Ring (aka Ringu, 1998) Movie Review

Let me preface my review by saying that I saw the sequel to “Ring”, “Ring 2”, before I saw the original. Of course this means a lot of things were lost to me (while watching the sequel), one of which was the unanswered question of why people considered this series “scary” or even “horror” movies. There’s very little about both movies that are scary, which leaves me to wonder why Japanese audiences flock to this series in droves, claiming it to be the scariest franchise ever. Are Japanese people this easy to “scare”?

“Ring” opens with two young girls trading stories about a cursed video and how the viewer dies 1 week later, which leads to one of the girls, Tomoko, revealing that she and 3 of her friends had seen a similar video exactly one week ago tonight. It isn’t long before Tomoko dies under mysterious circumstances and her autopsy shows she died because her heart simply stopped beating. The other girl, Masami, ends up in the hospital as a raving lunatic who refuses to go near any place with a TV.

Enter Tomoko’s aunt, Reiko (Nanako Matsushima), a reporter who learns about her niece’s death at the same time she’s doing a story about a “cursed video” that kids are talking about. It turns out not only is Tomoko dead, but the 3 friends who had seen the video along with her have also died under similarly mysterious circumstances. Is it coincidence or is there really a cursed video on the loose? Reiko sets out to investigate and stumbles onto the video in question, and becomes cursed herself. Desperate to avoid her own death in 7 days, Reiko recruits the help of her ex-husband, Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada), a college professor with special psychic abilities. Can Ryuji help Reiko uncover the history of the curse before it’s too late?

It should be noted that “Ring” was apparently shot back to back with its sequel, “Ring 2”, and that both movies were released in 1998. If anyone plans on watching the series, they really should watch it in order, since having watched it out of order, I can safely say it’s not a good idea. Of course I was able to extract as much as I could from the exposition and background story in the sequel, but still, because both films were shot back to back and released in the same year, I believe they were meant to be one long film.

Taken on its own merits, “Ring” proves to be the superior film in the series (there is a third, a prequel, coming out soon). The atmosphere and pacing of the two movies are so vastly different that it’s hard to imagine the same director was responsible for both. Then again, the original had two names credited as director, Hideo Nakata and Chisui Takigawa, while the sequel has only Nakata listed. Which leads me to wonder if Takigawa was the real inspiration behind “Ring’s” dark and gritty look and brisk pacing, whereas Nakata favors the laborious long takes and bright, vanilla boredom that permeates the sequel. Which also leads me to ask, why didn’t Takigawa direct the sequel, too?

“Ring” is so dark that sometimes it’s hard to see the faces of the characters; and the shadows and dark patches that fills the movie gives it an eerie and somber vibe. It also helps that “Ring” moves at a brisk pace, with the curse established early on, and Reiko’s desperate race against time carrying the rest of the film. Another plus is lead actress Nanako Matsushima, who displays more acting chops than Miki Nakatani (the star of the sequel) could ever hope to possess. Matsushima is expressive and convincing as the reporter who finds herself and her family suddenly threatened by supernatural forces. Her desperate attempts to uncover the video’s history grows with greater urgency as the movie counts down the days to her last week alive using title cards.

Which brings me to one of the movie’s plot holes. I can readily accept that the video is cursed (and the reasons for which is revealed in the sequel) but I find the length of the curse, a week, to be somewhat arbitrary. Why a week? Why not a day? Or two days? Or a year for that matter? The films never bothers to tackle this question. I suppose the time limit was used to establish paranoia and desperation, as Reiko and her ex-husband began to lose hope, regain hope, and lose hope again as the days to her inevitable demise tick by.

For a horror movie, “Ring” is lacking in scares. The movie does a good job of portraying the confusion of the video, but there is a curious lack of anything remotely approaching “horror.” Even the deaths of various characters come across as weak. This isn’t to say I can’t understand psychological horror. It’s just that from all I’ve heard about this movie and its popularity in and outside of Japan, I expected something a lot more. As it stands, the ending sequence, when the ghost finally appears, left me giggling. I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the reaction they were going for.

Hideo Nakata, Chisui Takigawa (director) / Koji Suzuki (novel), Hiroshi Takahashi (screenplay)
CAST: Nanako Matsushima …. Reiko Asakawa
Hiroyuki Sanada …. Ryuji Takayama
Miki Nakatani …. Mai Takano
Yuko Takeuchi …. Tomoko Oishi

Buy Ring on DVD