"This kind of thing... it doesn't start by one person telling a story. It's more like everyone's fear just takes on a life of its own." - Ryuji Takayama
They say that horror is subjective, and I don’t think that any sane person can argue that. What scared or indeed terrifies one person won’t affect another. I don’t think any film has demonstrated that simple fact as effectively as the Ring.
Having watched the Hollywood remake of The Ring (or, Ringu in Japanese) ahead of the Japanese original, I thought it was one of the most disturbing films I’d seen in a long time, not realising back then, about ten years ago, how badly the film would date and realising that the film had a fatal flaw – but more of that later.
I have been told over and over that for a really terrifying experience, I really should watch the original Japanese version of the film. Eventually, I caved and sought out a copy – saving it specifically for a special occasion, such as Shocktober. There’s nothing quite like Shocktober – right? Plus, nobody does horror quite like the Japanese – right?
And so, the disc was brought down from the shelf, inserted into the player and away we go….
As I had already seen the American version, the plot wasn’t much of a surprise. It’s an interesting mix of superstition, urban legend and modern-day technology. When I say modern-day technology, please remember this is a film made in 1998, and this technological aspect is what dates the film most. The plot concerns a VHS video tape, which when watched, the viewer receives a phone call and they die seven days later, to the minute. The curse is passed on by copying the tape and passing the copy on to the next victim. This was all fine and good and relevant back in ’98, when VHS was all the rage and DVD was just starting out, having been introduced by Sony in 1997.
But back in ’98, VHS dominated the mainstream, Betamax was long dead and copying tapes was pretty commonplace. I don’t think that The Ring would work as well with DVD or streaming. Possibly as a computer virus – who knows?
The film opens as two high school girls, Masami and Tomoko are talking about a mysterious videotape that kills the viewer in a week. One of them reveals that she and some of her friends watched that very tape a week ago and received a mysterious phone call afterward. She doesn’t appear at all phased by the fact that all this happened a week ago and her time has run out. The TV turns itself on, and the poor girl doesn’t even make it to the titles before being killed by an unseen force.
The girl’s aunt is Reiko Asakawa (Hiroyuki Sanada) a journalist who is investigating the story of this tape and in the course of her investigation, finds that three of the girl’s friends died on the same night – each with their faces twisted in horror. One thing that the victims have in common is that a week earlier, they all stayed at the same remote cabin.
At the cabin, Reiko finds a videotape and foolishly watches it. It contains a number of disturbing images and finishes. As soon as the tape ends, the phone rings and she hears a high pitched screeching. She enlists the aid of her ex husband to investigate the tape and makes him a copy (????? – she must really hate the guy) and he then watches it. Good grief. Even their young son watches the damn tape and says the ghost of Tomoko told him to. So now, the whole family has a week to live.
Investigating further, they discover the story of a denounced psychic whose daughter used her own inherited powers to kill the journalist who humiliated her mother and drove her to suicide. The daughter, Sadako was taken to a secret location by the ESP researcher who was having an affair with her mother and later murdered Sadako, throwing her body in a well. Sadako had used her immense powers to create the cursed tape because she was vengefully angry at the world. (Great idea – let’s create a deadly VHS tape, that’ll show ‘em)
With time running out, Reiko and her ex find the well and recover Sadako’s body in order to appease her spirit – the fateful minute arrives – and Reiko doesn’t die. The curse is lifted.
Or is it?
The next day, her husband is at home when the TV switches itself on and the images from the tape appear on the screen, showing a time lapse of the well, with Sadako’ climbing out and making her way closer until in one of the most eerie and jolting scenes ever seen in a horror movie, she crawls out of the screen to exact her revenge.
The reason Reiko didn’t die wasn’t that she recovered the body - but that she copied the tape and passed it on without realising the consequences. She now needs to save her son, so she is seen, in the film’s final shot, driving to her father’s house where she’ll tell her son to copy the tape and show it to her father.
It’s a powerful gut twisting ending, where we realise that the ring of the title refers to the curse going around in a circle that is unbroken – the tape is passed and copied and passed and copied unendingly. (Or at least until VHS became obsolete)
In the American version – the ring refers to a thin ring of light that the Sadako character could see above her in at the top of the sealed well where she was left to die. That’s all well and fine until you realise that if there was THAT much of a gap, the heavy well lid would’ve slid straight down and killed her anyway.
The American version was more overt and shocking, but in truth and on reflection, the Japanese version is the more powerful.
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