The 2004 – 2009 The Grudge movie trilogy was a US remake of Shimizu’s 2002 Japanese horror film Ju-On: The Grudge (呪怨).
It appeared after the unexpected American success of the Ring (リング) Japanese horror movie.
S P O I L E R S incoming.
This profile describes Kayako as seen in the US remakes. The original version of the character would be a different writeup.
- Real Name: Kayako Saeki.
- Known Relatives: Takeo (Husband, deceased), Toshio (Son, deceased), Unnamed (Mother, deceased), Naoko (Sister, deceased).
- Group Affiliation: None.
- Base of Operations: Tōkyō/Suginami, Japan. Later Chicago, IL, USA.
- Height: 5’5″ (1.65m). Weight: 135 lbs. (61 Kg.). Age: 30 (at death).
- Eyes: Brown. Hair: Black.
Powers & Abilities
Kayako had an unrequited love, a horrible death, and is now a restless spirit.
As a ghost she can:
- Pass through solid objects.
- Make others see, hear, or feel whatever she wants (in DC Heroes TTRPG terms, Mental Illusion).
- Copy individual voices (Chameleon).
- Perform telekinesis.
- Control electronics, lights, and phones.
- Remain visible or invisible.
- Control emotions.
- Possess others.
- Pull victims into her realm, never to return. We know nothing of this dimensionOther realms of existence that are not our universe. (Dimension Travel).
- Locate anyone who enters the house she haunts (Life Sense).
- Travel to the location of those who have entered her house (Dimension Travel).
Kayako is tied to the events of her murder. Most of her illusions are based on her own broken body or that of her son, her son’s cat, or her husband.
The curse that created Kayako’s vengeful spirit is detectable by dementia patients. Emma from The Grudge was aware of Kayako from the moment she walked into the house. The old man on the bus ride in The Grudge 2 saw Toshio sitting next to Aubrey.
The Grudge |2004| Official Trailer
Matthew and Jennifer Williams bought a home in Tōkyō. Matt’s mother, Emma would live with them.
Matt’s sister Susan, who already lived in Tōkyō, came with them to look at the new house.
This house has a secret
Three years before, one Takeo had discovered his wife Kayako’s journal. Inside, she professed her love for Peter Kirk, an American professor.
Enraged, Takeo broke his wife’s neck. Then drowned their son and family cat in the bath. He wrapped the still-breathing Kayako in plastic and put her in the attic. Kayako couldn’t move and suffered with each breath until she succumbed.
Meanwhile, Takeo hung himself.
Emma, who had severe dementia, needed continuous care. Matthew and Jennifer contacted a care centre who sent a caregiver called Yoko.
Matt came home from work to find the house a mess. Emma was just sitting there, and Yoko was never seen again. He also found Jennifer lying in bed, staring, and lightly gasping for air.
Matt reached for the phone to call for an ambulance. But he was attacked by an alabaster-skinned boy, Toshio.
Still at work, Susan couldn’t reach Matt or Jennifer by phone. And since she had visited the house when Matt and Jennifer were looking to buy, she also became a target.
Kayako visited horrors upon her before pulling her into another realm.
Karen and Doug
Karen Davis’ dream of visiting Japan came true when she and her boyfriend Doug enlisted with a college in Tōkyō.
Doug also worked part-time in a restaurant, while Karen took a part-time job as a caregiver.
Her first solo assignment was Emma Williams, since Yoko was missing.
In Emma’s house, a shocked Karen found a young boy with his cat. Both were taped inside a closet. The boy hardly spoke, only giving his name. Toshio.
Karen also found Kayako’s journal. Whithin was a picture of her crush Peter. Kayako could be seen in the background.
Surviving the dead
Kayako attacked Emma and Karen.
Alex, Karen’s boss at the agency, went to the house. He found Emma dead and Karen sitting against a wall staring and lightly gasping for air. Alex called the police.
Detective Nakagawa began an investigation. He found Matt and Jennifer’s bodies in the attic.
