By the time Ju-on found its way to American shores via grey-market bootlegs and Internet-acquired, non-Region 1 DVD releases, it had already gained a near-legendary reputation as being the most terrifying entry into the so-called "J-horror" trend of the late '90s. The slow-burning tale of supernatural vengeance blended Eastern horror aesthetics with Western convention to chilling effect, and director Takashi Shimizu would spend the following years building something of a franchise with a series of sequels and the obligatory American remake.
A native of Maebashi City, Japan, Shimizu studied drama at Kinki University before enrolling in film school in Tokyo; he subsequently found work as an assistant director in film and video as the millennium drew to a close. Enrolling in a night class in film production, the burgeoning filmmaker began studying under respected Japanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa (whose films Cure and Kairo are considered modern Japanese horror classics by many genre fans). When it came time for the students to turn in their three-minute film at the end of the semester, the professor took a special shine to Shimizu's unusually frightening short. Impressively establishing a formidable air of dread within the restrictive confines of a brief running time, the film eventually resulted in Kurosawa introducing Shimizu to a Kansai-TV producer -- who just so happened to be preparing a 90-minute television horror anthology. Though the producer was indeed impressed with Shimizu's talent, the new director's lack of experience proved something of a complication, and instead of helming a 30-minute segment, he was asked to prepare two three-minute shorts for Gakkô No Kaidan G. The shorts offered something of a prequel to Shimizu's eventual Ju-on series, and in the following year, the director would compile numerous elements of multiple scripts he had written over the years into a frightening release for the lucrative Japanese straight-to-video market.
Released in early 2000, the original Ju-on terrified audiences with its clever use of misdirection, terrifying pale-skinned ghosts, and unearthly use of sound. A sequel was quick to follow later that same year, while the 2001 film Tomie: Rebirth (the third in a continuing series of film adaptations of Junji Ito's popular manga) offered Shimizu his feature debut. By then, there was little question that Shimizu was competent in taking the reigns for a feature, with the obligatory film Ju-on: The Grudge (2003) serving as his sophomore theatrical release. Though it didn't open to the wild success that some may have expected or anticipated, its sequel, Ju-on: The Grudge 2 -- released later the same year -- offered enough scares to prove that the series still had potential for a lucrative franchise. When word arrived in 2003 that filmmaker Sam Raimi had acquired the rights to an American remake, with series founder Shimizu once again at the helm, anticipation for a seriously terrifying fright film shot to stratospheric levels among genre fans worldwide.