Ring (Ringu) (1998) Movie Review – 31 Days of Halloween
A mysterious video has been linked to a number of deaths, and when an inquisitive journalist finds the tape and views it herself, she sets in motion a chain of events that puts her own life in danger.
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Welcome to Knockout Horror. We are off to Japan for day 24 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature as we are checking out Ringu from 1998. Some might argue that this is the movie that kicked off a whole new fascination with J-Horror back in the early 2000s. Some may also argue that this is a movie that changed Western horror significantly, as well.
Sure, Japanese horror had already made its mark in the West but it was never quite as prominent as it was after Ring made its way over here. Despite the vast differences between Japanese horror and more mainstream Hollywood stuff. This is a movie that managed to capture viewer’s imagination and legitimately scare the crap out of people. Let’s take a look.
Ring follows the story of Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) as she investigates the cause of her niece’s sudden death. Her research brings her to a videotape that supposedly leads to the death of whoever views it seven days later. Reiko finds herself in a race against time to find the cause of the curse and a way to bring it to an end.
The story here is a fairly simple one and, for the most part, Ringu plays out like a mystery movie. Reiko follows lead after lead to discover the truth about her niece’s death. Eventually discovering the tape and inadvertently passing it around. It’s only as the reality of what happens to people who view the tape becomes clear that the movie starts to open up the horror element.
Tension builds through a continual sense of time slipping away from Reiko and the constant knowledge that the characters surrounding Reiko aren’t quite aware of how in danger they are. What starts as an almost school yard rumour quickly becomes reality and the hunt is on to avert disaster. Ringu is almost thriller like in its slow build tension. Something that may put a few people off but something that Japanese horror is just so good at.
Many people who aren’t used to the pacing of Japanese horror may fail to see what the fuss is all about when it comes to this movie. Much like Takashi Miike’s Audition, Ringu is in no rush to get anywhere. It knows its destination and will take a leisurely route to get there. This is, simply, just how a lot of Japanese horror plays out. They are slow, considered, and very creepy. They aren’t overtly scary, they don’t try to make you jump, they just try to get inside your head. Korean horror is very similar as well, as is horror from Thailand.
These are like ghost stories told and told over and over with a little more detail added each time. The stories are very well developed and the characters at the heart of the movies tend to have virtually no knowledge of what is going on. Meaning they are sent through an ordeal to get to the bottom of the mystery before the real horror begins. You, as the viewer, take this ride with them and learn about the well developed lore behind the mystery at the same time as they do.
Asian Supernatural Horror
It’s fantastic stuff if you are a fan of slow paced horror and it felt particularly unique when Ringu first made its way to the west. Western horror wasn’t like this and still isn’t now. The focus here is still on jump scares, gore and violence. We love zombies, werewolves, vampires, serial killers and maniacs. We have little time for scorned spirits that don’t tear people limb from limb.
Ghost stories really aren’t all that important here but that’s not the case in Asia. In Asia, they are important and they are a topic of interest in many of their movies. Japan’s Noroi: The Curse and Taiwan’s Incantation being another two fantastic examples. It does bear mentioning that there isn’t a tremendous amount to keep you interested if you aren’t a fan of slow moving horror. Ringu is not high octane and the scares are few and far between. I wouldn’t be tremendously surprised if some people simply didn’t enjoy it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t scary. That is far from the case.
I first had the opportunity to catch this movie only a year or so after its release. I watched Audition around the same time and they were my first real exposure to Japanese horror. Both movies blew my mind and I loved both equally as much, despite them being rather different. I was really taken by Hideo Nakata’s ability to let the story speak for itself. There was no need for gore here. No need for violence. This is simply one of those horror movies that presents you with a concept and it lodges somewhere deep inside your head.
The crazy thing is, the horror here works so much more effectively than you might think. Ringu is a legitimately haunting and affecting movie. Aside from the tragic and upsetting tale at the heart of the movie. It’s the sight of Sadako herself. From the terrifying glassy eyes to the contorted body movements. She is legitimately unsettling and she is a genuine horror icon. Rie Ino’o’s incredible jerky movement feels completely unnatural and entirely fitting for the character.
Sadako is very much a classic Japanese interpretation of a female ghost and she is absolutely terrifying. If you have engaged in much Japanese media, you will recognise the scorned female spirit as something of a mainstay in their ghost stories. Over the years, Sadako has become completely iconic and has shaped the way these types of characters are presented in J-Horror and, indeed, in Western media too. If you don’t buy into the supernatural elements, you may not be impacted. If you do, however, the scares here are not frequent, but man are they effective.
Shows its Age a Little
It’s worth pointing out that, despite Ringu only being 25 years old, it looks a lot older. Japanese horror from the late 90s and early 2000s always had a sort of soap opera look to it. There is no glossy sheen to anything, everything is a bit grey, colours are washed out and it generally looks pretty old. That’s not so much a problem with Ringu as it is a typical presentation of Japanese horror. This movie was made on a budget of only $1.5 million as well. Ringu is still well shot, however, and there are some absolutely iconic scenes littered throughout that are truly inspired. The later parts of the movie deserve particular praise for this very reason.
Acting is strong throughout. I won’t comment on the script because translations are notoriously unreliable. There are a few moments that haven’t aged tremendously well. The characters lying in contorted positions with their mouths agape has been parodied so much that it’s hard not to chuckle at how silly it looks. Some of the plot elements feel a bit ridiculous, especially when you consider the way they are executed but that’s a minor complaint, really. Ringu, all things considered, holds up pretty well. It’s central theme of tradition versus progression is just as relevant today, maybe even more so and it is still effectively spooky.
Final Thoughts and Score
This is another movie that I do think some people will watch and wonder what all the fuss is about. But to ignore the impact Ringu has had on horror would be a huge oversight. This movie created a Japanese horror boon and sparked an entirely new interest in slow paced supernatural horror that is still going strong today. It’s aged and it is a bit silly in parts. It’s also a tremendously slow movie that won’t appeal to everyone. But Ringu kicked off my fascination with J-Horror in much the same way as it did for many others. It’s affecting story is still scary to this day and it’s one of the most important horror movies of modern times.
Trailer: Ringu (1998)
|Release Date:||30th January 1998|
|Movie Type:||Horror, Mystery|
|Movie Length:||96 Min|
|Starring:||Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rikiya Otaka, Miki Nakatani, Yuko Takeuchi, Hitomi Sato, Yutaka Matsushige|
|Directed By:||Hideo Nakata|
|Written By:||Hiroshi Takahashi, Koji Suzuki|
|Produced By:||Shinya Kawai, Taka Ichise, Takenori Sento|
|Parental Guidance:||Language, Peril, Some Violence|