Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ringu (Nakata. 1998)

"It's not of this world. It's Sadako's fury. And she's put a curse on us."

There are not very many instances where I will tell my readers that a book is actually better than the movie. In fact, that is a phrase that I have kept reserved for when they decide to make "The Catcher in the Rye" into a movie. Don’t get me wrong, books are fantastic and I read for pleasure on a regular basis, but there is usually something more vividly exciting about seeing things come to life on the screen. At least it is that way for me. What can I say? I love movies.

With all of that being said, Koji Suzuki’s novel version of "Ring" is leaps and bounds better than Hideo Nakata’s 1998 film adaptation. Though it is hailed, for some reason, as a quintessential example of J-Horror, Ring is one of the least scary horror films that I have ever seen. It is comically adapted for the screen and has more unfinished angles than the Winchester Mansion. I was going into watching Ring with an open mind and a hand over my eyes, but I ended up being extremely disappointed.

The novel tells the story of a male reporter named Kazuyuki Asakawa who, through stellar investigation, stumbles across a few similar mysterious deaths in Tokyo. Each death occurred at the same time on the same day with each victim’s face mangled with fear. After exploring the story further, he ends up at a weekend resort where he finds an unmarked video tape. Of course, he watches it. Suzuki describes the tape in much detail. There are swirling colors, volcanic eruptions and mysterious footage of realistic violence. The final moment of the tape reveals its purpose - “You, who watched this tape, are going to die in one week from now. There's only one way to survive. And that is-". The sentence stops there as a television commercial has been recorded over the tape. Now Asakawa must race against the clock to figure out how to break the curse. Novel on…

The film, however, chose to go with a female lead named Reiko Asakawa who begins investigating the mysterious deaths of, like in the novel, some teenagers. She does most of her reporting by talking to local school kids who seem to know a whole lot about a deadly cursed video tape. Here is my first issue with this adaptation - if all the kids in school already knew about the tape, why did anyone watch it? It was common knowledge in gossip circles what would happen if you did, but none of them felt the need to alert the police that this tape was going around? It took the spook factor out of the death tape.

Unlike in the novel, Asakawa does not accidentally watch the tape. Like I said, all the kids in school told Asakawa that the tape existed. So, like any reporter would do, she went looking for it. In the novel the tape is found by coincidence. In the film it is directly sought after and WATCHED by the hero. Why would she watch it?! She knows it will kill her, yet freaks out when the phone rings and alerts her of her impending demise.

Even the film version of the cursed tape is flawed in comparison to the novel. It consists of a man pointing, a woman brushing her hair in a mirror and what looks like people crawling on the ground. There are no subliminal messages, nor does any of the drama from the novel take place. It’s just a boring tape. Lord knows it is better than Blonde Cobra.

After copying the tape and showing it to her insistent ex husband, the journey to figure out how to break the curse is on. The seriousness is upped when the couple’s son accidentally watched the tape at his grandfather’s house. This is another part that really bothers me. Why would she just leave a cursed video tape in the VCR for her young child to stumble across and watch? This is a recurring theme in Ring – if you have a death tape, don’t leave it in the VCR!

They eventually solve the mystery and realize that the tape is a manifestation of a supernatural curse caused by a murdered girl named Sadako. In life, Sadako was an outcast due to her seemingly evil superpowers. Her father killed her and abandoned her dead body in a deep well. The couple finds the body – breaking the curse, or so they thought….

Aside from the stupid plot, Ring does have some shining aspects to boast. For example, I loved Nakata’s direction and the snappy cinematography that Japan would later become known for using. The film is shot as if it were the antithesis of Scream. There are no tight screens or jump scares. Rather, Ring tries to frighten the audience with dim lights, low-grade special effects and a lulling musical score. Of course, I would hazard to guess that Ring fails at frightening almost anyone, but the simple horror approach is still refreshing to see – especially nowadays.

Then we have THE scene in Ring. You know, the one where the spirit crawls through the television? This was a moment that I was anticipating with a pillow to cover my eyes. As Sadako climbs up the well and through the television screen I was only able to think of one thing. The remake did this scene better than the original. Maybe at this point I was already too fed up with the vagueness of the adapted screenplay, but I did not care at all when the biggest scene in the movie finally happened. It was like waking up on Christmas day and realizing it is actually Arbor Day. I didn’t care at all.

There is something inherently begging to fail about a movie that centers on a cursed VHS tape. For one, it is not like the thing is required viewing. Don’t wanna die? Don’t watch the tape. Also, why would a murdered child use a VHS tape to spread her curse in the first place? While alive Sadako was powerful enough to kill people with her mind, yet in death she is reduced to technology that was barreling toward being outdated? I just don’t buy it. A good horror movies should make you believe. Ring made me giggle. It's too bad those kids couldn't have waited a few years to die. This never would have happened with a DVD...

In terms of films that I was eager to watch from the big list, Ring has to be one of the biggest disappointments so far. At only a little over an hour and a half, the film is rushed but never seems urgent. It lacks the necessary development of characters to make me want to care, and completely changes the very things from the novel that make the story work. It was jumbled, choppy and lacked important detail. I was really bummed about this one. I wanted to love it. I did not...

Ring: C-


  1. I have not seen this version, but I thought THE RING (english version) was quite scary.

  2. You can find this version on Youtube. I kinda liked the English version better. But, that may just be me..