Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reader Recommendation: Ringu

“The only thing worse than American remakes is American remakes of  Japanese films. This one started it all- The Asian Invasion, and it is one of 3! movies I consider to be genuinely scary. It doesn't move all over the place like the remake. It's a tightly bound story that works on every level.”--Eric

Quick Plot: A giggly pair of Japanese girls (no, there aren't many other kinds) hang out home alone doing as all teenagers do on a Friday night: watching Mets games and telling ghost stories. The urban legend du jour involves a mysterious video tape circulating around the rumor mill, killing anyone who watches it one week after the play button is pushed and a static filled warning sent via phone. One of the girls, Imako, turns pale with the admission that she's seen said tape and then...

All is forgotten for token giggle time.

If only all ghost stories could end as such.

After Imako's mysterious death, we're introduced to the girl's aunt Reiko, a single mom journalist quick to hop on the investigation even if said act means she spends less time with her incredibly independent 7-year old son. Along the way, she discovers a grainy VHS tape that can only be evil incarnate or an ambitious goth film student's project. After viewing the bizarre short, Reiko's phone rings, an ominous sign in any horror universe.

Naturally, Reiko decides to share the death-bringing video tape with the one person who can maybe help her and, I suppose more importantly, might warrant a death-bringing video: her ex-husband, played by Hiroyuki Sanada (so great in Danny Boyle's Sunshine). Together, they embark on a mini road and boat trip that's made all the more urgent when their son sneaks a peak at the irresponsibly unmarked tape.

The investigation leads to a 40 year mystery involving a scientist, a seer, and a dead child with token waist-length black hair, all the while with a calendar clock ticking.


Like most Westerners, I saw Gore Verbinski's 2002 remake at the height of its popularity on, whaddya know, a VHS rental. It's hard to recall my overall impression from that film, since so many J-Horrors have since found their slow burning ways inside my television. At the same time, it's almost impossible to view Ringu with fresh eyes since the meat of the story was copied to a tee. 

Not as blatantly horror filmish as Verbinski’s adaptation, Ringu unwinds more like a ghostly mystery. I honestly can’t speak to the scares of the film, since all were anticipated from my familiarity with The Ring. While that’s something of a shame, I wouldn’t necessarily liken it to the ending of Fight Club being spoiled by a high school classmate back in 1999 (one day, I shall kill him). 


High Points
Having our leads be a divorced couple lends so much more interesting background to Ringu than found in so many of these beautiful-strangers-forced-to-work-together-and-develop-unconsumated-sexual-chemistry horror films. We sense the history between these two people, but it’s never distracting to the major plot at hand. It works rather perfectly


Though we’ve seen countless similar tricks both before and after the birth of Ringu, it’s hard to deny the content of that video is unnerving

Low Points
Much like my recent realization of my disconnect with giallo, I think my biggest beef with Ringu is the nature of its setup. Like The Eyes of Laura Mars, Ringu presents a mystery that it seems to want its audience to solve, and yet...there’s simply no way to do so


Lessons Learned
First graders can be incredibly self-sufficient if your method of parenting is to occasionally look their way


Japanese elementary school style includes extremely short shorts

Grilled cheezus woman, if you are in possession of a videotape that will kill anyone that watches it, don’t leave the thing laying around for your restless son to pop in when he can’t fall asleep. Don’t they teach this stuff in Lamaze class?

Ringu could almost be compared to Night of the Living Dead or Halloween for the simple reason of birthing a new movement in genre cinema. I’m sure there are better (and earlier) J-horror films out there (Kairo/Pulse remains my personal favorite), but Ringu is an important piece of modern culture. That being said, it didn’t really do much for me as someone who pretty much knew what was coming. It’s a skillfully made film, one not without its creepiness (and a surprising ending--different from the remake--that works quite well) but I just never felt the dread I was hoping for, something that gave me real nightmares with Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Pulse. Rent it, to be sure, since the ride itself is well-done and eerie. And of course, remember to then pass it on to a friend if you expect to....well, I kid. As long as you watch it. Before the week is over. Please?


  1. I'm still a huge fan of this film, but I get that it must lose something seeing it after the remake. I like how slow paced it is though, and I think the atmosphere it creates is perfect. But I completely agree with you on Kairo/Pulse - that's definitely my favourite.

  2. Yeah I must admit when I finally watched Ringu I was a bit disappointed. Am I an Americanized prick because I think the remake is a better film? Hopefully not, although I'm sure that's what many were thinking inside their heads when I tried to explain my reasoning.

    I still think the atmosphere in the remake is better done. But it's interesting, the trend seems to be, that whatever version of the film you saw first is the one you enjoy more. I could be early in saying this...but I'm thinking a similar thing might happen to Let the Right One In and Let Me In. Discuss.

  3. I think the biggest thing is that Ringu unfolds like a surreal mystery novel, whereas The Ring is a thriller (i.e., horror movie without blood--tangent, which means Silence of the Lambs is a horror movie and we need to stop kidding ourselves). Wait, what was I talking about?

    Right. I think the whole 'first thing you saw' is certainly the case for certain movies, and because Ringu/TheRing is so powered by its finale and ultimate discovery, knowing some of the surprises will certainly hurt the second film you see, regardless of which it is.

    Andre: I'm really curious about the Let Me/The Right One In issue, mostly because I don't know too many people who haven't seen the Swedish version. But I demand we find some, subject them to a test wherein they watch Reeves' film first, then write a report.

    And Chris, hell yes Kairo. It gave me nightmares!

  4. I saw Ringu on a vhs tape that had been posted from the UK with a label that just said "watch and pass on within seven days" - and as I watched it on the tv in my bedroom, getting to sleep that night was difficult.

    I had no fun at all with the US remake, which I thought was just dull. I don't think it was just because I saw the Japanese version first, though.

    I thought that the "video effect" on Samara was far less effective than the just plain creepy way that Sadako moved, and that the SPFX-mutilated faces of the victims were far less frightening for me than the terrified expressions in the original. I found the new videotape to be rather less creepy than in the old version as well.

    I also didn't like the scene with the horse on the boat, or the scene with Brian Cox on the island. In general, I preferred the quieter horror of the Japanese version and thought that the "prettified" visuals and more elaborate special effects were too much dressing-up.

    But the main thing was that I just plain did not think that Samara was anywhere near as scary as Sadako. In the Japanese version, the way that Sadako's face was covered with hair creeped me out and made me think that there must be a damned good reason why they weren't showing her face - which I thought paid off fully in the glimpse we got at the end.

    Samara, by comparison, was a normal-looking kid - as we could plainly see well before the movie reached its conclusion. And yes I know that normal-looking kids can be damned scary in horror movies, but in comparison with the ghost girl in Mario Bava's Kill, Baby, Kill or the twins in Kubrick's The Shining, I thought that Samara was pretty mundane.

    That's just my opinion though - millions disagree!

    I have to agree, though, that Kairo is even scarier. Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a genius (I also loved Seance and Retribution). Anyone who prefers the Pulse remake is clearly a maniac.

  5. Hm. I'm usually pretty cold to slick computerized American J-Horror, but maybe because The Ring was the first remake I saw, the effects (if I recall; it's been what feels like 20 years!) worked well for me, whereas the original's seemed somewhat stiff.

    Also, I have a minor horse fear, so the ferry stuff worked on that end!

    I really do think my preference is based on the order I saw the films, simply because The Ring is so close in plot and therefore 'spoiled' all the twists of Ringu (for me).

    But hey, you also seemed to have seen Ringu under the PERFECT circumstances!

    And all this Kairo talk is making me reallllllly want to pop that DVD in tonight. So damn good.