The short story goes something like this: "He wanted to go out and play, but there was a TV show that he didn’t want to miss. So, he recorded it on a VCR in their room, but the channels there are different from Tokyo’s. No stations use that channel, so nothing should’ve recorded. But when he played the tape back at home, a woman appeared on the screen and said ‘You will die in one week!’ The kid stopped the tape and then the phone rang. A voice said ‘You saw it!’ and the kid died a week later.”
One of the most successful bits of Japanese horror is director Hideo Nakata’s (Kaidan) “RINGU” (1998) which has become one of the world’s top horror franchises. The film is based on the novel by Koji Suzuki that has spawned 4 movies (“Ringu”, “Rasen”, “Ringu 2”, “Ringu 0: Birthday”), an American remake (“The Ring” with Naomi Watts), a Korean version (“The Ring Virus”), a manga and later on a Japanese TV series that portrays its premise in different situations. Most people may wonder why Hideo Nakata’s “Ringu” has been made as a perfect example as to how a horror movie should be done. The heart of the film’s premise is about a curse, supernatural forces, psychic abilities, murder, karma and the vindictive wrath from beyond this reality.
A beautiful single mother/reporter named Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) is currently probing into the local urban myth that involves students watching a mysterious video, followed by a phone call and death in 7 days. This myth hits close to Reiko’s backyard when a niece dies and her other three friends exactly one week after their weekend together. The autopsies reveal no wrong doing, no trauma, the victims’ hearts seemed to have just stopped; with their faces expressing an utter fear of something.
After Reiko follows the clues to her niece’s past whereabouts, she discovers the tape in an old inn and watches it. Now she fears that she may be under the spell of the same curse that killed Tomoko, her niece. Reiko enlists the aid of her ex-husband Ryuji (Sanada Hiroyuki) to help her solve the mystery and lift the curse. Ryuji is also a medium aside from being a professor at a school and he also watches the tape to find its hidden clues. The two are in a race against time as they both only have one week to lift the curse, and what makes it worst is the fact that their son, Yoichi had also watched the cursed video tape. Following the clues, the two are led to a forty year old mystery about a woman named Shizuko, her daughter, Sadako and a man named Ikuma.
“Ringu” became successful because of its brilliant simplicity. Director Nakata doesn’t approach the film with displays of jump scares, gore and violence like other successful J-horror movies such as “Junk” during this time. The film’s aim is to unsettle the viewer, and once your balance is off, the film makes you more receptive to the plot’s darker plot devices. The film follows the methodical character-driven approach for classic J-horror movies such as “Onibaba” and “Kwaidan” that is also followed by “Audition”. The film is methodical in its approach, as it keeps the viewer on the edge with psychological claustrophobia. Elaborate special effects and visual style (much like in the American remake) is not a strong factor in the screenplay, “Ringu” draws you in through the cerebral factor that draws you in slowly through its plot, as the viewer becomes invested, the more they would feel that something very evil and threatening is about to take place.
Case in point: the video tape. One look at the tape, the viewer is treated to several frenzied images that are incoherent. It begins with a circle of a bluish-black cloud shrouded in darkness. Then you see a woman combing her hair, an ominous figure in a white dress, a hooded figure imposed on a TV static, a gruesome war scene, an inhuman eye with a kanji on its pupil, a swirling torrent of kanji described as “Eruption” and a well. The images in the tape are set to unnerve the viewer and it does so with simplicity. The way that the film also gives glimpses of its main protagonist adds to its heightened sense of dread. Sadako doesn’t look menacing (albeit creepy) until the film’s final act. The film gets its chills from the fear of the unknown and the film’s pay off is pretty effective.
The main difference between the original, the Korean and the Americanized versions are its characters and the manner with which Nakata exercises a subtle, minimalist approach. His direction is very focused and doesn’t rely on the uses of plot devices to freak its audience out. The film isn’t flashy nor does it rely on the use of images to stimulate the feeling of fear. The manner he plays out the film’s slow reveal is a little bit of a slow burn, much of the film focuses on the investigation of the mystery and its characters. The film applies a ‘date stamp’ as each day passes to keep the viewer appraised of the time and day. The film also uses the minimum use of music to exude its mood. I loved this approach, I felt that I was allowed to invest in the characters as more details about the plot are slowly revealed; but I can see some people who may get a little bored with the film, since it isn’t really that scary but maybe more dreary compared to some horror movies.
The film’s strong points begins with its characters. When Ryuji arrives in Reiko’s house, the meeting between Yoichi and Ryuji felt very uneasy to portray the emotional distance between father and son. Reiko is a woman who is committed to her job, her skills as a reporter may have come to good use but it also proved to be the catalyst for the horrific events. I loved the fact that Ryuji was portrayed as a medium and a minor psychic, that this characterization gave certain scenes more credibility. The film also answers more questions and gets to uncover more details than any of its counterparts. However, one flaw that the film has is that it also left some questions unanswered as to the origins of the tape; I thought this was a little clumsy since it relied on the viewers who read the book to fill in the gaps.
There are several key differences in the Japanese original and the American remake. One is the “horse” subplot, another is the child shown drawing “rings”, the father is a mere photographer whereas in the original he is more in touch with the supernatural. Sadako is named Samara in the Americanized version and her mother jumps at the ocean rather than into a volcano. There are also differences in the video tape itself, but the spirit and the continuity of the original film remains whole.
I loved “Ringu” and after each viewing, my fondness for the American remake becomes less. (The Korean version was a tad better than the U.S. version) It all depends on what you prefer; a slow-burning but detailed fleshed out story and breathing characters with a minimal exercise in horrific tone that relies on shocks and pay off or a polished, dumbed-down horror movie (when comparing it to the original) that has some formulaic horror devices? Any version of this story would prove entertaining, but after you see both movies, you may ask which one is better…it is common for Japanese horror movies not to have a happy “Hollywood” ending. Asian films have the guts to ask the motivation and questions its viewers while Hollywood likes to spoon-feed the answers. Think about it, horror should be thought-provoking and should not be afraid to ask questions. “Ringu” was first and the original is always better.
Ringu a film that inspired countless knock-offs and remakes (official and unofficial) all over the world. A old fashion horror tale about a vengeful ghost. Sadako is a scary but tragic figure, a victim of greed and exploitation. She seeks revenge for all those that did her wrong. Trapped in a dark damp well for many years she waits for that day when she'll escape from her prison. I actually enjoyed this film. The direction well good, the storyline made sense and the acting was above average. A few … more