Film Reviews

Ringu (1998) – Limited Edition 4K UHD Review

For many Ringu, sometimes called The Ring (and occasionally mispronounced Ring-u – the ‘u’ is silent) is often the first film people have experience with when it comes to Japanese Kaidan (ghost stories).

Even if you’ve never seen Ringu yourself, you’re probably aware of the basic concept of a cursed VHS tape, and of a ghost girl climbing out of your TV to kill you a week later. Based around urban legends, the film itself has gone on to feel like it is one. Now, Arrow Video are offering a whole new way to experience the terror of Ringu in 4K Ultra-HD.

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Originally crafted as a novel by Koji Suzuki, the original story of Ringu is quite different from what people who know the film would expect. Whilst some similarities would remain, such as the cursed VHS tape and the week to live, large portions of the narrative went in their own direction and took a more sci-fi approach rather than horror. As the book series progressed these differences would only continue to grow, with it eventually being revealed that the series takes place in a computer simulated environment similar to The Matrix. However, the book still grabbed attention, and was soon made into a television movie called Ring: The Complete Edition, which stuck close to the source material but incorporated more horror elements. The film, which starred soft-core porn actors, wasn’t well received.

It’s likely because of this that director Hideo Nakata funded part of the project himself, pushing to create an end product that was better than people were expecting. Nakata, along with screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi, made substantial changes to the original story, and changed it from a science fiction story to a ghost story. Not only were these changes integral to the success of Ringu, but also helped to inspire a slew of new Kaidan movies in Japan, along with their subsequent American remakes.

Ringu focuses on an urban legend: a story of a video tape and television broadcast of strange images that when seen result in the viewer dying a week later. In some tellings of the story, the person who watches the video will also receive a strange phone call, confirming their seven day demise.  We learn of this through a pair of teens trying to frighten each other whilst home alone. However, one of them is disturbed to hear the story, as she’s living it. Afraid that there might be some truth in the tale, she’s unprepared for what comes next. When her parents return home they find her dead inside her closet, and her friend driven mad.

The girl’s aunt, Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) is a journalist, and is working on a story about the ever spreading urban legend, little knowing that her niece has fallen victim to it. However, her research into the story means that she’s able to pick up on small pieces of information whilst at the funeral, and realises what has happened. Reiko begins investigating into what happened to her niece, and her search leads her to a holiday resort in the woods. Renting the same cabin that her niece and her friends stayed in, she finds a strange video tape. Upon watching it, the phone rings, and Reiko realises that she’s been cursed.


With only seven days in which to get to the bottom of the mystery, and to save her own life, Reiko recruits her ex-husband Ryūji (Hiroyuki Sanada) a medical student turned university professor to help her. Thanks to Ryūji’s psychic abilities, the two of them are able to learn more about the mysterious VHS tape; however, when their son Yōichi (Rikiya Ōtaka) watches the tape, their search for a solution becomes even more desperate.

Ringu is wonderful in its simple concept, and it’s been a large part of why the film has continued to stick around after twenty five years; as well as inspiring multiple sequels, remakes, manga adaptations, and video games. Whether or not you can remember having a VHS player in your home is sure to age you, but there was a time when TVs and VHS players were in every home. They were tech that everyone used, that everyone had, and the thought that something so innocuous as that could lead to your horrific death was one that people of the time were not expecting.

Thanks in part to the increase in both the torture porn genre of horror in the early 2000s, and self-referential slasher movies like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, the simple ghost story seemed to be a thing of the past. As such, when Ringu began to make its way outside of Japan in the years after its release it was quick to gain a cult following, and stories about the creepy Japanese horror film began to spread. Quite often foreign language movies tend to stay within their niche audiences, but Ringu was something a bit different, and much like the cursed tape in the film, it began to move around from person to person. Critics and film reviewers putting it on their top scariest moments lists for the end scenes of the film certainly helped with this.

The popularity of Ringu led to the American remake, The Ring, directed by Gore Verbinski. The remake did a similar thing to Nakata’s movie, taking some of the parts of the story that it liked, but bringing in new parts of the tale and changing things. Once again, this played into one of the central themes of the franchise of urban legends, as the narrative continued to evolve and change with each telling. The special features on this new release make an interesting point about the US version, in that it seems like a person’s preferred version tends to be whichever one they saw first. As someone who saw the US version first, I agree with this statement, though the original will always hold a special place thanks to the impact that it would have on cinema for several years.

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This is one of the things that the new Ultra-HD release focuses on, with the disc being packed full of examinations of the movie from experts in the field. There are four new extras on the disc, each on of them spanning 30 minutes or more, as they examine the history of the film series, the impact that it had on audiences, and the way that it drew from existing Japanese horror mythology. With more than two hours of special features going into the film, it feels like one of the more in-depth and expansive home releases I’ve seen in a while, and that doesn’t even take into account the full length audio commentary, bringing things to over three and a half hours of special features and extra content.

Has Ringu lost some of its magic now that technology has moved on and VHS tapes are a thing of the past? Maybe, but this presentation of the movie is still a joy to watch. And whilst it might not feel the same as slipping a VHS tape into your TV, hoping that it doesn’t result in Sadako (Rie Inō) crawling out to get you, it’s still creepy and disturbing enough to entertain. Plus, considering the first time I watched the film I was at home alone at night and the phone rang at 2am after the film finished (thanks random fax calls!) missing out on that added extra horror might not be a bad thing!

Whether you’ve ever watched Ringu before or not, and whichever version of the story is your favourite, this new release is a perfect way to experience a piece of cinematic history; a small horror film that came out of Japan and changed global cinema.

Ringu is out now on Limited Edition UHD from Arrow Video.

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