What a tragedy
Detective Nakagawa spoke with Karen. He eventually deduced that the house was where Kayako’s ghost was anchored. He took two large cans of gasoline and went to the house to end it.
Meanwhile, a message from Doug told Karen he’d gone the house to find her.
Nakagawa was drowned in the bathtub before he could burn the house. Doug then came in to search for Karen.
Karen raced there herself and found Doug alive. But Kayako attacked! Karen tried to burn the house down using Nakagawa’s gas cans.
The fire department managed to pull Karen from the fire – and save the house. But Doug had joined Nakagawa in death.
The Grudge 2
Karen’s mother, living in California, got the news. She sent Aubrey, Karen’s little sister, to bring her home from her Tōkyō hospital.
However, Kayako tormented, then threw Karen from the rooftop of the hospital – killing her.
What Was Once Trapped, Will Now Be Unleashed
Aubrey met Eason, a journalist who had also visited the house. Which meant that he too was marked for death – and Kayako soon killed him.
But he had given photos to Aubrey to help. These showed a smokey black shadow leaving the house.
Aubrey tracked down Kayako’s mother. She was an itako – someone who can commune with the dead. This was her last hope.
Still Kayako’s mother refused to help and was soon slain by Kayako too.
You can’t escape the curse
Aubrey went to the house to confront Kayako. The ghost gave Aubrey the vision from her point of view, seeing Takeo’s rage.
She broke Aubrey’s neck in similar fashion to her own, and Aubrey relived Kayako’s death.
Allison, an American exchange student, tried to fit in with the popular girls. They took her inside the cursed house and challenged her to go in the closet alone.
They were just playing a trick, but Allison had a very real encounter with Kayako.
Both popular girls were soon killed by Kayako. Allison tried to escape by traveling home to Chicago, Illinois.
Kayako followed Allison and set her rules, same as the house, for the apartment Allison lived in. This meant anyone entering the apartment building would be marked for death.
Everyone who encountered Kayako died, except for a boy named Jake. Jake was taken to a mental institute.
The Grudge 3
Kayako killed Jake at the institute. A surveillance camera recorded the attack.
Naoko, Kayako’s sister, reads about Jake’s death. She deduces that Kayako was now haunting the apartment building in Chicago.
Naoko has a journal like Kayako’s, with their mother’s exorcism rituals and the exorcism supplies needed to perform them. She leaves for America to put an end to the curse.
Step in this building, you are cursed, and you die
Max manages this apartment building. He does the maintenance, takes care of the tenants, and lives with his sisters Lisa and Rose.
Lisa is dating Andy and they plan to move to New York. Rose is a child with a chronic respiratory ailment.
Residents start seeing odd things, including the little boy Toshio. A toy disappears from a hallway. Tenants who move away die mysteriously. More deaths follow.
Naoko rents an apartment in the building. She asks for Lisa and Rose’s help with defeating Kayako.
Meanwhile, Max becomes increasingly aggressive.
Naoko vs. Kayako
Naoko starts the exorcism ritual. She needs Rose to drink Kayako’s blood to banish the ghost. But Max, in a rage, kills Naoko. Rose nevertheless drinks the blood, banishing Kayako.
This also frees Max. As he deals with his guilt, Naoko’s spirit becomes a second curse. This new spirit kills Max.
Later, outside by an ambulance. All seems to be over. But we see Kayako is there and hear her death rattle.
Myth of the Ju-on
The myth goes that a King, who was not a particularly nice guy, played chess with one of his servants. The servant won and the King had him executed.
The King then had the servant’s wife, child, and child’s cat killed.
The spirits of this cat and child fused to become a demon. It was destined to prowl the Earth seeking revenge that it would never find.
Kayako’s real form is an impossibly dark smoky shadow.
Her hair is extremely long and dark. Her skin is pitch black as well in deep contrast to her eyes.
Her most used and well-known look is a projected illusion of herself as a corpse. Her skin is pale grey to white. Her hair is long and black. When her hair parts, you see her face, corpse-white with mouth hanging open.
