The Ring 2
review by Gregory Avery, 10 November 2000
You may have already heard about The
Ring; if you haven't, you're probably going to. This remarkable
1998 Japanese scare film is only now making its way westward,
opening in London during the summer; it is scheduled to appear in
U.S. theaters next year. (For those who can't wait, it can currently
be seen on import VCD.) In the meantime, the picture became so
phenomenally successful in Japan that it has spawned a sequel (made
by the same director), a prequel (not made by the same director), a TV.
miniseries, a Korean remake, and an interactive video game.
Two teenage girls, Tomoko(Yuko
Takeuchi) and Masami (Hitomi Sato), are seen discussing the latest
rumor floating among their schoolmates: a "cursed"
videotape which, after a person has seen it, will cause them to
receive a phone call telling them that they will be dead in a week.
After a week, what was foretold in the phone call becomes a reality.
What could be causing it? Somebody "stealing" the TV
airwaves? Masami steps out of the room for a moment; Tomoko stays.
The phone rings. She answers it, then hears something behind her.
What Tomoko didn't tell Masami was that she had seen the
"cursed" videotape with some friends, one week earlier.
Reiko (Nanako Matsushima), a Tokyo TV.
journalist, starts looking into the rumors about the videotape. She
has more than a passing interest in them, since Tomoko was her
niece. So, too, does Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada), a university professor
who was tutoring Tomoko. When Reiko finally finds a copy of the
videotape and views it -- and then receives a phone call directly
afterwards -- she and Ryuji team up to find out, during the seven
days that follow, if there's any way to undo the "curse,"
since it could have a direct bearing on Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka),
Reiko's young son, whom she and Ryuji had before they were divorced.
The "curse" turns out to
involve the unfortunate fate surrounding Shizuko, a woman who could
"speak to the sea" and had extrasensory powers; Dr. Ikuma,
who brought Shizuko to the attention of the media who praised, then
publicly denounced, her; and Sadako, Shizuko's daughter, who was
regarded as a "monster" because she could kill people with
just one look. Reiko and Ryuji discover that there is a, possible,
way to reverse the effects of the video -- by having a second person
watch the same copy of the tape, within seven days, after the first
person has seen it. Thus, the only way to "preserve our
lives" (as one character puts it) is by causing the video to be
seen exponentially -- the "ring" referred to in the title.
The director Hideo Nakata had only
directed one other feature film before making The Ring. His
previous film experience includes writing the lyrics to the Gamera
March heard in the 1969 film Gamera vs. Guiron, featuring
everyone's favorite giant flying turtle with a soft spot for kids.
While credit for The Ring must be shared with screenwriter
Hiroshi Takahashi and Yoji Suzuki, author of the novel on which it's
based (Suzuki has been referred to as the Japanese equivalent of
Stephen King, with regards to his genre output), The Ring
accomplishes all of its effects entirely through staging and
atmosphere. Anyone looking for slice-and-dice action must go
elsewhere. As the story moves inexorably through its seven day
timeframe, the picture becomes increasingly mesmerizing. There are
some astonishing effects, such as when the skull of a long-lost
person seems to well with tears after it has been discovered and is
lifted towards the light. And the film culminates with a scene that
is easily one of the most hair-raising moments ever captured on
film, one that can stand alongside similar scenes in Diabolique,
The Innocents, and Psycho.
It would have been enormously
simple to do a knockoff sequel to The Ring that would have
simply repeated the high points from the first film for an audience
that was already eagerly appreciative of them. That does not turn
out to be the case with The Ring 2, which premiered in 1999.
The filmmakers chose to go in a different direction, one where the
timeframe, by contrast, was looser, more dreamlike, as if, when the
colour slowly drained from the picture and turned the last visual in
the previous film black-and-white, the world had become
out-of-kilter, and was a stranger, more unreliable place.
Mai (Miki Nakatani), a passing
character in the first film, is front and center in The Ring 2.
(Almost all of the original cast and crew returned for the second
film.) A friend of Tomoko and Masami, she is haunted by the fact
that Masami -- the girl who had stepped out of the room when
something reached out and took Tomoko -- has wound up in the
psychiatric ward of a hospital. Okazaki (Masahiko Ono) returns to
the video interviews he and Reiko made about the "cursed"
videotape -- Reiko and her son have mysteriously disappeared, and no
one seems to know what happened. Mai's path takes her to Yoichi, who
appears to be manifesting the same paranormal powers that Sadako
had; to an experiment that attempts to conduct psychic energy into
water, where it "dissolves;" and a face-to-face encounter
with Sadako herself, who comes right up next to Mai only to softly
utter, "Why are you the only one saved?"
Characters slide in and out of the
landscape, like untethered thoughts. In one of the most
astonishingly unexpected poetic effects I can recall seeing in any
film of late, blood flows across a street pavement and, when it
reaches the curbstone, creates a mournful pattern to the observer
looking down upon it. (This is the ONLY instance where blood appears
in either of the films.) As in the first Ring, people
suddenly find themselves experiencing extraordinary powers that they
never knew they had (not unlike what occurs in the 1968 film Five
Million Years to Earth): Reiko and Ryuji learn some important
information about Shizuko and Sadako through a shared psychic
experience, not from anything they read or are told about (people
are reticent to talk about Shizuko and her daughter, for good
cause), and Mai begins to have similar experiences as she learns
more and more about Sadako. Mysterious forces also seem to reach out
through modern technology -- such as when someone discovers that an
image on a video editing machine begins to act in ways that are
beyond their control -- whether to wreak havoc or seek redemption.
"Videos don't kill. Fear
kills," says one character in The Ring 2. One of the
reasons why mutterings about a U.S. remake of The Ring are
being treated disparagingly is because the Japanese films are so
heavily shaped by the sensibilities of the people who made them.
There is so much about The Ring and The Ring 2 that
can be easily coarsened, but not necessarily taken in a direction
that could be considered to be in any way better.
After The Ring 2, a prequel,
Ring 0: The Birthday, was made, by another director, and
released. Rather than just backtracking thirty years to tell the
story of Shizuko and Sadako all over again, the picture is said to
go even further, showing the beginnings of the "curse"
which ended up affecting them.
Nakata, in the meantime, has
already made two new films -- a romance, Sleeping Bride, and Chaos,
a thriller involving a detective, a married woman (played by Miki
Nakatani), her husband, and a third man who kidnaps her. Nakata is
said to be currently working on a film version of The Glass Brain,
a story by Osamu Tezuka, the enormously prolific "manga"
and "anime" creator whose original characters include
Kimba, the White Lion and Astro Boy. Here's hoping that Nakata's
work turns out to be the most exciting to emerge in the "cinefantastique"
field in twenty years.
Both The Ring and The
Ring 2 are available on VCD, letterboxed and with English
subtitles, from www.thedvdunderground.com