October 28, 2019

RINGU: The Face That Launched a Thousand Nightmares

RINGU (1998)
Starring Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani, Hiroyuki Sanada, Hitomi Sato. Directed by Hideo Nakata. (95 min)

Review by Josey, the Sudden Cat🙀

I’ve raised my daughter right.

Lucy became an instant horror fan when I introduced her to the original Poltergeist at the tender age of 6. I’ve since-shared enough fright flicks with her over the years that she’s become quite discriminating. One of those films was 2002’sThe Ring. As the best American film to capitalize on the phenomenon affectionately known as J-horror, Lucy enjoyed it immensely.

So when I suggested we sit down to watch the film that inspired it, of course she was on-board. I’m often required to review many foreign language films, including horror, so she’s never had qualms about subtitles. In fact, her all-time favorite film is Korea’sTrain to Busan. Like I said, I’ve raised her right.

Being a teenager, sometimes Lucy’s a bit chatty during movies, but after popping-in Ringu, she sat in complete, unblinking silence as the now-familiar story unfolded. For greenhorns, the basic premise is a video tape that, when played, shows a series of bizarre, surreal images. Whoever views the tape gets a phone call saying they’ll die in seven days. One week later, they’re history. Unless…

Shoulda paid your cable bill, lady.
Neither Lucy nor I spoke until the end credits rolled, when she turned to me and said, “You know, even though I knew what was gonna happen, that movie really freaked me out,” which is saying a lot because it takes quite a bit to truly scare her anymore. And I had to concur. Even though I had seen the American version first and really liked it, there’s something about Ringu that simply feels creepier, the ramifications of viewing the tape more ominous.

Some of that could be due to its budget. Like so many other horror classics, limited resources can force a director to find more creative methods to instill fear. In this case, Ringu is neither flashy nor effects-driven, yet has loads of atmosphere, haunting imagery, foreboding music and – most importantly - a methodical, tension-filled pace. While never openly terrifying, Ringu’s overall tone is one of escalating dread.

Why Sadako can't pass her driver's test.
Good characters and performances help, of course. Nanako Matsushima is believable as Reiko, who sometimes places her career over parenthood, which ultimately has dire implications for her son, Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka). Hiroyuki Sanada is low-key and likable as Reiko’s ex-husband. Furthermore, our emotional investment in their characters renders the film's resolution truly chilling.

Lucy and I also came to the consensus that few images in modern horror are as disturbing – or imitated - as Sadako’s single, delirious eye peering through that matted black hair. Like The Exorcist, decades of sequels, rip-offs and remakes may have diminished Ringu’s overall ability to shock, but it remains the best example of J-horror ever made. It’s been given a significant facelift by Arrow Video with a great restoration and, best of all, new bonus features that make one appreciate just how influential the film continues to be. A must-own for any horror fan.

NEW: “THE RINGU LEGACY” - Easily the best of the bonus material, this is 27 minutes of interviews with various critic and filmmakers who discuss the impact the film series had on the horror genre and pop culture.
NEW: “A VICIOUS CIRCLE” - An interview with writer/critic Kat Ellinger, who discusses director Hideo Nakata.
NEW: “CIRCUMNAVIGATING RINGU” - Video essay by author Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
AUDIO COMMENTARY – By author David Kalat
"SAKADO’S VIDEO” - Hope your phone doesn’t ring after watching.
SUPPLEMENTAL BOOKLET – Cast, crew & restoration credits; Essay, “Ringu: This Vortex of Evil Energy,” also by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
REVERSIBLE COVER – With new and original artwork (We love the new one).


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