It is said that the most placid facades can hide the most tumultuous innermost thoughts and desires. Perhaps that explains how some of the most visceral and decadent visual images we know today originate in the same place known for one of the most polite societies on earth – Japan.
1998’s Ringu arguably marked the start of the popularity of Japanese horror in the West, with Ju-on: The Grudge and Dark Water propping up the industry’s foundations especially well in 2002. The film’s muted 20-year-old colors give it almost a sense of authenticity which we are now more accustomed to seeing in found-footage films.
There were several key plot elements that I had forgotten over the past two decades, with only the videotape, the countdown curse and, of course, the twitching, crawling thing known as Sadako fresh in my memory. And I am so glad I didn’t remember – Ringu has many delicious levels of morbid storyline that make rediscovery almost as enjoyable as having the crap scared out of you the first time.
Most people know that the film centers on a cursed VHS tape that kills whoever watches it after a week. Divorced journalist, Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) is investigating that urban legend when she attends the funeral of her niece with her young son, Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka). The boy was close to his cousin and starts behaving oddly and saying strange things after that day.
Reiko tracks down a copy of the tape and watches the disconcerting series of images on it. As soon as the tape ends, her phone rings, just as the legend says. She also discovers that any photo taken of her face now comes out grotesquely warped, as it was with other victims she has tracked.
With less than a week to live, Reiko turns to her ex-husband, Ryuji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada), a university lecturer with some psychic abilities. He, too, watches the tape but does not get a call like the others did.
The realization that their son will be lost to the curse prompts the estranged couple to redouble their efforts. Their search for answers leads them to a small island off the coast where a woman with ESP abilities had committed suicide decades earlier after being denounced as a fraud by the press.
All signs point to her daughter, whose psychic abilities far surpassed her mother’s, as the source of the curse. As the seven-day limit for each the mother, father, and son respectively approaches, Reiko and Ryuji try to track her down to break the curse.
As with any horror movie, the last minutes are crucial. Ringu is so well written that the plot twist that comes right at the end will jar you out of the reverie into which it had lulled you in the preceding 20 minutes. That false sense of resolution and hope is shattered in one fell swoop that few first-time watchers can predict.
Ringu was a good revisit – I thoroughly enjoyed its 95 minutes and can’t believe this was only my second viewing. You have probably watched it and/or the flaccid Hollywood remake yourself; give yourself a rich dose of otherworldly terror by watching this version again.
If you have not seen it before, perhaps the images that accompany this piece make you go “Meh! That’s not scary at all.” I hope so because I spent a lot of time choosing images to convey the story progress without too many overt hints at the horror.
Let your guard down enough to watch it.