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Genre: Supernatural Horror par Excellence

review in one breath

Let me begin by stating: YOUCH! VERY CREEPY!!!

Okay. Ringu is based on Ringu (1991), the first of a trilogy of novels by author Suzuki Koji. The movie became wildly popular in Japan and spawned several sequels/prequels, two television mini-series, a Korean, and eventually US remake. Ringu was held from release in the US until the release of the US remake, The Ring, in 2003. (Go figure.)

Ring Movies

Ringu (1998)
Rasen (1998)
Ringu 2 (1999)
Ring: The Final Chapter (1999)
Ringu 0 (2000)

The tale revolves around the history of Shizuko Yamamura and her daughter Sadako. Their story starts on Oshima Island where the mother's psychic abilities eventually come to the attention of an academic bent on proving the existence of ESP. During a highly publicized test that goes awry, the dreadful abilities of Sadako emerge, setting the stage for the tragic demise of both mother and daughter and a series of mysterious death-by-terror cases 30 years after. The niece of news reporter Reiko Asakawa becomes one such case, and sets Reiko hunting for clues leading to a cause of death, a search which leads her to a video tape which, once watched, results in death after 7 days. After she, her ex-husband Ryuji, and by mistake her young son Yoichi watch the tape, the clock starts ticking and Reiko's investigation takes on a whole new urgency.

The ensuing tale gradually builds in eeriness and imagery, and crescendoes in a rather hair-raising climax. There is indeed pay-off here for those looking for a good horror movie. Amazingly, director Nakata Hideo accomplishes this without any recourse to computer generated "special effects". Both feet of the viewer are planted squarely on the ground as the creepiness unfolds.

Much of the spiritual dimension of the story revolves around ESP, a topic which seems to perpetually fascinate the Japanese. A second Japanese fascination which emerges here is the power of technology to aid in the quest to understand the supernatural. An explanation as to why Sadako employs psychically recorded VHS tapes to accomplish her curse is nowhere offered in Ringu. Such an explanation is doubly wanting given the fact that Sadako would not have known about the existence of such multimedia given her untimely demise so many decades ago. Nevertheless, Sadako's choice of magnetic tape and television allows our characters to pull out all sort of nifty gadgets to analyze and decipher the cursed clue. And yet were it not for the fact that Reiko's own ex-husband (!) and son (!!!) possess psychic ability, this investigation wouldn't have gotten anywhere! (Did I mention the Japanese fascination with ESP?) In at least two crucial points where the trail to Sadako appears irrevocably cold, good ole ESP steps in and moves things right along.

Throughout the movie there is much speculation as to the origin and nature of Sadako, whose face is never seen by the viewer (except for that... EYE!). We learn that Shizuko, Sadako's psychic mother sat daily on the seashore speaking to the tumultuous Sea of Japan in a "non-human" language and laughing, an activity which understandably unnerved the local fisherman population. Later, as our protagonists are trying to flee Oshima, Sadako is attributed with creating an ominous typhoon. We are then made privy to the uncannily intuitive Ryuji's earnest speculation that Sadako's father is "not a human being". And though by the near end of the tale you think that Sadako's spirit has been appeased and laid to rest, you are quickly proven wrong, realizing that Sadako is one hell-bent, creepy individual. All of this ambiguous build-up inevitably paves the way for Ringu 0: Birthday (the prequel) and Ringu 2 to step in and explore and explain (in similar quasi-scientific fashion) that terrifying mystery named Sadako.

I had heard much of the Japanese Ringu before viewing it, and I found that it lives up to its reputation. (And yes my hair stood up, and yes the next day when I saw a young lady with long dark hair I got a shiver... really.)

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
One point for creepy Japanese intuitions regarding ESP and the afterlife. One point for Japanese fascination of technological gadgetry. And one point for Asian mass popular hysteria! At the very least, you should watch this to see what all the hype is about. Although there is absolutely no blood or gore, you will see a few terrified corpses and one whack over the head with a rather large stick. No sexual imagery or reference. ESP from beyond the grave! A prolific curse using VHS (not Beta!) multimedia and a shocking redefinition of 3-D television! And by watching this tale, didn't YOU also watch the cursed video? Hmm?? ...

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