|Directed by||Hideo Nakata|
|Screenplay by||Hiroshi Takahashi|
by Koji Suzuki
|Music by||Kenji Kawai|
|Edited by||Nobuyuki Takahashi|
Ringu/Rasen Production Committee
|Box office||$19.4 million (est.)|
Ring (リング, Ringu) is a 1998 Japanese horror film directed by Hideo Nakata, based on the 1991 novel by Koji Suzuki. The film stars Nanako Matsushima, Miki Nakatani and Hiroyuki Sanada, and follows a reporter who is racing to investigate the mystery behind a cursed videotape that kills the viewer seven days after watching it. It is titled The Ring (stylized as the Ring) in English in Japan and released as Ringu in North America.
Production took approximately nine months. Ring and its sequel Spiral were released in Japan at the same time. After its release, Ring was a huge box office success in Japan and was acclaimed by critics. It inspired numerous follow-ups in the Ring franchise, popularized J-horror internationally, and triggered a trend of Western remakes, starting with the 2002 American film The Ring.
Two high schoolers, Masami and Tomoko, talk about a videotape that was allegedly recorded in Izu and bears a curse that kills the viewer in one week. Tomoko reveals that a week ago she, her boyfriend Iwata, and two other friends watched a strange tape and received a phone call afterward. The two hear the phone ring, but amusingly, it turns out to only be Tomoko's mother. As soon as Masami goes back upstairs however, Tomoko witnesses her TV turn on by itself, and soon thereafter, an unseen force kills her.
Meanwhile, the cursed video story is being investigated by Tomoko's maternal aunt, newspaper reporter Reiko Asakawa; so when Reiko and her young son Yoichi attend Tomoko's funeral, she learns from some friends of Tomoko that Iwata and Tomoko's two other friends all died the same night she did, and their bodies were found with their faces twisted in fear. The next day, Reiko is investigating Tomoko's room for clues when she finds a receipt from a photo development shop. She picks up the unclaimed photos, which show the four friends staying in a rental cabin in Izu. In one photo, their faces are strangely distorted.
Reiko goes to the cabin in Izu to investigate. At first, she doesn't find anything out of the ordinary until she visits the reception lobby that evening, and notices an unlabeled tape on the shelf. She watches the tape for herself, and finds that the tape shows a series of seemingly unrelated disturbing images, accompanied by a metallic screeching, with the image of an open well being the tape's final scene. At the end, she sees a mysterious reflection in the TV and receives a phone call, but only screeching sounds can be heard. Taking the threat of death seriously, Reiko leaves with the tape and enlists her ex-husband, college professor Ryūji Takayama, to investigate its origin. The next morning, Reiko asks Ryuji to take her picture, and the photo of her face comes out distorted like those of Tomoko and her friends. Ryūji watches the tape and tells her to make him a copy. While studying the tape the next day, the two find a hidden message within it of a "Towel Man" muttering the phrase "frolic in brine, goblins be thine". Ryuji eventually finds that the message is in a dialect from Izu Ōshima Island, and they learn via further investigation about Shizuko Yamamura, a local woman from Ōshima who is seen in the tape, had predicted the eruption of Mt. Miahara. Reiko later catches Yoichi watching the tape, claiming the ghost of Tomoko told him to.
Reiko and Ryūji sail for Ōshima to learn more about the history of Shizuko Yamamura. On the way, Ryuji explains that the media attention from Shizuko's predictions attracted ESP researcher Dr. Heihachiro Ikuma, who, besides conducting studies on her, had an affair with Shizuko and fathered a child with her. Shortly thereafter, a series of slanderous reports drove Shizuko to commit suicide, and Dr. Ikuma was fired by his university. That night the two stay at an inn run by Takashi, Shizuko's brother. The next morning on the island's shores, Ryūji reveals to Takashi that he knows through his mind-reading abilities that the old man exposed Shizuko to the media, hoping to make money off her. At a demonstration of Shizuko's psychic abilities held by Ikuma, a journalist who spitefully denounced her as a fraud, inciting his other colleagues to do the same, was psychokinetically killed by Shizuko's daughter, Sadako. Ryūji, who has psychic powers himself, sees the demonstration through ESP, as does Reiko; in the vision, Sadako runs up to Reiko and grabs hold of her wrist. Reiko collapses, and when Ryūji wakes her up both notice a dark bruise shaped like a hand on Reiko's wrist.
Reiko and Ryūji deduce that Sadako psionically created the cursed tape to express her fury against the world. Soon after, Reiko realizes the phone only rang at the rental cabin in Izu. After returning to the mainland through a storm on Takashi's boat, the two return to Izu and discover a well underneath said cabin. Through another vision they discover that several years after the demonstration, Dr. Ikuma bludgeoned Sadako and pushed her body into the well, where she died struggling to get out. They try to find Sadako's corpse in an attempt to appease her spirit by emptying the well of the water inside it, with the two switching places when Reiko begins to tire out. Minutes before her time runs out, Reiko discovers Sadako's corpse at the bottom of the well. Both notice that the bruise has disappeared from her wrist, and she and Ryūji return home, relieved that the curse is seemingly broken.
