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This ‘Grudge’ tops American version

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JU-ON: THE GRUDGE — ** 1/2 — Megumi Okina, Misaki Ito, Misa Uehara; in Japanese, with English subtitles; rated R (violence, gore).

OK, let's get this straight. "The Grudge," with Sarah Michelle Geller, was actually the fifth movie in director Takashi Shimizu's horror series about curses and ghostly possession. And it was the second time Shimizu remade that particular story.

This film, "Ju-on: The Grudge," is his bigger-budget redo of his original straight-to-video hit.

OK, that's a bit confusing, but now that "The Grudge" is a big hit, it makes sense to release this film, the second "Ju-on."

I think we need a score card to keep it all straight.

And the episodic structure of the story here certainly doesn't help.

Still, those who are patient will find that this one is a creepier, more effective movie than its American clone. (Although why this less-bloody version got an R rating while the American film got a PG-13 is anyone's guess.)

This is basically the same story, as it follows Rika Nishina (Megumi Okina), a student nurse whose new assignment brings her face-to-face with some murderous spirits.

She's supposed to be taking care of an older woman named Sachie (Chikako Isomura), but Rika discovers that the house is in disrepair and that the owners are missing.

Rika also discovers a young boy in the house, Toshio (Yuya Ozeki), who may have a connection with the ill-fated previous owners, whose spirits seem to be haunting the place.

Other sections of the film deal with the fates of those who have been in the house, including a detective (Daisuke Honda) who is trying to aid Rika.

This version is similarly slow in its pacing, but it doesn't feel as lethargic. And several scenes are staged better and are more effective (in particular, the video-camera sequence).

Still, the chopped-up story structure is more than a little confusing: Rather than use flashbacks, Shimizu has divided the film into full sections, some of them occurring in the past and some in the present day.

"Ju-on: The Grudge" is rated R for some violent and disturbing images (spectral attacks) and some gore (not especially graphic). Running time: 92 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com