Occasionally, Kayako projects an illusion of herself with a freshly broken neck and wrapped in plastic.
The three others — her son, husband, and cat — are also illusions created by Kayako.
- Takeo – Kayako’s husband is always seen in flash-back like images, usually from Kayako’s point of view. He never has a corpse-like appearance.
- Toshio – Kayako’s son, sometimes looks as he looked in life. He has only ever said one word – “Toshio”. He also appears as a corpse, with completely white skin. Cat sounds come from the boy.
- The family cat – Always looking as it did in life. A normal black cat.
Kayako was a stay-at-home housewife who fell in love with another man.
She became quite the stalker, appearing in the background of most of his pictures. She pined away for him and wrote much about her love for him in her journal.
After her murder, Kayako haunts the house where she died.
The rules are simple
Anyone who enters that house is cursed. Kayako will mark them for death, then kill them.
Kayako has several ways in which she murders:
- Grab the victim telekinetically, usually with a Mental Illusion of herself grabbing them. She will mangle them, thrashing them about and breaking bones.
- Her second favorite way takes longer. She pins her victim down and hold them still. Slowly crushing their windpipe. When found these victims are shallowly gasping for breath, unmoving. They give a final quick gasp at the end and die. These are usually women.
- One way Kayako has killed takes a bit more setup. She pushes a man with her emotion control, usually for days. This makes him overreact angrily to everything, like her husband did. She then possesses them and kills a woman in a similar manner in which she was killed. On men she mimics her husband’s anger in them.
- Mysteriously, she will pull someone into her own realm, never to return.
Later, she spends more time with a victim continuously jump-scaring them. She kills when a victim either gives up and stops running. Or is otherwise trapped and can’t run anymore.
After the home burns down, Kayako breaks her own rules and attacks people who’ve never been in the house. Implying it’s spread more like a virus. She kills people who have come in contact with a cursed person.
Kayako kept a journal since the age of eight.
Her mother was an itako. People believed they might talk to their deceased loved ones through her. In her journal, Kayako wrote about the abnormal rituals her mother performed.
Her mother was able to cure people by extracting evil spirits out of their bodies and feeding them to her daughter, Kayako.
The latter part of the journal is page after page of Kayako’s longing for Peter.
Kayako’s death rattle
Her husband Takeo snapped her neck, but she didn’t die. He then wrapped her body in plastic and stuffed her in the attic. It isn’t known how long she survived in agony.
Her death rattle is the sound of her trying to breathe through a broken windpipe. This is the sound she makes as a ghost:
(From Kayako’s journal) “I’m in love with someone but he doesn’t know I exist.”
Karen: “I’ve been in that house. So have you.”
Detective Nakagawa: “…death becomes a part of that place. Killing everything it touches. Once we have become a part of it, it will never… let you go.” (looking at Karen) “I’m sorry.”
Miyuki: “They say this is one of the most haunted houses in all of Japan. Yeah, that anyone who goes inside gets the curse.”
Aubrey: “I need to speak to you about your daughter, Kayako. I saw the journal. I know you can get rid of evil spirits.”
Kayako’s Mom: “She is dead.”
Aubrey: “You did this, you made her what she was, now I need you to help me. Help me end this !”
Kayako’s Mom: “People came looking for me, full of pain and suffering. I took the dark spirits from them and so did my daughter.”
Aubrey: “You poisoned her, look what she’s become.”
Kayako’s Mom: “I did not create this evil. Kayako was killed by her husband because she was foolish. That is where the curse started. I did not make her what she is now.
Aubrey: “My sister tried to burn down the house where Kayako was killed. She thought if she burned down the house that it would stop…”
Kayako’s Mom: “This is not about the house ! You are just making things worse. She wants us to suffer the way she has suffered.”
Aubrey: “No. We have to make it stop.”
Kayako’s Mom: “It will not stop. It will grow and destroy everything it touches. It will spread beyond the house. There can be no end to stop it.”
