Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #251
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: January 31, 1998
Country of Origin: Japan
Box Office: $13,005,000
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Hideo Nakata
Producer: Taka Ichise
Screenplay: Hiroshi Takahashi, Kôji Suzuki
Story: Kôji Suzuki
Special Effects: Hajime Matsumoto
Visual Effects: Hajime Matsumoto
Cinematography: Jun’ichirō Hayashi
Score: Kenji Kawai
Editing: Nobuyuki Takahashi
Studios: Omega Project, Imagica, Asmik Ace Entertainment, Pony Canyon, Toho Company
Distributors: Toho Company, DreamWorks Home Entertainment (US)
Stars: Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Miki Nakatani, Yûko Takeuchi, Hitomi Satô, Yôichi Numata, Yutaka Matsushige, Katsumi Muramatsu, Rikiya Ôtaka, Masako, Daisuke Ban, Hiroshi Sakuma
Suggested Audio Candy:
Kenji Kawai Ringu
There is something inherently twisted about the Japanese. Since its inception, Eastern cinema has been haunted and they have drawn much of their inspiration from ancient folk tales and myths of vengeful wraiths, particularly females trapped between dimensions, having suffered terrible deaths. Hideo Nakata’s Ringu features one such spirit and it single-handedly inaugurated the cinematic assault on the psyche which the Far East became known for at the turn of the millennium. Ju-On: The Grudge, Dark Water and the Pang Brothers’ stunning The Eye all made their mark in the west during this time but it was Ringu which set the wheels in motion.
American audiences were ill prepared for Nakata’s contorted nightmare and Ringu went on to become a highly sought-upon piece of expressive art. Before you could say “quick call the Weinsteins” a homegrown translation appeared courtesy of Gore Verbenski and aroused the interest of one of the most distinguished actresses on the circuit in the process. Naomi Watts headlined the virtual remake and it went upon its business in typically workmanlike manner. However something was conspicuously amiss; it felt decidedly muted, particularly in the flat finale which failed to grasp the visceral terror the original bled out in abundance. It was by no means a poor film and far better than many of the droves of copycat Americanizations which swiftly followed. But it all felt a little soulless. Actually scrap that, it bore a little too much emotional essence as Nakata’s forerunner seemed to be without a soul of its own.
Based on a 1991 novel by a man commonly regarded as the Eastern equivalent of Stephen King, Kôji Suzuki, Ringu‘s fear was far more of a slow burn and didn’t rely on cheap knee-jerk scares and instead whittled your nerves down to their very roots through its use of silence and deeply unsettling macabre imagery to manifest under your skin. One was expected to overlook any flaws and there are a few, mainly due to translation, thus allowing the feeling of impending peril to run rampant within your mind. It was the kind of film which terrified most once the film had concluded, as you switched off your television set and made your way to bed. Your own imagination did the rest.
The story, for anyone who has spent the last fifteen years down a well, involves TV-reporter and single mother Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) who is investigating an urban legend involving a cursed video tape which brings a ghastly end to its viewer within seven days of watching it and enlists the help of her ex-husband, Ryūji (Hiroyuki Sanada) to help find the answers to her niece’s untimely death. After making the grave mistake of studying the tape frame-by-frame and then letting it fall into the hands of their only son Yoichi, they travel to Oshima in an attempt at putting the vengeful spirit of Sadako to rest before her curse claims them too.
As I have already mentioned, Ringu is far from faultless. It’s narrative is muddled and often contradictory, its protagonists difficult to warm to and its pacing too slack for those searching for the ultimate jolt ride. However any lapses in logic are countered quite brilliantly by its infusion of sheer dread and helplessness. As valiantly as Reiko and Ryūji endeavor to avoid their inexplicable demise, their attempts are ultimately in vain and the spirit of Sadako herself is a metaphor for the illusion of false hope. Any semblance of resolution is swiftly snuffed out as we move towards a conclusion which chills the blood with unparalleled effect.
In many ways, Ringu’s crossover success is where its true revolution came. It forced Western audiences into sitting up and taking notice of Japanese horror cinema once more and single-handedly sparked a renaissance which led to many of its contemporaries gaining the wider exposure they deserved. Sure, it is inconsistent and flabby, but the work of great directors such as Lucio Fulci and Dario Argento were hardly known for their coherent narrative. It’s the lurid nightmarish set pieces which truly set them apart and Ringu has an absolute peach in the moment Sadako takes that seemingly eternal shuffle from the cursed well. There are also more subtle shocks to be found, one involving a mirror and the other set deep inside the well when Sadako’s corpse makes its ominous appearance.
The film may be far from perfect, and the American retelling was far more approachable, but it achieves something which the Japanese do effortlessly, that being scaring its addressee witless. We may have become somewhat desensitized to the ambling black-haired apparitions of Japanese cinema by now, and film-makers such as James Wan have finally caught up with so many of the effective techniques used to cause sleepless nights, but Ringu got there first. If nothing else, it gives a damn good reason to ditch that VHS player if you haven’t already as Blu-Ray appears far less daunting a proposition on this evidence.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Dread Factor: 5/5
For the Dread-Heads: There’s not so much as a droplet of blood throughout its 95 minutes but it leaves its indelible impression on our psyche. By the time Sadako begins her ascension from the well and climbs through the screen with those painfully bitten down fingernails and that infamous roving eyeball, you may well be trading your comfy couch in for a more beneficial commode.
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