadows and Creepshow adapted series enjoying success, it’s not surprising streaming platforms would start scouring horror intellectual properties for their next potential hit. Nonetheless, it’s hard to imagine there was much demand to re-visit the Ju-On franchise. Both the original Ju-On and its original remake are decent if not slightly underwhelming J-horror entries. Subsequent Japanese and American follow-ups overwhelmed the series with a convoluted mythology that resulted in diminishing returns. And this year’s The Grudge – somewhere between remake and sequel – disappointed. But Netflix has gone back to the well anyways. Recently, Ju-On: Origins debuted with six episodes spanning around 30 minutes each.
Ju-On: Origins Takes Us Back to a Familiar Real Estate Property
In a voice-over prologue, Ju-On Origins simply explains that the “movies” we know were just that – fictional stories. But the narrator assures us that very real and scary things happened in that house. And these “real” event are more terrifying than anything in the movies. Over the next 30 minutes, two different story threads unfold, both of which connect to the same house. First, Ju-On Origins introduces us to paranormal investigator Yasuo Odajima in 1988. If you’re not sure about the time period, an old-fashioned cassette player serves as a reminder. And no, Yasuo doesn’t use a pencil to rewind a tape. But Yasuo does meet actress Haruka Honjo who claims she hears ghostly footsteps through her apartment. But he’s intrigued by Haruka’s story and urges her to record the sounds, while following up on her story himself.
As Yasuo continues to investigate, he begins to wonder whether the haunting is fixated to a place or if it’s something that latches on to its victims.
Though Haruka believes her apartment may be haunted, her boyfriend, Tetsuya Fukazawa fears he may be responsible for the supernatural happenings. Talking to Yasuo, Tetsuya admits he visited a house for sale – yes, that house – to find a place for Haruka so he could propose. But a ghostly ‘woman in white’ clutching a baby terrifies him. Now the same ‘woman in white’ is haunting Haruka and Tetsuya in her apartment. As Yasuo continues to investigate, he begins to wonder whether the haunting is fixated to a place or if it’s something that latches on to its victims.
Netflix Series Puts Human Evil at the Forefront of Episode 1
In Episode 1’s other story threat, Ju-On: Origins introduces us to high school Kiyomi as she starts her first day at a new school. While it’s unclear here if Kiyomi’s story is unfolding in the same time period, one thing is made abundantly clear – the poor girl lives with an abusive mother. Yes, the episode plays coy with much of Kiyomi’s homelife. But one exchange with her mother – wherein Kiyomi is accused of seducing her absent father – paints a pretty bleak picture. At school, Kiyomi looks like she’s making some friends – Yoshie and Mai.
…Ju-On: Origins introduces us to high school Kiyomi as she starts her first day at a new school.
Her new friends invite Kiyomi to an abandoned house that’s something of a ‘hotel’ for stray cats. For fans of The Grudge series, it’s a nice call-out to the movie franchise. And it’s the same house Tetsuya visited earlier in the episode. But Yoshie and Mai have other plans for Kiyomi. When they arrive at the house, they meet up with another friend, Yudai, a male student from another school. Inside the house, both girls grab and drag Kiyomi to the floor where Yudai assaults her off-screen. It’s this very human betrayal in the cursed house that brings Episode 1 to an end.
Ju-On: Origins Gets A Lot Right in Just 30 Minutes
At a trim 30 minutes, Episode 1 of Ju-On: Origins has a lot to accomplish. In addition to positioning itself to a long-standing movie franchise, Episode 1 needs to justify its existence even as it sets multiple stories and characters in motion. How well does Ju-On: Origins do on these different fronts. By and large, Episode 1 is a minor success. By positioning itself as the ‘real life’ inspiration for the movies, Ju-On: Origins accomplishes two things. It allows audiences unfamiliar with the movies to jump in. Moreover, it gives the series’ creators some creative licence to do some different things with the concept.
In keeping with the movies, the series retains the house, multiple timelines and characters, and idea of trauma as a source of haunting. Yet in contrast to the movies, Ju-On: Origins promises to focus more on human evil. Early pacing may feel a little plodding. And the episode is light on ghosts. But Episode 1 delivers on the atmospheric scares when they emerge. Most importantly, Episode 1’s conclusion is disturbing … it also draws you in which is what a pilot episode needs to do. Case in point – the seemingly unrelated story threat of an apparent child killer.