Ring (1998)

Ever since I started writing on this website, this film was going to eventually pop up on it. And though I missed what would have been a good time to release it (mid September), anything horror related is usually a perfect choice in October anyway. We’ll add to the fact that one of the actresses in this film (Yūko Takeuchi) passed away on September 27th this year. Making this a little more bittersweet than intended. Anyway, without holding back much longer, here is the first live-action Japanese film I ever saw (demonstrating, occasionally, the power of remakes). This is Ring.

Set in September, 1997, our story revolves around Reiko Asakawa (played by Nanako Matsushima), a beautiful young journalist and divorced Single Mum who works for a TV Company. She has one son, Yōichi (played by Rikiya Otaka), who is in primary school, and her ex-husband, Ryuji Takayama (played by Hiroyuki Sanada), is a college professor who has a hint of a sixth sense. Reiko decides to investigate an urban legend for work that was being passed around by High Schoolers. The urban legend in question is a haunted TV Channel or VHS tape that kills its audience a week after being watched. Due to how up-in-the-air the whole thing is, Her story goes cold…but then quickly it is reignited in a tragic fashion…through the death of her niece, Tomoko. At the funeral, She finds out that Tomoko’s passing was a strange one. There was no suggestion of foul play, and yet she received both an autopsy and a closed casket ceremony. Tomoko’s classmates were outside during the funeral, and through them Reiko finds out that Tomoko had possibly seen this tape or channel. Reason? She died at the same time as a group of other teenagers, with whom she went to stay in a rental cabin in the Izu Region (as one last fun weekend before going back to school). After finding a receipt for Photographs in Tomoko’s room, Reiko got the photos, and finds out where the teens stayed…to which, she decided to spend the night in the same Cabin…She finds a tape…and from here Reiko, with the help of her ex-husband Ryūji (Who, because he has this sixth sense, doesn’t treat her like she’s crazy), tries to find out how to break the curse before the end of what could be Reiko’s last 7 days on earth.

Now to look at the components:

The Acting is very good for the most part, & Nanako Matsushima is excellent as someone trying to keep a level head when it’s a race against the clock to save her own life and anybody who comes in contact with the tape’s contents. Rie Inō is fantastic as Sadako, even if her appearances were brief. She’s excellent at presenting herself in a creepy fashion. Hiroyuki Sanada’s performance as Ryuji Takayama (Reiko’s ex) is highly underrated, I feel, considering the characteristics that he chooses not to flaunt. He doesn’t put on a kooky clairvoyant performance, but he does reveal small details of his gift in his eyes and head movement. Everybody else is memorable to a degree, especially the two high schoolers at the start of the film as they give the audience the exposition that sets up the rest of the story.

The Characters are mostly memorable, especially within the context of their roles. Reiko is likeable as a single Mum trying to make ends meet and just so happening to get herself into a lethal predicament. We see how the situation puts her under intense stress without making her go completely bananas, and it’s a much more natural performance when you consider the stoic tenacity that’s usually learned in Japan from a young age when in public. This same stoic tenacity is with Ryuji throughout this investigation, and when it comes to Sadako…well…I don’t want to spoil anything.

The Story is very much a Japanese Ghost Tale that borrows from several sources, including the use of Yūrei (wandering, earthbound ghosts of Japanese Folklore), and the story of Chizuko Mifune – a young woman who claimed to be a clairvoyant. It also includes several underlying things that would go unnoticed outside of Japan – including the rise of technology and how modernity was potentially consuming tradition (which remains a high topic in Japan to this day, as the practice of letting the past and the present run parallel isn’t always in smooth agreement). On top of that, Reiko’s situation was rather unconventional for the time, as there would have been a general expectation for her to still be married to Ryuji, and staying home to look after Yoichi (Who she has occasionally left alone in their home while she works). I also like how Reiko chooses to calmly get her affairs in check without disturbing either her investigation or her normal life. For instance…she has a few days left to find out how to be free, and She uses some of it to take Yoichi to his Grandfather’s house, and even stay over. To have a day together as a family, even if it’s the last.

The music is by the legendary Kenji Kawai (Who created the score for the 1995 Anime film Ghost In The Shell) and while there is only twenty minutes of music In this ninety minute film, it really stand out within the minimalist approach. The opening theme is still 1 of the ominous that I’ve ever heard, and much like the Ju-On movies that came after it, emphasis is placed on silence as a means to brings out little noises that instantly unsettle you. The score can be divided into 2 styles; creepy, and sad. Creepy when investigating, and sad when reflecting. However, much like Ju-On: The Curse, the end credit theme by HIIH (which is called ‘Feels Like “HEAVEN”‘) could seem out of place, and is potentially the most dated aspect of the film.

The CGI and special effects are minimalist as well, with only one scene in particular that could qualify as CGI…One scene, and for its day, it was very good! It’s 1 of the most memorable moments in the film. There is also the major practical effect near the end that worked really well, that I don’t plan to spoil it.

The Artistic approach and cinematography are really well done with emphasis on natural lighting (mostly from lamps and ceiling lights), and I like how even a movement from the camera just changes the mood or communicates the presence of what is unseen. Also there is a time capsule quality to the film that being set so much in what was the here and now. The end of the summer of 1997 – those were the clothes, that was the technology, those were the cars (Those beautiful late ’80s to mid 90s Japanese cars and 1 Mercedes Benz), and also the way we solved problems…and there’s something nice about that, I think. It was the right time in which you could make VHS static and polaroid photos scary – something that DVDs and digital cameras took away altogether, even with this current boom of music videos trying to look like they were made in the ’90s.

Would I recommend Ring? Yes I would. At this point it’s a classic horror movie, and even now it’s still holds up well in the creep factor. It influenced a whole generation of Horror, and also revived the genre within its home country. Is it the best horror movie of all time? Probably not. Is it better than the 2002 American version? Personally, I think so. Yes, it’s dated at this point, and the use of VCRs and video tapes could go over the heads of many people born in this century. But it is still 1 of my favourite movies, and for me, it was the beginning of my love for Japanese cinema.

Acting: ****1/4

Characters: ****1/4

Story: ****1/2

Music: ****

CGI: ****

Art: ****1/4

Cinematography: ****1/4

Overall: ****1/4

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