*. This is the second of two very short films that began, in embryo, Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-on franchise. I don’t think it’s quite right to see them as laying the foundation for Ju-on (as Shimizu claims they did) because all they really do is introduce the two main characters of Kayako (in Katasumi) and Toshio (here), without any narrative context. Context being admittedly hard to provide in three minutes.
*. J-horror deserves a lot of credit for injecting supernatural horror into modern technology, but I wouldn’t want to overstate this. Creepy telephone calls have long been a staple of scary movies. The jump with cell phones is that the scare can reach out and touch you anywhere, anytime. So no more “the caller is inside the house!” (Black Christmas) or standing just outside, watching you (Scream). The caller may be sitting right next to you! It’s a more intimate device in that way.
*. What this portability and ubiquity allows for is this movie’s jump ending. This is a version of the sudden radical collapsing-of-distance jump. Think of the gremlin on the wing of the plane in the Twilight Zone episode “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” (also included in Twilight Zone: The Movie). You don’t expect the creature to suddenly be so close, literally right in your face, when the passenger raises the blind of the window.
*. The appearance of Toshio works the same way. Anyone on a phone must be some distance away, we think. But then all of a sudden he’s right there, invading our personal space in a creepy way.
*. I say creepy because on the surface he doesn’t seem like an immediate threat. He’s just a kid. He doesn’t have a weapon. In fact I don’t know if he even has any clothes on. His mouth opens and some black tar comes out, but is that supposed to be dangerous?
*. As the series would later develop Toshio actually wouldn’t be much of a threat. He’s more like Kayako’s familiar, tying into his association with a black cat. If anything he’s a warning. Something bad is about to happen. And when you think about it, isn’t a warning delivered by an imp like this even scarier than what’s actually coming? We have to imagine it’s going to be something really bad.
*. It’s interesting to reflect on how stories begin. Often it’s only with an image. In the case of the Saw franchise things apparently got started with the “reverse bear trap” device, which provided Wan and Whannell with the hook for a short film that launched everything.
*. In the case of Saw 0.5, however, there are some aspects of the subsequent mythology present. Like Billy the puppet, and the notion that escaping from the killer’s trap was meant to teach some kind of life lesson.
*. With Katasumi (In a Corner) we’re given much less in the way of explanation and background for what would become the equally long-lived Ju-on franchise. All we really have here is the image of Kayako Saeki (with no clue as to this being her identity) doing her slow crawl toward her victims. But was this not just the initial germ of Ju-on, the gleam in Takashi Shimizu’s eye, but also everything that was essential about it?
*. I don’t say that as a way of deprecating Ju-on, a series of movies that I rate very highly. I just mean to suggest that behind a lot of franchise horror there’s usually a very simple idea. Perhaps nothing more than a man in a mask. The rest of the story really isn’t that important. In later films Kayako’s back story would be filled in, but I can’t say I ever really cared who she really was or what happened to her. She was never anything more to me than an angry ghost.
*. I think this is a fair way of looking at the Ju-on franchise. Subsequent movies would be episodic in nature, almost playing like a series of short films, all leading up to very similar climaxes. Victims falling down and scurrying on their bums away from Kayako would be a favourite motif. The kid Toshio would be added to the mix, though we may think of Kanna here as a forerunner. We’d never see much of Kayako in action, but only the horror of her victims at her approach. And that would be enough.
*. Still, I think it’s impressive how much Shimizu would milk out of such a simple concept. And is Kayako even that different from Sadako, with the same veil of hair falling over her face, and only crawling down stairways instead of out of television sets? I guess there must be something archetypal about a creeping terror, though I’m hard pressed to think of other movie monsters moving in quite the same way before this.
*. As a horror calling card I’m not sure I would have sat up and taken much notice of this. The POV stuff, with Kayako moving in for the kill like a kind of land shark, strikes me as kind of silly. With only a few minutes to play with there’s no chance to present any sense of what’s going on. Kayako might as well be some flesh-eating forest spirit (she comes out of the woods), only now moving on from preying on rabbits. But when we see Takako Fuji coming at us for the first time, and hear her ghastly death rattle, a hook is set. For the next several decades it would go on reeling us in.