Noroi: The Curse

(Koji Shiraishi, Japan, 2005)

BY RUFUS DE RHAM | March 22, 2024

When Noroi: The Curse was released in Japan in 2005, it quickly became a word-of-mouth must-see, deemed one of the scariest found-footage films ever made. Even so, it never received a major international release, and outside of a few festival screenings, the film was incredibly difficult to track down, unless you happened upon a bootleg copy or a YouTube upload before it was pulled down by a copyright strike. It only became more sought-after as director Koji Shiraishi built a name for himself in the J-Horror world with titles like Carved: The Slit-Mouthed Woman (2007), Grotesque (2009), A Record of Sweet Murder (2014), and, perhaps best known in the West, Sadako vs. Kayako (2016), which pitted the ghosts from Ringu and Ju-on franchises against each other.

Shiraishi’s second solo theatrical feature, and also his best work to date, is presented as an incomplete documentary by Masafumi Kobayashi (Jin Muraki), a journalist who explores Japan’s urban legends, myths, and supernatural mysteries, and who disappears while making his latest film, also called Noroi. Kobayashi opens his doc with the quote, “I want the truth; no matter how terrifying, I want the truth,” and audiences spend the next two hours delving into just how terrifying the truth can be. Kobayashi starts his investigation with Junko Ishii (Tomono Kuga) and her son after a neighbor complains of crying-baby sounds coming from their house. This takes him down a rabbit hole that also reveals a late-night television séance that goes horribly wrong, a young girl who may have psychic powers, an unhinged tin-foil-hat-wearer worried about ectoplasmic worms, and several incidents with pigeons. Disparate strands of Kobayashi’s investigation—fieldwork B-roll, interviews, and television clips—weave together a complicated mythological web centered on a demon known as Kagutaba and the village of Shimokage. To give away anything further would rob viewers the joy (and terror) of seeing how it all fits together.

Noroi: The Curse refreshingly offers little in the way of jump scares and shaky cam, and instead piles on the dread as each new reveal of the investigation reaffirms the utter hopelessness of the situation. Shiraishi’s use of freeze-frames, zooms, and actors appearing as themselves genuinely convince as fact, with each element of the curse building on the previous—the first several are grounded in reality (a noisy neighbor, a car accident, sleepwalking), while the more supernatural ones (psychics, demonic rituals) are introduced by sensationalized TV-show clips and ethnographic documentary footage.

Preceding the explosion of found-footage horror inspired by 2007’s Paranormal Activity, Noroi: The Curse earns its reputation as a pioneer of the subgenre, and like Lake Mungo (2008), it derives its power from a dedication to judicious pacing and the documentary form. If you can get on the film’s wavelength and open yourself to the almost nihilistic despair underlining its events, the experience is uniquely haunting. 🩸


lives in rural Connecticut across from spooky old ruins in the woods. He is part of Boondocks Film Society, a group that programs unique pop-up film events in Litchfield Hills, the Hudson Valley, and the Berkshires. He has programmed for Film at Lincoln Center (Scary Movies, My First Film Fest) and Subway Cinema (New York Asian Film Festival, Old School Kung Fu Fest). He has written extensively about Asian cinema, most recently co-editing an issue of NANG magazine dedicated to Archival Imaginaries in Asia.

X: @rufusderham

How to see Noroi: The Curse

After almost 15 years of being pretty much impossible to see, the film is finally available to stream, though there has yet to be a U.S. DVD release.
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