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Political Ju-On
by Leilla Matsui
November 8, 2004

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In light of recent events, namely the stunning announcement that George W. Bush was actually voted into office this time, a film like “The Grudge”, with its theme of paranormal blowback seems almost prescient.  And now horrified voters, like the Grudge's bulging eyed, white-knuckled audiences can only sit back and wait for the real terrors to reveal themselves, as Cheney, Ashcroft and Co. conjure up new ways to scare the bejesus out of them.  The approximately 55 million citizens who did not vote for Bush on November 2nd have every reason to fear the Whitehouse's malignant occupants even more than the ones inhabiting “The Grudge's” haunted Tokyo house.

In these politically nightmarish times, “The Grudge” can be read as America's final chapter as it unfolds as a series of horrific events, which eventually reveal a complex conspiracy of enraged spirits and simmering hatreds.  And those are just the ones at home.  The film's title, roughly translated from the Japanese original, “Ju-On” (an obscure term used to describe a lingering, vengeance seeking rage left in the wake of an unquiet death), just as accurately describes the fallout to come when the casualties of America's murderous foreign policy rise up and make their opinions on the results of the elections known.

About the same time Iraq's body count reached its 100,000 mark, delighted Hollywood execs celebrated “The Grudge's” $40 million earnings for its opening weekend, (approximately double its anticipated box-office), guaranteeing that a sequel is already in the works.  American voters, similarly impressed with Bush's bloody numbers, gave him their own vote of confidence with a second term in office.

Voters and horror fans alike should appreciate the eerie parallels between “The Grudge's” Takako Fuji reprising her “Ju-On” role as the slithering she-devil, Kayako, who sets the film's dreadful chain of events in motion, and Osama Bin Laden's much televised guest appearance on the eve of the elections.  Conjured up from the invisible stain of an unsolved multiple murder, Kayoko's apparition appears every couple of years to claim the lives of those, who, by their very presence in her haunted threshold, have earned them her homicidal wrath.

Not coincidentally, perhaps, Osama Bin Laden, America's own phantom menace, similarly declared Armageddon on those who would trespass against him, while stumping alongside Bush on the campaign trail. Predictably, Bush vowed pretty much the same thing in his victory speech when he spoke of using his second term to cash in on his “political capital.”  And nothing sends more shivers up the spine than Dick Cheney's recent use of the term “mandate”, which coming from his mouth, sounds more ominous than the preternatural croaking sounds Kayoko makes before striking down her next victim.

Democrats, in the meantime, have woken up after their own nightmarish ordeal of losing to Bush only to discover that Ralph Nader's name on the ballot could not be blamed for the abysmal outcome of the elections, despite all their best efforts to exorcise him from the political landscape.  Nader's significant but peripheral role as the woefully overlooked third party candidate is not unlike nine-year-old Yuya Ozeki's role in “The Grudge” as Toshio, the blue-skinned zombie boy with a larynx inhabited by a malevolent feline.  More victim than victimizer, Toshio still manages to elicit the highest pitched screams from the audience when Sarah Michelle Gellar's character discovers him crouching in the closet, clutching a black cat.  Nader has had a similar effect on die hard Democrats who feared him more than their own poor judgment at recognizing the enemy. To find out what went wrong on November 2nd, they only had to look in the mirror. 

In her role as the well-intentioned social worker-in-training who stumbles into a supernatural hornet's nest, Sarah Michelle Gellar, better known as the title character in the hit TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer plays the “innocent” American abroad whose vague idealism is at odds with the (un)reality around her. When Gellar's character, Karen Davis, (anxious to earn extra credit towards her degree in social work) pays a visit to an elderly American woman after the woman's regular caretaker mysteriously disappears, she might as well have stumbled into Dick Cheney's America; a time-warped wasteland where the elderly and infirm are left starving and filthy to fend for themselves. With funding for social programs diverted into Halliburton coffers, “The Grudge's” Grace Zabriskie's character gives us a firsthand glimpse of what the next four years will be like for those without access to social services or health care. The traumatized woman in the clutches of a raging Japanese curse is no doubt grateful that she left the US to take up residence in a haunted house in Tokyo.

Unlike the blasphemously inept re-working of “Ringu” -- a less fortunate Japanese horror classic which met a hideous fate at the hands of Hollywood, “The Grudge” retains much of the original's low-budget appeal. The film's American producers wisely kept Ju-On's original director/screenwriter on board as the film's primary creative force. We can only wonder what would have been if the Democrats had applied a similar strategy to their campaign. The disastrous decision to waste millions of dollars to root out the party's progressive core values and replace them with Wall Street's bottom line has earned them the disappointing returns on their “investment”, not to mention, the deep rooted enmity of voters who will more than likely carry their grudge into 2008. 

Leilla Matsui is a freelance writer living in Tokyo, Japan. She can be reached at:

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* Regime Change Begins at Home … Literally