Here's How Netflix's Grudge TV Show Connects To The J-Horror Movies
Netflix has debuted a terrifying new horror TV show, Ju-On: Origins, but how does it fit in with the films?
The Grudge franchise is not an easy thing to navigate. Over the course of its many installments, this has become more a feature than a bug--the original film used multiple perspectives, alternating timelines, and non-linear stories to really ramp up the sense of uneasiness and dread as unwitting victims got cursed and eventually picked off one by one by angry ghosts. This tradition is upheld in Netflix's new streaming TV show, Ju-On: Origins, which unfolds across six episodes with three major timelines and a handful of converging plots. The show is, unsurprisingly, meant to be the "origin story" of the Ju-On curse--but how and where it fits into the movie universe isn't exactly obvious.
So where, exactly, does Ju-On: Origins fit into the Grudge and Ju-On films? The short answer is that, unfortunately, it's complicated. Let's break it down.
The original Ju-On film(s)
Technically, the Ju-On franchise actually began with a couple of short films that debuted in 1998, but we'll get to that in a second. The feature-length portion of the franchise kicked off in 2000 in Japan and then 2004 in America. In Japan, there were two direct-to-VHS movies called Ju-On: The Curse and Ju-On: The Curse 2, before the franchise finally arrived at the more mainstream Ju-On: The Grudge in 2002. It's this version of the movie that was ported over to America, where the "Ju-On" portion of the title was dropped and we got The Grudge. Creator Takashi Shimizu directed both the Japanese and American versions of the film, which explains why they're so similar--they roughly follow the same story and the American remake even takes place in Japan, except it's centered on a family of American expats.
In these movies, a haunted house places a murderous curse on anyone who enters, care of a handful of "onryo" or vengeful ghosts. The movie explains that the ghosts in the house came from the brutal murder of a woman named Kayako, her son Toshio, and the family cat, whose spirit fused with Toshio's after their deaths. The rules of the curse are somewhat fluid and the movie sets up the idea that anyone who so much as sets foot in the house is susceptible, even if they leave and never come back. It's the spirit of Kayako who does the actual killing--Toshio is less malevolent and often just functions as an omen for Kayako's presence--and they both can follow you wherever you go once they've got you in their crosshairs.
These movies make relatively quick work of not one but two sets victims, the first being a family who moved into the house with their aging grandmother and the second being two social workers (along with some friends and family as collateral) who were sent to care for the grandmother after the first family had "disappeared."
The Ju-On franchise continued in Japan with Ju-On: The Grudge 2, Ju-On: Black Ghost, Ju-On: White Ghost, a reboot called Ju-On: The Beginning Of The End, and even a crossover with The Ring franchise called Kayako vs. Sadako--think Alien vs. Predator, but, y'know, ghosts.
In America, the franchise went up to The Grudge 3 before getting a soft-reboot "sidequel" in 2020 which reverted the naming scheme back to The Grudge.
Across these multiple installations, the rules and dynamics of the curse itself expanded and evolved. Eventually, the story of Kayako and Toshio was completely overhauled into something less concrete--they were no longer a normal family turned victims of a brutal crime, but cogs in a complicated supernatural wheel that had existed long before them. In some iterations of the story, Toshio was the more dangerous one and a spirit that had infected a still-living Kayako to give, uh, rebirth, to him. In others, Kayako had had an affair that resulted in her pregnancy with Toshio and had been murdered before he was born.
Basically, the origin portion of the Ju-On story rapidly became a lot more ambiguous.
The TV show
So where, exactly, does a show with the word "Origins" in the title fit into this weird web of conflicting facts and overlapping stories?
The short answer is that it doesn't. But the long answer is a lot more interesting.
Functionally, Ju-On: Origins is a standalone entry into the franchise. You don't actually need to have seen the movies or know the franchise history to watch and be deeply creeped out. It even feels different from the movies--there are hardly any jumpscares, the ghosts themselves are almost entirely just regular looking people (as opposed to the stark white-painted, stringy-haired specters the franchise became famous for), and names like Kayako and Toshio don't come up at all.
Despite all this, Ju-On: Origins manages to carve out an interesting place within the wider Ju-On mythology with a few clever tricks. First, it bills itself as a series of "true events." (It's not.) The plots and characters in the show are entirely fictional, but it leans into the "historical" flavor by emphasizing real-world events as context in the different timelines. Things like Chernobyl, the Tokyo Subway Sarin Gas attack, and the murder of Junko Furuta are referenced through news programs and headlines, making the whole thing feel grounded in fact.
The fictional stories also borrow heavily from the major themes explored in the Ju-On franchise, with just enough deviation from the formulas to make the idea that these are the "real" stories and the movie versions are the fictionalized ones, genuinely buyable. Cat-Ghost-Boy Toshio doesn't exist in Ju-On: Origins, but a ghost boy named Toshiki does, and the house itself has a reputation for being a haven for stray cats. Kayako, and her sometimes-affair, never come up. Instead we meet Toshiki's mother, Kiyomi, who eventually turned to murder after her abusive husband left Toshiki in a coma. The other parts of Kayako's sometimes-story are translated into equally loose adaptations with characters like Chie, who was murdered while pregnant by her jealous husband.
Even the use of a house phone, a repeated scare from the films, comes into play--though with considerably more gore this time around--used as a weapon to beat people to death or found stuffed inside various corpses. It's certainly not the vaguely campy idea of being called by a number that looks like the word "death" in Japanese, or picking up a call to hear the trademark death rattle coming for you, but it gets the job done.
So, what does this mean?
Basically, it means that Ju-On: Origins is very, very scary--but probably not in the way you're expecting. It feels less like a new entry in The Grudge franchise proper and more like a true crime thriller with certain supernatural elements spun in. You certainly don't need to know the history or the continuity of the Ju-On universe, but if you do, there's a good chance the scares will unsettle you even more.
The connections aren't always obvious, and the timelines certainly aren't the easiest to map and follow, but the graphic violence, oppressive tragedy, and effort to skew the spooks towards realism over the blatantly supernatural make the whole thing a worthy, deeply uncomfortable endeavor. If you're looking for another chance to see a ghostly hand come out of an unsuspecting victim's hair while they shower, this isn't the show for you--but if you're interested in a new spin twist on a long-lasting haunted house story, you can't go wrong.
All six episodes of Ju-On: Origins are available to stream on Netflix.
Disclosure: ViacomCBS is GameSpot's parent company