On re-watching The Grudge from 2004, the first American version of Shimizu’s modern Japanese horror classic, I realised how few Japanese characters there were, in a film set in Japan about a Japanese ghost. Sure, there were a few here or there, but one got the distinct impression of an American film simply set in Japan (which, admittedly, it was). The sequel to that film, The Grudge 2, is a continuation of that impression, a movement further away from Japan and the true origins of this series.

This is an American film set not in Japan, but in an American version of Japan. The only Japanese character with more than a minor role is Kayako, the ghost from the Grudge series. The main characters are American, with half the film set in Chicago (this subplot is interesting, however, and I’ll speak more on it later). The Grudge 2 seems like a bridge film, simply an excuse to move the series to the United States. There’s even a possible loophole to cut Kayako out of the films altogether, but I won’t say any more to avoid revealing too much.

Shimizu seems to be running dry on inspiration in these films, recycling some sequences and scares from the earlier Japanese Ju-on films. The Grudge 2 is also veering into The Ring territory, certain plot elements and visuals becoming remarkably similar to the popular American remake franchise. Perhaps Shimizu is saving his best ideas for Ju-on: The Grudge 3, due out in Japan in 2007. This film certainly feels like he’s going through the motions for an American audience.

The acting in this film is a mixed bag. On the one hand, Amber Tamblyn is very good, a better replacement for Sarah Michelle Gellar (an actress, while usually good, seems to resort to one facial expression in the Grudge films). On the other hand, Uno Misako is very bad, almost embarrasingly so. Perhaps this comes as a result of the language barrier (The Grudge 2 appears to be her first English acting job) or perhaps she makes a better pop star than actress.

Moving the series from Japan to America, while disappointing to fans of the original films, also makes for an interesting story twist. Essentially, the infection is moved across the ocean, importing the curse into the United States. Perhaps this move will mean a further separation of the two series, the Japanese Ju-on films and the American Grudge films. Personally, I prefer Shimizu’s earlier Japanese films, as his American remakes seem over-produced and overly manufactured.

There’s no doubt there will be a third American Grudge film. What is in doubt, however, is whether Shimizu will return to direct it. There’s been talk that Ju-on: The Grudge 3 will be his last Grudge film. I’m of mixed feelings about a new director taking over the American series. While it might help bring a new perspective and approach to the series, a new director would also mean moving farther away from Shimizu’s brilliant original concept.

The Grudge 2 is more of the same, no better or worse than the 2004 remake. I personally enjoyed the original more because it was closer to Shimizu’s original films, always preferable to the American versions.