Ringu (1998)

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*. OK here’s the set-up: You’re the head of a film studio and some guy comes in with a pitch about a videotape that has a curse on it. As the story (or urban legend) goes, after you watch the videotape you get a phone call telling you that you’ll die in seven days. And that’s what happens! Because seven days after watching the video . . .
*. I think the natural response would be to assume that the person who came up with this idea was bonkers. But if you’d invested in it, you’d have backed what turned into Japan’s top-grossing horror film, a movie that went on to spawn a mini-franchise of its own, and which became the flagship of the J-horror wave.
*. Of course that’s not quite the way it happened. Koji Suzuki’s novel had been a hit. But the screenplay here takes Suzuki’s already bizarre premise and runs with it, making it even stranger (and, in my opinion, less coherent).
*. Still, it’s a point worth emphasizing: this is a stupid, an incredibly stupid, premise for a movie. That it manages to pull it off is all the more amazing.

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*. What was (or is) J-horror? A cross-breeding of traditional, folkloric elements from Japanese culture with contemporary urban life and high-tech modernity. Hollywood loved it, perhaps because they’d lost the ability to tell a ghost story of their own and had grown tired of imitating their own imitations of played out genres like the slasher pic. J-horror plots came to America like Eastern European stoneworkers imported to restore old buildings in the New World, that particular talent having been long lost and forgotten here.
*. Re-watching this movie for the purposes of re-evaluating it is difficult for a number of reasons. In the first place, as Peter Bradshaw puts it, “Enough time has passed now for me to realise that Ring is less a film and more packaging for a single scene.” It’s comparable in this regard to movies like Les Diaboliques or The Sixth Sense: once you’ve had the climactic experience, how much of the movie remains?
*. Then there is the matter of the remake, Gore Verbinski’s The Ring, which came out only four years later. On balance, I prefer this version, mainly for its more compact storyline, but Verbrinski’s film does some things better. Whenever I’ve been asked by someone who hasn’t seen it which version they should watch I honestly have a hard time deciding.
*. So you’ve seen this movie. You’ve seen the remake. Maybe you’ve read the novel it’s based on, and seen all the sequels as well. It’s lost its shock value. How well does it hold up?
*. What’s going on with the woman in the white shoes who stops in front of Ryuji when he’s sitting on the bench? It’s a moment that’s not in the book, and I think it’s the result of just trying to cram too much extra stuff in. I mean, all the psychokinetic powers are odd enough, but why make Ryuji psychic as well?

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*. Wouldn’t it have made more sense to just lower Reiko down the well in the first place and let Ryuji pull the water up? That’s hard work! Or better yet, since they did stop in a hardware store before going to the site, why not buy a small pump and some hose? They could have emptied the well in no time.
*. I do love how Sadako walks in such a jerky way. It’s a combination of two effects: the film being played backward and the actress using exaggerated, stylized movements inspired by traditional Japanese theatre.
*. Why should Sadako seem so threatening though? Shouldn’t she be ridiculous, what with all that Cousin It hair covering her face? How does she even see where she’s going? This is sort of like the whole silly premise of a haunted videotape. It shouldn’t work, but it does.
*. I guess by hiding her face Sadako just seems more mysterious and thus dangerous. Whatever’s behind that veil of hair, we’re sure it can’t be good. In the absence of any visual cues we imagine all sorts of horrors.

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*. Ryuji asks why this is happening. It’s a good question, and one that gets at the heart of a lot of our fascination with J-horror. There is no good explanation. If there was a curse, it should have been lifted. But Sadako is just bad, and the innocent must be made to suffer the consequences. Morally, she’s on a par with Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees, and she’s only a little girl!
*. It’s a nice score. The jangling strings at high impact moments and submerged gurglings to go with the daily countdowns really stand out.
*. I wish I knew more about the regional angle, if the places mentioned have any special cultural meaning. Are Reiko and Ryuji going to the Japanese equivalent of redneck or hillbilly territory? Are they city people forced out of their comfort zone?

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*. The best horror movies usually are “about” something more than their scary story. Here there’s the viral technology angle (technology that doesn’t work is sociopathic: an evil force beyond our comprehension that doesn’t care about the lives it ruins), but even more than that there’s the story of Reiko and Ryuji and their son Yoichi. They’re just a normal divorced couple on a quest for closure in more ways than one. And of course they’re never going to get closure because there’s a kid involved, and kids always make things messy.
*. Isn’t it a shitty trick to play on your old man, tagging him with the cursed tape and making him pass it along to save his ass. I mean, I’m sure he’d do it to help out, but it’s a bit irresponsible.
*. Videodrome, Poltergeist, Ringu . . . If you stare too long into the abyss of the tube, you shouldn’t be surprised if you see it staring back, and getting angry.
*. If all this movie had was a shock ending I don’t think it would have had the kind of impact it did. But it’s a genuinely effective suspense thriller, has a couple of great performances from the two leads, and manages to give an old story a wicked new twist.

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