Shutter: Remake of Thai Horror Picture

“Shutter,” starring Joshua Jackson and Rachael Taylor, is directed by Masayuki Ochiai from a screenplay by Luke Dawson.

The film is produced by Taka Ichise, Roy Lee and Doug Davison, and the executive producers are Arnon Milchan, Sonny Mallhi and Gloria Fan. Katsumi Yanagijima is the director of photographjy, Norifumi Ataka is the production designer, and Michael N. Knue, A.C.E. and Tim Alverson are the film editors. Music is by Nathan Barr, and the music supervisors are Dave Jordan and JoJo Villanueva.

It’s is based on the 2004 film of the same name, which became the highest grossing film in Thailand. The horror-thriller was directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun and Parkpoom Wongpoom. Its story is simple: a girl suddenly appears, gets hit by a car and disappears, only to return to haunt the perpetrators. But with its many twists and shocks, the film subverted audience expectations, revealing itself to be much more than a simple ghost story.

A recent poll conducted by CNN revealed that one third of the people believed in ghosts, and that many of those claim theyve seen one. At the same time, interest in spirit photography–events in which images of the dead are caught on film–has never been higher.

Spirit Photography

The phenomenon is as old as photography itself, dating back to the 1860s. Spirit photography has been riddled with controversy and fraud, yet many believe it to be one of the few methods of capturing ghostly phenomenon that approaches scientific methodology. Magazines devoted to spirit photography proliferate throughout Asia, and new internet sites devoted to the subject spring up every day. New Yorks Metropolitan Museum of Art recently hosted an exhibit devoted to spirit photography, called The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult.


This intriguing and foreboding subject is a key element of the psychological thriller SHUTTER, from executive producers of The Grudge and The Ring. In SHUTTER, a newly married couple discovers disturbing, ghostly images in photographs they develop after a tragic accident. Fearing the manifestations may be connected, they investigate, only to learn that some mysteries are better left unsolved and that a past mistake can lead to an eternity of vengeance.

For photographer Ben (Joshua Jackson) and his new wife Jane (Rachael Taylor), his new assignment a lucrative fashion shoot in Tokyo was supposed to be a kind of working honeymoon. With this exotic professional opportunity and the limitless possibilities of a new marriage, Ben and Jane arrive in Japan. But as they make their way on a mountain road leading to Mt. Fuji, their new life together comes to, literally, a crashing halt. Their car smashes into a woman standing in the middle of the road, who has materialized out of nowhere. Upon regaining consciousness after the accident, Ben and Jane cannot find any trace of the girl Jane believes she hit with the car.

Shaken by the accident and by the girls disappearance, Ben and Jane arrive in Tokyo, where Ben begins his glamorous assignment. Having worked in Japan before and fluent in the language, Ben is comfortable there, and he eagerly reunites with old friends and colleagues. Jane, a newcomer to the city, feels very much like a stranger in a strange land as she makes tentative, unsettling forays through the city.

Ben, meanwhile, has discovered mysterious white blurs eerily evocative of a human form that have materialized on an entire days work from the expensive photo shoot. Janes concerns escalate as she believes the blurs in Bens photos are the dead girl from the road, who is now seeking vengeance for them leaving her to die.

Success in Thailand

The films enormous success in Thailand did not translate overseas, because some of its references had meaning only in the context of Thai culture and perceptions. Looking to make the story more accessible to American and Japanese audiences, esteemed producer Taka Ichise, along with Vertigo Entertainments Sonny Mallhi, Roy Lee and Doug Davison, and New Regency Productions Sanford Panitch and Alexandra Sundell, conceived a new version of SHUTTER. Their SHUTTER, while always respecting the original work, would be reimagined with an American starring cast and a Japanese director. And it would be filmed entirely in Japan.

Regencys Sundell and Vertigos Mallhi and Lee (whose credits include The Departed and The Ring) worked closely with screenwriter Luke Dawson on the screenplay for the new SHUTTER. Dawsons as-yet unproduced adaptation of the famed Japanese manga Lone Wolf and Cub, had impressed Regency; he also had a professional relationship with noted filmmaker Darren Aronofsky, who had directed Regencys The Fountain.

