In a way, I don’t like reviewing Japanese movies I didn’t love. I just feel like they’re too high-context and I don’t have the cultural understanding to judge their merits accurately. Like, I don’t understand what’s scary about hair, in the first place, and now I have to try to figure out what’s scary about basketballs. (Spoiler: I did not figure out what was scary about basketballs.)
White Ghost/Black Ghost is actually two short films, both of which are supposed to fit into the whole Ju-On mythos. White Ghost involves a family moving into the Grudge house and coming to a nasty end at the hands of the oldest son. The story’s told in a flash-forward/flashback framework that bounces back and forth between a number of characters, all of whom have had a glancing encounter with someone or something involved in the murder, and all of whom come to a bad end. There are some good bits and some effective scares, but the movie as a whole balances precariously on the boundary between effective and ineffective.
It’s still sort of balancing there, unresolved. It probably would have been a grim, unsettling little movie if the ghost hadn’t, bewilderingly, been a tiny little old lady carrying around a basketball like she was going to beat someone to death with it. Every time she came on the screen I just sat there, staring at her, going “What? No, seriously, what?”
I mean, the rest of the movie I liked. I didn’t love it, but I thought it was good at conveying the sheer random nastiness of how the curse can just screw up your life if you so much as walk past it on the street. (The poor cake delivery guy, holy crap.) If it hadn’t had a ghost who made me stop dead in my tracks and go “What? What in the hell can possibly be scary about a little old lady with delusions of being a Harlem Globetrotter?” then I’d probably have been a lot more impressed.
Black Ghost, about a girl with an ingested twin who’s thoroughly pissed off about not being born, is widely considered to be inferior to the first movie. I can’t decide if I agree with that or not, but I’m leaning toward no. Certainly it’s less clever and stylish, but a couple of the scares were far creepier, and the only thing that made me go “Okay, no, seriously now” was the throat-creaky thing the ghosts will insist on doing even though I did that all the time as a child and it wasn’t scary then either. It also gets bonus points for containing an exorcist, thus instantly transforming it into a sort of live-action crossover between The Grudge and Tactics.
Black Ghost is a lot more straightforward a horror movie than White Ghost, which is both a strength and a weakness – there are no distractions from the story, but the story itself is a little banal, and it could be that some distraction wouldn’t have done it harm. On the other hand, White Ghost is a prime example of how even a clever movie can be derailed by by that one thing that’s just a little too distracting.
So what’s the verdict? I went back and forth between a low three-star rating and a high two-star rating. In the end, though, it only gets two, both because of Grandma With a Basketball (seriously, what?) and because of the over-reliance on creaky throat noises.