Sam Raimi, Takashi Shimizu and Sarah Michelle Gellar talk about making The Grudge!
Japanese horror has become the next big thing in the wake of The Ring’s success. Studios have rushed to remake Dark Water and The Eye, but Sam Raimi saw something special in the Ju-On series and decided to produce a remake because the director so impressed his own horror sensibilities.
“This very talented Takashi Shimizu, who I think is a brilliant - and I use this word without trying to hype it - I think he's a master of suspense,” Raimi said. “Because I hadn't seen a film until that that I thought, ‘Oh my God, I've got to go back to school.’ I'm studying how to make a horror film now, because this guy has so outdone me, and really taught me so many things about new ways to do it that I've been shamed, you know. Either I go back to school or I start producing his pictures. So that was the easier way.”
The value of a genre god’s praise was not lost on Shimizu. “When Sam asked me to do this, he said, ‘Bring in the different ghosts tastes to America,’ and that was such an honor to be asked for,” he said through a translator. “And of course I am a fan of Sam and that’s just a great honor to do what he asked for and that’s why I decided to go with it.”
Remakes can go many different ways, so Raimi was very particular in what he wanted to see in the U.S. version of The Grudge. “We tried to replace the actors with English speaking American actors because usually the movies that are successful here in the states that people really get into are those with American actors or British actors,” Raimi said. “They really don't go see a lot of movies - except in L.A. and New York I think, and maybe one or two other cities, maybe Chicago - where there are foreign-born, foreign-speaking actors. That's just the culture we are. So we tried to make it accessible to the American audience by replacing them with really good American actors. But we tried to really hang on to what made the film unique and not try and make it some American film. We hung on to the Japanese director. We wanted to do the translation by replacing the American actors so it was successful, hang on to the strengths of the picture, which was its Japanese cultural background. We didn't want to make it a story of spirits in America. And hang on to the great talent of the director. And we hope that that will be a good way to work in the future with Japanese directors.”
Shimizu was at first tempted to improve upon his original vision, but Raimi’s praise gave him the confidence to stick with the original plan. “Of course, there are things I’m more satisfied in the remake Grudge,” Shimizu said. “But I actually found out that when we were doing the original, there were things we couldn’t do because the low budget and there was no time. But there are still things we can’t do with the money and the time. It was kind of hard for me to find that out, but still this remake Grudge is definitely on a higher level of completion.”
Casting genre icon Sarah Michelle Gellar in the lead may also seem like a no brainer, and she is happy to continue in roles that empower women. “People ask me that question a lot,” Gellar said. “I definitely did think about it beforehand, but women still have a long way to go in this industry in terms of roles where we can really sort of lead the film and drive it. I was thinking, look at past Oscar winners. Right after Halle Berry won, she did Gothika, and Charlize Theron is doing Aeon Flux, and why is that? Because that is the big roles where women can really drive them and be successful in them.”
Though the English speaking cast had to rely on translators to communicate with the director, they found it easy to pick up enough Japanese to get around. Especially Gellar, who has been an enthusiast of Asian culture for much of her life. “It’s very hard to be lonely in Japan,” she shared. “Clearly you miss your family, your dog, your home, but Japanese people are incredibly welcoming. The best advice I got before I left was someone said the best thing you can do is just learn the basics of the language. And a lot of times when you go across, especially when it comes to Europe, I’m so embarrassed because it’s like I bastardize the language and I feel like everyone’s laughing at me. But in Japan they’re so honored you’re taking the time to learn even the smallest bit of the language, they open up their homes to you and they’re so gracious. They invite you to dinner, and on top of that I had this great cast that was so interested in everything Japanese and Japanese culture and Japanese society.”
Sometimes, they tried to teach their director some English, but it backfired. “There was a big mistake I learned early on,” Gellar said. “You always have fun teaching people bad things to say, like, you know, ‘I hate her,’ or ‘I hate him,’ or ‘suck less’ or any of those things. And I remember it was really funny to all of us. We thought it was funny. So in the morning Jason [Behr] would come in and it would be all ‘I hate him,’ until the first reporter came out to interview us for CNN. We did this interview, and Shimizu was like, ‘Ah, Sarah Michelle, I hate her. She’s crazy. Jason, nuts,’ and said all of the thing we had taught him, and oh my gosh. That’s one of those things where your heart stops, because while it might be very funny to us, it might not necessarily again translate in this kind of sense that that was a joke, so, yes I did teach him a number of those things. And Jason’s the worst influence. I think the first thing Jason took Shimizu to in America was Krispy Kreme.”
Shimizu could tell that some of his nuances were lost in translation on the actors too. “Actually, the movie Lost in Translation was happening during The Grudge, so I saw it during the shooting and Sarah got the DVD to watch it, so I was very conscious about the film and very conscious about Sara understanding what I actually saying. Meaning what if something like Lost in Translation was happening here? I was conscious about that. What I am trying to say is, if I hear English, I can kind of understand the nuance of it. But Sara doesn’t understand any Japanese so she probably doesn’t get the feeling even, but she was very smart and was able to sense everything so there wasn’t a problem.”
Ultimately, Gellar feels it’s certain cultural differences that make Japanese horror so effective. “I’ve always been a fan of Asian cinema,” she said. “I think that it’s really daring. I love the idea of nonlinear filmmaking. I love the idea that it’s not a beginning, middle and end and it’s not a neat package. And I thought the shots were so interesting. I think that sometimes in American films, we get bogged down by trying to make our days and huge crews. In Japan, we would have had triple the amount of crew members in America making this film. And I just love the idea of being part of it. I love the idea of being part of the first Japanese film ever made for American audiences.”
The Grudge opens Friday.
Dont't forget to also check out: The Grudge