Dawson was eager to dive into the phenomenon of spirit photography, which has long had a huge following in Asia, and was making significant inroads in U.S. culture. To aid in his research, Dawson and some of the other filmmakers visited the METs The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult exhibit.
Additionally, Dawson replaced the films original setting, New York City, with Tokyo. (The film is bookended with sequences set in Brooklyn.) An important part of the story is Janes feeling out of place in her new surroundings, says Dawson, so it made sense to set the film outside the U.S. Tokyo is the perfect setting for this story, in which Jane feels like shes surrounded by chaos, and is unable to fully comprehend the situation into which shes been thrown. American audiences dont see a lot of the inner workings of Tokyo, so we had a lot of fun capturing how the city would seem strange to an outsider.

Japanese Director Ochiai

As work continued on the script, producer Taka Ichise, whose numerous credits include The Grudge and The Grudge 2, approached Japanese filmmaker Masayuki Ochiai (Infection) to direct “Shutter.” Ichise explains: On the surface, the Thai version of Shutter doesnt really tie in with Japan or its culture because it was made in Thailand, by Thais, for the Thai people. Yet after re-watching it, I came to realize how certain elements, such as its depiction of the ghost and of spirit photography, were similar to Japanese horror. It was then I chose Ochiai to direct because I knew he could find ways to make a very good film for both American and Japanese audiences.

Like Dawson, Ochiai was intrigued by spirit photography and eager to boost its burgeoning presence in the West. Japanese audiences are very familiar with it, he explains. Everyone in Japan at one point or another has had a sleepless night after being exposed to spirit photography.

Spirit photography is so popular in Japan because ghosts mean more to the Japanese people than to Americans, he continues. In Japan, ghosts dont have to do anything to be scary. In American ghost stories, they have to wreak all kinds of havoc [to make an impact].

While Ochiai wont admit to any recent ghostly encounters, he says he faced some reel-life terrors when prepping the movie namely, a principal cast whose native tongue he didnt speak. I had nightmares about the difficulties that would come with working with actors whose language I dont know, says Ochiai. But my fears went away at our first rehearsal, when I realized we had a wonderful interpreter, and that everyone was moving toward the same goal. It was so seamless that I always felt like I was talking directly with the actors.
Joshua Jackson also has high praise for the interpreter, Chiho Asada. Chiho was a miracle because she was able to take our slightly flighty actor talk and translate it into director talk, he says with a laugh.

Sets and Costumes

The sets and surroundings added interesting touches to the filmmaking, sometimes in unexpected ways. There was some construction going on outside the stages, recalls Taylor of one memorable incident. We noticed that whenever a crane would move, some eerie music from The Omen would play. Thats gotta mean something!

Some traditional Japanese on-set customs also made an impact on the American cast members. David Denman recalls that when Ochiai called, Action, every member of the crew dropped to the ground, hoping to stay out of our eye line. Its a very generous gesture, but I never really got used to it. Im used to having a big crew standing around looking at me!

Some interiors were filmed at the famed studios of the Toho Company Ltd., home to many of the films of Akira Kurosawa and to Godzilla and Mothra. When the studio opened its doors in 1932, its floors were made of dirt, and each Toho-based production would begin with a ritual where a priest or monk would pour water on the floor to ward off spirits. The stages have long since been renovated, but the ritual continues to be performed. It was really lovely to witness these little blessings for SHUTTER, says Taylor.

After principal photography wrapped in Tokyo, post-production work commenced in Los Angeles. Editors Michael N. Knue, A.C.E and Tim Alverson worked closely with Ochiai and producer Taka Ichise to create a final cut that maximized the tension and scares. We spent a lot of time on getting the pacing right, says Knue, a veteran of numerous genre films, including Hideo Nakatas The Ring 2, produced by Ichise. SHUTTER moves along at a terrific clip without turning into a conventionally-paced action film. We keep the pacing fast enough so that when it does slow down, you really feel that something is going to happen.
Knue credits sound designer Chuck Michael with helping to solve an editorial challenge involving a key sequence in which a principal character is tormented by a ghost; the character is shrouded in darkness, illuminated only by sudden and explosive camera flashes. First, Knue studied the comparable sequence in the original Thai film. I realized that the scene was scary in the Thai Shutter not because of what you see, but because of what you hear, Knue explains. I decided that our scene was too quiet, and Chuck came in and designed the sound in such a way that it starts off with a shock, then dips a little, then becomes like an aggressive monster coming after the character.

These kind of visceral and psychological shocks are the films hallmarks. But Ochiai insists that SHUTTER also conveys important Eastern-based ideas about the impossibility of redemption and the nature of evil. Im reminded of an old saying from China, which says Heavens net is very rough, but it still catches evil. Put another way: The law or social system might forgive, but there are entities out there that will not.