Directed by Hideo Nakata
Screenplay by Hiroshi Takahashi
Based on the novel by Koji Suzuki
You're watching TV very late at night; you don't know what station. You're not even paying enough attention to know if you're watching a movie or a TV show, a comedy or a drama.
Then it changes. Gets strange. Images grab your attention, though later you won't be able to say what they were: crawling bodies? Words? Something circular? There are sounds too, eerie sounds, almost but not quite music.
The video ends. The TV is again showing some stupid sitcom. You shrug, lean back, and reach for your drink.
Suddenly, shatteringly, the phone rings. You jump, then laugh at yourself for jumping. You pick it up.
Silence. Then, white noise… A scratching sound… A violin? The soundtrack of that disturbing video.
Scared and a little angry, you hang up. The phone doesn't ring again. You try to dismiss the incident from your mind. Though when you mention it to a few friends and they tell you a silly urban legend about a cursed video, a chill quivers down your spine.
Seven days after the phone rang, to the hour, to the minute… you die.
That's the premise of the creepy Japanese horror film Ring, a title whose meaning can be interpreted in at least three different ways by the end of the movie. It's a deft blend of the ghost story with urban legend, science fiction, and even a bit of Japanese folklore. It eschews gore and onscreen violence, relying instead on an atmosphere of escalating dread.
I refer to the original Japanese film, which you will have to comb the Internet to find. I have not seen the upcoming American remake, directed by the man who brought us such fine films as Mouse Hunt and The Mexican. Hard as it is, I'm reserving judgment on that one.
The plot begins simply. Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), a reporter and a divorcee with a young son, starts investigating the mysterious deaths of a series of teenagers. When she talks to the friends of the deceased, they tell her about the cursed videotape. Enlisting the help of her ex-husband, she tracks down the video and watches it. And then they realize that the legend is true. Unless they can find the origin of the video and use that information to break the curse, they will die in seven days… then six… then five…
Then it gets stranger. Reiko's ex-husband and son are both clairvoyant, an element which is treated quite matter-of-factly. Their quest turns up rumors of another psychic child, one who may have been fathered by a sea demon. One who is as evil as Reiko's son is innocent. But that child died years ago… or did she… or does it matter…?
For most of its length, Ring is eerie and disquieting. We see the video several times, and it seems that a few seconds get added to its length each time. There's a circle… a ring… or could it be a well… and if the video would just run a few seconds longer, you know that you'll see something horrible happen there. Or is it already happening, out of frame? Maybe if you watch it one more time, the camera will pan to the side and you'll see it, at last, whatever it is, that dreadful thing.
Ring makes excellent use of that standby of horror, the viewer's imagination. The teenagers apparently died of fright: what ultimate horror could actually scare someone to death? As I watched it, I began to hope that whatever it was would never be shown; not because I was afraid it would scare me to death, but because I was afraid it wouldn't. I was afraid that, like M. Night Shyamalan's Signs, the build-up would be terrifying and the revelation a let-down, even ludicrous. The hideous shapes that lurk in dark closets, all half-glimpsed shadows and the vanishing glint of a terrible eye, collapse into raincoats and teddy bears when the lights are turned on.
But Ring does, in the end, reveal the ultimate terror. And, sure enough, it isn't as bad as what you imagined. Oh, no.
Check the website for ordering information and much more information about the Ring phenomenon.
An English translation of the novel may be ordered from Amazon.com.
The Ring is a British DVD from Tartan Video.While it is all-region,
it is PAL
(Region-coding and PAL vs. NTSC are two separate issues), so a viewer in
the US will need either a PAL-converting DVD player, an "outboard" PAL
converter (it hooks in between the DVD player and the TV) or a
multi-standard or PAL television set.