The Ring
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

Directed by:
Hideo Nakata

Starring:
Nanako Matsushima
Hiroyuki Sanada
Rikiya Otaka
Miki Nakatani

Written by:
Hiroshi Takahashi

FULL CREDITS

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