RING (spelled Ringu, to distinguish it from the American remake) is a smash hit horror film from Japan, where it has spawned sequels, imitators, and tie-in merchandise. One of the highlights of The American Cinematheque’s 2000 Festival of Japanese Science Fiction and Fantasy films, the film is an eerie, suggestive effort that benefits from a moody soundtrack presented in unnerving stereo.
The film starts with an urban legend related by one of the characters: A boy accidentally sets his VCR to record a blank station, but instead of ending up with a tape full of static, he plays back the image of an evil woman warning him that he will die in a week. After viewing the tape, his phone rings, and a strange voice says, “You watched it.” Then, a week later, he dies for no apparent reason.
The story is apparently a popular one among teens, who retell it in different variations for a reporter doing a story on the legend. But when a group of friends, who all apparently saw a weird videotape, die simultaneously on the same night, the reporter begins to think there may be some truth to the story. She manages to track down the tape and view it, putting herself at risk, and the rest of the film involves her search to find the source of the haunting in the hopes of placating the angry ghost responsible for the tape.
The result is a plot that unfolds like a good mystery story, with few if any shocks for most of the running time. After the opening scenes (which builds up great tension but cuts away before we see anything happen), most of the horror emerges from anticipation. Particularly effective is the mysterious videotape, which somehow manages not to be a letdown when finally seen, despite the kind of build up that seems impossible to live up to. There is nothing outright horrifying in it; instead, it is a series of incomprehensible images that convey a sense of unease through their very disjointed, fragmented nature (the easiest point of comparison would be to Luis Bunuel’s surreal short subject “The Andalusian Dog”).
When the scare sequence finally does emerge, near the end, it is an effective climax to the careful buildup, which includes Lovecraftian suggestions of isolated seaside communities and interspecies miscegenation. The ending manages both to provide an adequate conclusion to the specific story being told, while clearly implying that the evil force is spreading wider and wider, with an ever widening circle of people doomed to see the cursed tape.
Director Hideo Nakata’s film is a minor masterpiece—a low-budget horror gem that far exceeds the effective but overrated Blair Witch Project. Unfortunately, U.S. distributor Fine Line opted to license an American remake instead of giving this the wide theatrical distribution it deserved in the U.S. If you missed the American Cinematheque’s exciting screening (a good print by the way, with excellent stereo sound and subtitled Japanese dialogue), you missed one of the best horror films that played anywhere in the U.S. that year. Thankfully, video and DVD make the film available for American audiences who never got the chance to see it in theatres.
RING was followed by two sequels, SPIRAL and RING 2, a prequel (RING 0), a Korean remake (THE RING VIRUS), and an American remake THE RING, which itself spawned a sequel, THE RING TWO, directed by Nakata.
In the United States, the Japanese version of RING has never received the deluxe DVD treatment that it deserves. There is a single-disc DVD that presents the film in an adequate transfer, sans bonus features. And the title is available as part of the Ringu Anthology of Terror box set, which also includes SPIRAL, RINGU II, and RINGU 0.
RING (a.k.a. “Ringu,” 1998). Directed by Hideo Nakata. Screenplay by Hiroshi Takahashi, based upon the novel by Koji Suzuki. Cast: Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatari, Hiroyuski Sanada, Yuko Takeuchi, Hitomi Sato.