Lisa: “It’s easy sometimes to forget how sick she (her little sister, Rose) is.”
Naoko: “I understand. On the outside, she is okay, on the inside things are getting worse. It may sound strange, but a place can get sick the same way… In Japan, there is another place, sick because of what happened inside.”
Lisa: “What happened ?”
Naoko: “A husband killed his wife and only child, then himself. An evil started with their deaths but has spread. Now it gathers here in your building… When my sister was killed a Ju-on was born. In English, it is something like a curse.”
DC Universe Adaptation
(This section proposes ways of using this character in DC Universe stories).
As with Ring I think Kayako would be best suited for a street-level game. A detective style of play, follow the clues. End the curse.
DC Heroes RPG
|Dex: 01||Str: 00||Bod: 00|
|Int: 03||Wil: 04||Min: 03|
|Inf: 03||Aur: 08||Spi: 08|
|Init: 007||HP: 005|
Broadcast Empath: 03, Chameleon: 07, Dimension Travel (Banish, Travel): 06, Invisibility: 01, Interface: 07, Life Sense: 22, Mental Illusion: 10, (Self-Linked) Spirit Travel: 01, Telekinesis: 07
Bonuses and Limitations:
- Broadcast Empath is only useable to induce anger in men or apathy in women.
- Chameleon is vocal only (-1).
- Invisibility is Derived from (Self-Linked) Spirit Travel.
- Dimension Travel has the Location Jumping Bonus (+100 BC).
- Interface has Range.
- Life Sense may only detect those who’ve entered the house or have otherwise been marked for death by Kayako.
- Mental Illusion has Multi-attack 2 (+2 FC).
- Self-Link (Spirit Travel) is Always On.
- Self-Link (Spirit Travel) does not prevent Kayako from making mental attacks (+5 FC).
- Self-Linked Spirit Travel has Form Function (+1 FC).
Thief (Stealth): 04
Language (Japanese), Life Support (Full).
Minor Irrational Attraction (Peter), Strange Appearance.
Onryo, Vengeful Spirit.
Effect: Dimension Travel (Banish): 05, Exorcism: 05
Bonuses & Limitations: Dimension Travel and Exorcism are Elementally Linked.
Casting time: 06
Components: Cost: 1-3 APs
Special Restrictions: Azusa Yumi (a sacred bow) and a chant. Someone must drink the blood of a victim who’s been possessed by the evil spirit or demon. For a Ju-on the ceremony should be performed in the place the curse was born… or reborn and the blood needs to be from the person who made the curse. In this case, Kayako.
Comments: Kayako as a child was the vessel the blood was dropped into. She would quiver on the floor for a bit after the banishing.
Kayako’s journal [BODY 01]. Kayako’s journal has her mother’s rituals detailed inside.
Interface was given because Kayako called Susan and power fluctuates with lights turning off or flickering when she’s nearby.
Naoko said their mother taught them the old ways. Taught them how to perform exorcisms. Kayako might still have this knowledge after death but I’m not sure.
As a ghost she doesn’t show any Occultist skill. The curse that is born may not even be her, it might only take on her appearance.
“Playing an Azusa Yumi forms part of some Shinto rituals; in Japan, it is universally believed that merely the twanging of the bowstring will frighten ghosts” – wikipedia .
Even though Kayako has Self-Link (Spirit Travel) and the rules do not allow mental attacks to or from spirits. Kayako clearly can attack with mental powers. I would rule that she also can be attacked mentally, but there is no evidence one way or the other. So, its up to the GM.
In the special features for Grudge 3, the director said Takeo’s spirit is actually the one doing the possessing of men. But I’ve always felt the Grudge was completely Kayako and not multiple spirits.
I didn’t get a chance to see the 2020 remake of The Grudge. I don’t know how much that version of Kayako matches this one.
Source of Character: The 2004 movie The Grudge, 2006 The Grudge 2, and the 2009 The Grudge 3, played by Takako Fuji.
Helper(s): IMDb, Wikipedia,
Writeup completed on the 2nd of July, 2021.