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FALL SNEAKS | THE DESIGNERS

Never let them relax

September 10, 2006|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

THE key to the success of a horror film, says Iwao Saito, production designer for "The Grudge 2," is creating sudden terror in routine circumstances.

A surface calm is all-important. "Settings may look normal at a glance," he explains, via translated e-mail, "yet are meant to eventually create horror moments and help the film reach its goal. We are required to come up with designs that look normal but that have a somewhat uncomfortable spatial layout, giving the audience some sense of anticipation."

And as the spatial design becomes less and less reflective of the reality it houses, says Saito, "it eventually turns into a tool to depict fears and a fantastic setting. That is my ideal design."

In "Grudge 2," opening Oct. 13, Amber Tamblyn portrays a young woman in Tokyo who's overtaken by a lethal rage, the same supernatural force that spread through a cursed house to invade her sister Karen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in the original "Grudge."

Because the main house was burned out at the conclusion of the first movie, Saito, a frequent collaborator with "Grudge" director Takashi Shimizu, created a new one for this chapter.

"We designed the house based on a simple construction that would look normal to the Japanese eye and would look flat yet mysterious to the Western eye," he says.

"I made all the corners of the walls bull-nose, so they would bring subtle shade and shadow to the screen. I designed rooms ... to make the audience acknowledge the anticipation of fear, regardless of the ordinary situation."

Saito kept the burned-out site of the "Grudge" house as a reminder of "the number of deaths that occurred there and the increasing strength of the grudge. I made the pattern of the soot from the fire in the house repulsive or creepy in order to create an aura of anticipation of terror," he says. "I tried to create a conflict between reality and unreality in every situation of the film."

Though the first film took place solely in Tokyo, the sequel is set in Chicago as well -- a Chicago re-created on the stage at Toho Studios in Tokyo with the help of John Marcynuk, an art director on the CW series "Supernatural."

Saito had flown to Chicago to research details of apartment buildings and the look of the city, but was concerned that his Japanese team might not build sets that would look realistic to Americans.

Marcynuk, he says, helped with the "detailed sets, materials and decoration.... He played an important role in introducing the Western culture not only to the production design department but also the director and the rest of the Japanese crew.

"I'm looking forward to seeing how a U.S. audience will respond to the sets."

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susan.king@latimes.com

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