Ju-on & Friends: Asian Horror Films and Their American Remakes

Thrills and horrors and creepy children, oh my!  American audiences celebrate scary and thrilling movies.  However, as many know, Americans don’t always have a 100% original script when it comes to some of the most popular horror films released in the United States.  Where is the source material coming from?  Well, you see, most of it comes from two little countries on the other side of the world— South Korea and Japan.

It is true that South Korea and Japan have more often than not been the source for many American horror movies.  Movies such as The Grudge (The Ju-on series in Japan) and The Ring (Ringu in Japan) were based on Japanese horror films made in the late 1990’s.

The Grudge is a fairly well known movie, but it received poor reviews upon its 2004 American release. Critics were not swayed by the haunted house/cursed child storyline, though and audiences gave it heavily mixed reviews.

The Japanese original, Ju-on: The Grudge, released two years prior to the Western remake, and was split into six different vignettes all connecting and ultimately forming one larger story revolving around the Ju-on curse in a house in Nerima, Japan.

This movie received a much higher audience rating, but made around $180 million less than the Americanized remake. The Japanese sequel, Ju-on: The Grudge 2, received fantastic audience reviews, and in a review written by Jeff Vice of Desert News, Salt Lake City, UT, he stated: “Those who are patient will find that this one is a creepier, more effective movie than it’s American clone.”

Japanese Director Takashi Shimizu, directed both the Japanese and American remakes of The Grudge, and because of this it stays mostly true to the original script, but instead of vignettes, there is a prologue before Sarah Michelle Gellar’s character is introduced and utter terror ensues.

Moving on to The Ring, the American release in 2002 had slightly less success than The Grudge would have two years later, but still managed to break the $100 million mark at the box office.

Directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Naomi Watts, this creepy anti-VCR flick strikes terror into the hearts of audience members with its startling and disturbing images, and the unusual appearance of the fatal Samara who kills the viewers a week after they have seen her haunted video tape.

The Japanese original, which was based on a novel of the same name and premise by Kōji Suzuki, was directed by Hideo Nakata and released in 1998.  The American remake stays very true to the original story, with everything leading back to the video tapes and Samara (Sadako in the Japanese version) killing those who see her in the tapes.

Both of the aforementioned films translated from Japanese to American stayed close to the source material, and the fact that they are remakes may be well known.  However, there are some American films that you may be surprised have Asian cinema roots.  For example, The Uninvited (2009) is loosely based off the South Korean psychological thriller A Tale of Two Sisters (2003).  The main differences between the movies exist in 90% of the plot content, with the American version being much less complicated than it’s Korean cousin.

One will often find this is the main difference between Asian horror flicks and their American remakes is the extreme variance in complexity, with the Asian movies being much more convoluted and deeper to really have the audience think about what is happening.  Not to say American movies are dumbed down, but more so simplified for American audiences who generally expect instant satisfaction from their films.  They want scares and they want them now.

Not only is getting the plot across coherently, it is also having a clear and understandable script.  According to a Global Voices blog post written by Lee Yoo Eun, “the translators are the ones who often get full blast of the English craziness and stress. Once a movie got released, angry responses are fired at translator or inaccurate translation” [from Korean to English]. Koreans are very judgmental about proper translations and the correct use of the English language.  They want their story to come across intelligently, and there is nothing more strange and confusing than mistranslated scripts.  If a script is translated poorly, the viewer’s entire perception of the movie could be tainted.  Even titles can be horribly translated from English to another language, making the movie appear very unappealing (or hilarious, however you view it).

So, next time you go to see a horror movie, do some research! You might have to see the original first.  Even if you have to read the subtitles, you could learn a lot about other cultures, but don’t let the movies scare you away from them!




Lauren is a 21-year-old Communication Arts major currently living in Massachusetts with a real taste for adventure, art and literature. She indulges in many personal photography projects, and has been an assistant on two professional shoots. Besides photography, She enjoys reading, watching movies with her movie club, creative writing, and going on nature walks (with camera in hand).