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When he was a kid, Shimizu Takashi remembers being too scared to watch horror films. It took years before his friends could persuade him to check them out. "As I got used to them, I realised, 'This isn't scary... this is just me being surprised,'" Shimizu recalls. "So I began to research what makes us psychologically frightened, and to watch all types of horror films. In doing so, I found myself thinking, 'I can make this scarier'".
It's fair to say his research paid off. His film Ju-On: The Grudge (2003) follows in the creepy, shuffling footsteps of Hideo Nakata's Ringu and Dark Water. Similar in style to Nakata's work - domestic settings, ancient curses, malevolent child spirits - it's the spooky tale of a virus-like evil "borne of a grudge held by someone who dies in the grip of anger" and then spread from victim to victim. Interestingly, the film's origins have a similar viral-like progression, having begun as a two-part video project then mutated into this feature and subsequent sequel.
"The main difference between the video and the film is that the video Ju-On  didn't really have a main character," explains Shimizu. "You could say that the main character was the cursed house itself. For the movie, it was agreed that we need someone to be the protagonist."
Speaking of protagonists, the movie Ju-On: The Grudge is unusual in its rolling cast of characters, almost like a horror anthology as each in turn struggles with the implacable curse. There are some stunning visual shocks (that extra hand really speeds up hair washing in the shower) but it's the film's unsettling psychological ambience that defines it.
"Usually in America, people tend to be scared by a lot of blood and direct attacks," Shimizu reasons. "In Japan we fear the things that we can't see normally, for example the feeling of a person who is dead still lingering next to you. You don't have to necessarily see the blood or the scary thing directly."
Shimizu also directed the 2004 US remake, The Grudge, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar and Bill Pullman. Hired despite "not speaking a lick of English", what lured him across the Pacific? And what does he make of yet another Western takeover of Eastern ideas?
"Basically if there's something that I would love to do, it doesn't matter what country it's in," argues Shimizu. "But I do feel that Hollywood is lacking new ideas. On the flipside, it's becoming more open to movie-making styles from around the world, so I feel that something different might come out of this if we're all able to absorb each other's ideas. If it continues like this, it's possible that movie makers from Japan, Korea, and all over the world could come in and take over Hollywood!"
And what of his own Hollywood experiences? Has his story been drastically altered? Does Gellar get to grips with the Grudge? "The basic story line is the same, but there are small changes in the episodes. Different endings, stuff like that." What specifically? "That I cannot tell you. We're still working on it." Spoken like a Hollywood veteran.
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