It can be stated with reasonable confidence that Hideo Nakata’s 1998 “Ringu” (Ring) is probably one of, if not *the*, most important Japanese horror films ever made. It introduced Western audiences to an entirely new style of horror and triggered (with mixed results) a trend of Western remakes of foreign horror that continues to this day.
The film’s story revolves around an urban legend, circulating mainly among school children, that there is a cursed videotape or TV broadcast somewhere out in the world that, when watched, results in the viewer’s death seven days later. Following an incident of multiple deaths on one day, reporter Reiko Asakawa sets out to try and find the truth behind it along with the help of her ex-husband (and psychic) Ryūji Takayama. What starts off as a simple investigation into an urban legend inexorably spirals into the realms of the unseen as Reiko discovers the horrible truth behind the legend. Ring presents a story that was quite different from the films that were in vogue in the West up to that point, oftentimes moving at a pace that could almost be described as glacial.
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Ring is part detective movie, part horror and after a strong start the second act is mostly made up of the two leads going from place to place hunting down clues, with the viewer forgiven for wondering when the plot will finally get to wherever it is it’s going. When the iconic final few minutes come crashing down onto the audience, Ring nevertheless ensures it is a film not easily forgotten and one which gave birth to a whole new generation of Japanese horror fans. The whole piece is steeped in an atmosphere of increasing dread rather than out and out horror. There are a handful of jump scares but unlike many horror films where they amount to little more than a gratuitous attempt to scare the audience, each of the Ring’s scares are tied to the plot, helping to move the story along.
Hideo Nakata has a real flair for making seemingly innocuous and everyday objects into portents of horror. In Ring, a video tape, Dark Water has a water stain. Scars, old film footage and even internet chatrooms become vehicles for malevolent spirits of all kinds. With Ring and the cursed tape comes the truly haunting and disturbing protagonist Sadako; a near-faceless figure with a tortured soul, eliciting both sympathy and terror, she is glimpsed only briefly for most of the film and when she finally does make her appearance it still remains one of the most spine-chilling scenes ever filmed, the effects used still holding up well twenty years later. Full credit must be given to Kabuki artist Rie Ino’o for her portrayal of Sadako’s unnaturally jerky movements.
Arrow Films do a superb restoration job here, with the picture of this 4k restoration as crisp and clean as if it had only arrived last year, rather than in the last millennium. The audio is rich, the bass notes rumbling through your bones while the high, screeching piano wire notes that accompany Sadako’s video are even more teeth-grindingly unpleasant than ever. The sparse soundtrack by composer Kenji Kawai (Ghost in the Shell, Patlabor, Gantz) remains as effective as it ever has been, only showing up here and there throughout the film’s 95 minute runtime.
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Slated for release on DVD and blu-ray later this year (March, to be precise), the film will be available in DVD, steelbook blu-ray and as a collected blu-ray set called “The Ring Collection”, which comprises Ring, Ring 2 and the prequel Ring 0. Included is the other Ring sequel by George Iida – Spiral, which spawned its own continuity. Ring remains a seminal horror experience that any genre fan worth their salt should ensure they watch at least once.
While the sequels are of varying quality and even involve a somewhat confusing diverging timeline, the original is still a fine example of its genre. Spawning many imitators and remakes, Ring remains a chilling experience.
Ring will be re-released in cinemas with a special restoration on March 1st.