Owen Gleiberman
August 04, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Most of the people who went to see ”The Ring,” the sleekly disturbing 2002 chiller about an evil, grainy, black-and-white videocassette that causes you to die, probably had no idea that they were watching a remake of a hugely popular Japanese horror movie. The American version stayed unusually close to its source, ”Ringu” (if anything, it was even better executed), so when I learned that a Japanese horror film called Ju-On (”The Grudge”) was also being remade in Hollywood, in this case by its original director, Takashi Shimizu, I was more than eager to catch the original version. As it turns out, ”Ju-On” is just now being released in American theaters.

The creepiest moments in ”Ju-On” hinge on a haunted snippet of videotape and a cadaverous female ghost. Sound familiar? It’s ”Ringu” all over again (no wonder Hollywood snatched it up), though this time with very little logic to hold it together. Divided into chapters, the film jumps around in time, which means that we get to observe Shimizu’s utter failure to develop his characters from endless narrative angles. What he does excel at is using sounds and images, like a roomful of snarling cats, to create instant epiphanies of high agitation. Here’s hoping Hollywood forces some coherence onto his talent.

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