1998’s Ringu is the fright flick phenom that started a J-horror wave that spread across continents, and today I’m going to be putting my putrid peepers on a whole mess of them preternatural pictures, so gather the fuck ’round!
First up is the “original” Ringu (this is technically the third film adaptation of Kōji Suzuki’s 1991 novel), who’s plot goes a lil’ something like this:
After a gaggle of teenage girls begin dying seemingly from extreme fright, investigative reporter Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), an aunt of one of the victims, begins to believe the tales of a cursed video tape she has been researching may be involved.
Discovering the girls rented a cabin before their demise, our heroine treks out there and actually finds the damn tape… which of course she watches, even though she knows the evil within will most likely come a-callin’ on her soon.
And what an “evil” it is; namely a tortured ghost of a mutant girl with strange mental powers, Sadako (Rie Ino’o) by name, who emerges from that damnable terror tape to put a murder on anyone stupid enough to fix their eerie eyeballs on it… like Reiko, and her young son, and even her ex-husband Ryūji (Hiroyuki Sanada)… just stop watching that damn tape you lunatics!
Wait, where was I? Oh, yeah, so Reiko and co. have to figure out a way to placate the ghoulish girl before their days are put to a premature end.
Moody, almost Gothic in tone, and full of a terrific sense of suspense and world building it is simple to see why audiences went crazy train for this adaptation (courtesy of Director Hideo Nakata and Screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi) of Suzuki’s supernatural shocker.
Everything in this flick seems authentic and real world based, which when paired with the low-key acting, makes every unbelievable paranormal occurrence seem completely reasonable… this results in an absorbing spookshow that one could easily imagine being the real deal… modern mythology (and tech… for the time it was made anyway) by way of urban legend that is so expertly brought to life that it seems like a reality playing out one step left of our own.
Adding to the ghoulish goodness of the main event, this Blu-ray (which is also available separate of the boxset) is filled with all manner of bonus material such as an audio commentary by film historian David Kalat that takes us through the entire history of the first entry in the franchise including it’s many adaptations, as well as providing a heap of entertaining facts about Nakata’s film, as well as a series of new interviews from critics and filmmakers on their thoughts on the series.
Following that we get author and critic Kat Ellinger giving a fascinating overview of Hideo Nakata’s career, as well as an overview of the entire Ring series. We also hear from author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas on the evolution of he franchise, followed by the complete Sadako Video, a handful of trailers, and an image gallery.
Moving on we come to Ringu 2 (1999)…
After the events of the first film, Reiko Asakawa has gone M.I.A. following the unexpected death of Ryuji. Enter Mai Takano (Miki Nakatani), Ryuji’s university assistant, who is playing sleuth as to why her boss bought the farm along with the help of her pal Okazaki (Yûrei Yanagi).
The search leads them to a mental hospital to speak to Masami (Hitomi Satô), a friend of Reiko’s niece Tomoko, who witnessed her friend’s death and is left with both trauma and a bad case of psychic energy that can cause Sadako to materialize once again.
Before long Mai finds herself balls deep in ghosts, turbulent swimming pools, and telepathic warfare… will she have the sack to stop the curse once and for all?
I’m not going to lie, I think this here sequel is every bit a match for the original Ringu! The somber mood is even more prevalent than in the first outing, the acting just as good, and the entire affair has a superb ’70s paranormal cinema vibe (The Entity comes to mind minus all the demonic humpin’). Also of note, the final appearance of Sadako in the film is pure nightmare fuel, and the fever dream elements in the climax become amped up to great effect.
But that wasn’t the only Ring 2 released in Japan at this time (yes, that is confusing as fuck, but the supplements on Ringu attempt the heroes job of explaining it all)…
Spiral (also contained on the Ringu 2 disc) begins with our heroes from the last film all dead… it’s good we got invested in their plight so thoroughly in the first pic, eh cats n’ creeps? Again Mai Takano (Miki Nakatani) is on the case to solve her bosses’ death, and this time she joins forces with Ryuji’s rival, Mitsuo Andō (Kôichi Satô), who is also investigating his frenemie’s demise after finding a mysterious note in Ryuji’s stomach during is autopsy.
One thing leads to another and Ando ends up watching that vicious video which makes Mai hella pissed (which is understandable as she has spent the entirety of the film explaining to our hero why doing that exact thing is a right shit idea). Add to that some talk of viruses, the return of Sadako, and a few surprising twists, and you have a fright flick that’s not even close to being as bad as reported.
I think the biggest thing this fright flick has going against it is the last act… things go from creepy cool to head scratching to downright schmaltzy at times; and the new takes on some of the characters are downright out of left field. Plus Sadako seems to have a case of ‘The Horny’ which seems odd… or not considering one of the first adaptations of the original novel was basically a softcore skin flick.
As for bonus material on this disc, things are light and include a newly edited archival interview with Suzuki, and a collection of trailers.
Finally, disc three brings us Ringu 0 (2000); a full on expanded origin piece for doomed Sadako…
Teen Sadako (Yukie Nakama) is having some seriously creepy-ass dreams (involving that now famous well ‘natch) which causes her doctor to recommend she join a Drama Club at her college to serve as therapy. Seems like a reasonable, totally not made-up on-the-spot solution to her problems to me…
The director of the club thinks Big S has talent, but some of the squad think she’s right shit, especially costume designer Etsuko (Kumiko Asō ) who’s main squeeze Toyama (Seiichi Tanabe) is starting to have a the hornies for our comely protagonist.
Adding to Sadako’s struggle is the fact that Akiko Miyaji (Yoshiko Tanaka), a reporter whose fiancé bought the farm during Sadako’s pappy’s (Android Kikaider himself Daisuke Ban, a series mainstay) doomed ESP demo, is up her ass as she investigates her family’s dark secrets.
One, two things go badda-bing badda-boom and before you can say Carrie; public embarrassment and the confusion and anger of an abused, involuntary exile manifest into a psychic shit-show that will end rather unpleasantly for many!
More of a slow burn than the films that proceeded it, Ringu 0 is more of an emotional character study than a supernatural race against the clock… though make no doubt, there are plenty of horror biz elements on display with murder and wizard psychic powers tying in to the story of a girl that was cursed from the start, and then things got even worse.
Speaking of character, Sadako transitions easily from terror icon to sympathetic underdog quite easily thanks in no small part to the acting chops of Nakama and the narrative crafted by Hiroshi Takahashi (adapted once more from the writing of Suzuki); this was a hard 180 for the character, but it just plain works… after all, so many of our fav monsters are tragic creatures at their core.
Heart-breaking, terrifying, and absolutely engaging; Ringu 0 was my second favorite of the series (right behind the original recipe); it’s a melancholy view into a world where love simply can not flourish… it’s a dark, tumultuous place that really gives this film it’s own flavor and makes it an enthralling watch.
As for extras, we kick things off with a lively and passionate discussion of the film and it’s themes courtesy of an audio commentary featuring Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, who was mentioned previously (go ahead and scroll; I’ll wait).
Back? Good! Also included are an overview of the J-horror genre by author and critic Jasper Sharp, a collection of behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, and a duo of trailers.
Also included is a fantastic collectible booklet featuring writing from Violet Lucca, Heller-Nicholas, Sharp, and Ellinger, and Kieran Fisher (my ol’ boss from That’s Not Current!).
There’s really nothing more that needs be said; if you dig on J-horror, this is an essential addition to your creepy collection!