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Ju-on: Black Ghost
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by Jay Seaver

"Better than 'White', still not what it could be without Toshio."
3 stars

The good news about "Ju-on: Black Ghost" is that it's better than the other short feature it was stitched to for American home video ("Ju-on: White Ghost"). Not by a huge margin, but by just enough that you can see where writer/director Mari Asato has the right idea of how to tell a story that fits the franchise but stands on its own as well.

Though Asato gets at the story via Tetsuya (Koji Seto) and Yuko (Ai Kago) - a young man and the nurse next door he has a crush on - the story truly centers on Fukie (Hana Matsumoto), a teenage girl not coping with her parents' divorce very well. It currently seems to be manifesting as seizures, but the doctors can't find anything physically wrong with her, and weird stuff is starting to happen around her - strange enough for mother Kiwako (Maria Takagi) to call her sister Mariko (Yuri Nakamura), a purported psychic, to help.

What's actually going on is a fairly neat subject for a ghost story on its own (one I think I've seen elsewhere although titles are not leaping to mind), although one that could be kickstarted by the idea of these metaphysical grudges. While there is a digression or two, Asato keeps it focused on Fukie's story. The puzzle-box format of these movies is not as prominent here as elsewhere, but there's a certain heft to it, a curiosity on the audience's part as to what sort of rage is hiding within the sweet-seeming Fukie to lead to the murdered family hinted at early on.

It helps that for a direct-to-video movie made on a tight budget, the cast is actually fairly solid. Hana Matsumoto may not have the most active role for the center of a horror movie, but she serves as a good center whether called upon to be sweet or spooky. Around her, Ai Kago does a fine job presenting the growing unease people around Fukie must feel, while Maria Takagi does well at building a character that can emerge from the shadows as the story requires and Yuri Nakamura makes a potentially silly character, the soccer-mom psychic, someone the audience can accept easily enough.

The production values on this aren't particularly impressive - there's even a moment or two when the trademark groaning sound of the series's ghosts just doesn't seem to fit in, and the resources aren't there to create much atmosphere visually. Asato at least manages to make the best out of what she has; stumbles are few and far between, and though things may occasionally come across as a bit flat, the underlying creepiness is never snuffed out,and the movie has a decent balance between suspense and horrific inevitability.

Like "White Ghost", "Black Ghost" might have been better served not being part of the "Ju-on" series, but Mari Asato seems to have benefited from the boost of being involved with the franchise - she's written and directed quite steadily since this came out in Japan. The experiment of using the franchise as an anthology that gave young filmmakers a break was short-lived, which is probably for the best; this is a decent ghost story that has the additional benefit of only being an hour long, but not quite what it could have been.

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originally posted: 07/18/14 23:12:39
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  N/A (NR)
  DVD: 17-May-2011

  N/A (15)

  N/A (MA)

Directed by
  Mari Asato

Written by
  Mari Asato

  Ai Kago
  Hana Matsumoto
  Yuri Nakamura
  Maria Takagi

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