Ringu (1998)

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Ringu is the Japanese horror movie that birthed what many _imdb_ commentators consider one of the scariest US horror movies ever – the Ring. I watched the Ring years ago, and wasn’t too terribly impressed (the only thing that stood out was the bleak Seattle landscape), as it’s more chiller/thriller than Texas Chainsaw Massacre gore-fest. I know what works for me with horror movies: silliness with copious amounts of blood. Seriousness is, of course, anathema to that.

So Ringu starts off with one serious setback already notched against it: I disliked/wasn’t impressed by its localized variant. Watching the source material and some of the issues I had with the remake are (predictably) resolved. One issue with the Ring is why are the denizens of the greater Seattle area using VCRs in the digital age? Ringu sidesteps this concern because it was made before the big leap to digital was complete. (According to the dates provided in the movie; sometime in 1996 or ’97. [Actually 1998]) So the people you see here would conceivably still use VCRs. Hell, the news office heroine Reiko [Nanako Matsushima] works in has actual newspapers lying around! Her cameraman even uses an old school videocassette recorder!

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While I certainly don’t agree with the verdict that this film, or any of its decendants, are terrifying, I do enjoy aspects of it. First and foremost, it’s like a video scrapbook to earlier times. ’96/’97 was prime-time for buying/collecting/hoarding VHS copies of B-movies for me. Blackest Heart Media, Unknown Video, VideoSearch of Miami, all homes of videocassette weirdness for the pre-internet days. Back when you had to mail your order in, and wait for it to arrive in the mail, all sight unseen. You bought movies from word-of-mouth and the lurid descriptions kept in the catalogs.

Ringu and the Ring bring this all back for me. The VHS (obviously), I visited Seattle in ’06 (not too far off from the Rings’ production), and stayed in wayward motels where waking up chained to the bottom of a well wouldn’t be too out of place. (I once spent the night in a scary hotel where the owner appeared to have wooden, George Washington-teeth, and a bizarre obsession with knowing whether I had family in the area. I slept with a chair lodged under the doorknob; bad in case of a fire, but great for establishing a sense of security. The trip ended with a night in a Motel 6 with discolored carpet from what I assume was bloodstains leading from the bed to the sink (or vice versa).) Given my memories of Seattle circa the Ring-era, Ringu feels at home too. A simpler time even, back when Hollywood’s remake machine was restricted to overseas properties.

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Not to mention Reiko makes a much more believable heroine then Naomi Watts ever did. One third of the way through the film, and Reiko hasn’t even been cursed yet. She’s playing a real journalist, investigating an urban legend about high school kids dying of fright. At this point in the American version and Watts is running around Puget Sound trying to save herself and her son from certain doom. We’ve met Reiko’s son Yoichi [Rikiya Otaka] maybe once in the Japanese version, and he’s way in the background as far as developed characters go. This is mom’s show.

While there’s a decent amount of supernaturalism in the film (I don’t remember Naomi Watt’s ex being a psychic in the American release), and the pacing and acting is superior, Ringu’s story is still a garden-variety Scooby-Doo mystery. A exiled, tortured psychic being pimped out by her mentor/lover, who gives birth to a stronger psychic hell raising child who brings an end to the whole charade. Rather than read minds, she can kill with her mind; yet for some reason in the afterlife she crawls out of the television to murder her victims.

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Reiko and her psychic ex Ryuchi [Hiroyuki Sanada] find the tortured girls unmarked graves, give them a decent burial, and still end up being haunted. Which leads us to the original’s biggest diversion from the remake, the ending. Finding no solution in burying the accursed dead in hallowed ground, as Ryuchi dies from the curse shortly after avenging (Sadako) the girl’s death, Reiko takes the only option left to her to save her son, by passing the curse onto her father. It’s a brutal ending underlined by the utterly majestic sunset she’s driving towards as the voiceover let’s us into her plan.

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