The next morning however, Ryūji is working at home when he suddenly hears a metallic screeching. He turns around to see that his TV has switched on by itself and is showing the image of the well from the tape's ending. The vengeful ghost of Sadako crawls from the well, out of Ryūji's TV set, and into his apartment, frightening him into a fatal state of shock. Reiko, who had been trying to call Ryūji at the time, hears his last minutes over the phone and runs to his apartment. When a policeman informs her that Ryuji's body has already been taken away, Reiko quickly realizes that she is the only one who has been freed from the curse. After trying to get information out of a devastated Mai, Reiko then finds Ryuji's copy of the tape and takes it home with her. Desperate to save Yoichi, Reiko realizes through a vision of the Towel Man that copying the tape and showing it to someone else was what saved her. Early next morning, Reiko drives to her father's house with the tapes and her VCR, telling her father in a phone call that she has a favor to ask him. The film ends as she drives into the distance, and some schoolgirls she interviewed earlier in the film talk about the rule to escape the tape's curse.
- Nanako Matsushima as Reiko Asakawa, a journalist who investigates her niece's death and finds the cursed videotape.
- Hiroyuki Sanada as Ryūji Takayama, Reiko's ex-husband, a former medical student turned university professor. He has a degree of sixth sense that detects supernatural auras.
- Rikiya Ōtaka as Yōichi Asakawa, Reiko's young son who also has a sixth sense like his father.
- Miki Nakatani as Mai Takano, Ryuji's student.
- Yuko Takeuchi as Tomoko Ōishi, Reiko's niece who watches the cursed videotape and is amongst its first victims.
- Hitomi Sato as Masami Kurahashi, Tomoko's best friend.
- Daisuke Ban as Dr. Heihachiro Ikuma, Sadako's father who threw her down a well.
- Rie Inō as Sadako Yamamura, a girl with psychic powers who was thrown down a well where she died; her spirit lived on within a videotape.
- Masako as Shizuko Yamamura, Sadako's mother. She too had psychic powers but a disastrous press demonstration led to her suicide.
- Yōichi Numata as Takashi Yamamura, Sadako's uncle who runs an inn on Oshima Island.
- Yutaka Matsushige as Yoshino, a journalist associate of Reiko.
- Katsumi Muramatsu as Kōichi Asakawa, Reiko's father.
Critics have discussed Ring's preoccupations with Japanese tradition's collision with modernity. Colette Balmain identifies, "In the figure of Sadako, Ring [utilises the] vengeful yūrei archetype of conventional Japanese horror". She argues how this traditional Japanese figure is expressed via a videotape which "embodies contemporary anxieties, in that it is technology through which the repressed past reasserts itself".
Ruth Goldberg argues that Ring expresses "ambivalence about motherhood". She reads Reiko as a mother who – due to the new potential for women's independence – neglects her "natural" role as martyred homemaker in pursuit of an independent identity, subsequently neglecting her child. Goldberg identifies a doubling effect whereby the unconscious conflicts of Reiko's family are expressed via the supernatural in the other family under Reiko's investigation.
Jay McRoy reads the ending hopefully: if the characters therapeutically understand their conflicts, they can live on. Balmain, however, is not optimistic; she reads the replication of the video as technology spreading, virus-like, throughout Japan.
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Screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi and director Hideo Nakata collaborated to work on the script after reading Suzuki's novel and watching Fuji Television's 1995 made-for-TV film, directed by Chisui Takigawa. (The broadcast version of the 1995 film was re-edited and released on home video under a new title, Ring: Kanzenban (lit. "Ring: The Complete Edition"; Nakata did not state which version of it he and Takahashi watched).
In their film script, Takashi and Nakata changed the protagonist's gender (from male to female), name (from Kazuyuki Asakawa to Reiko Asakawa), marital status (from married to divorced) and child's gender and name (from daughter Yoko to son Yoichi).
With the budget of US$1.2 million, the entire production took nine months and one week. According to director Nakata, the script and pre-production process took three or four months, shooting five weeks and post-production four months.
The special effects on the cursed videotape and some parts in the film were shot on a 35 mm film which was passed on to a laboratory in which a computer added a "grainy" effect. Extended visual effects were used in the part in which the ghost of Sadako Yamamura climbs out of the television. First, they shot the kabuki actress Rie Inoo walking backwards in a jerky, exaggerated motion. They then played the film in reverse to portray an unnatural-looking walk for Sadako.
Ring was released in Japan on January 31, 1998 where it was distributed by Toho. Upon release in Japan, Ring became the highest-grossing horror film in the country. The film was shown at the 1999 Fantasia Film Festival where it won the first place award for Best Feature in the Asian films section.
In Japan, the film earned a distribution income (rentals) of ¥1 billion in 1998, making it one of the top ten highest-grossing Japanese films of the year. The film grossed a total Japanese box office revenue of ¥1.7 billion (US$13 million).
Variety stated that Ring's "most notable success" has been in Hong Kong, where it became the biggest grosser during the first half of the year, beating popular American films such as The Matrix. On its 1999 Hong Kong release, Ring earned HK$31.2 million (US$4.03 million) during its two-month theatrical run making it Hong Kong's highest-grossing Japanese-language film. This record was later beaten by Stand By Me Doraemon in 2015. In Taiwan, where it released in 1999, the film grossed NT$50.83 million (US$1.619 million).
In France, the film sold 94,257 tickets, equivalent to an estimated gross revenue of approximately €506,160 (US$452,737). In South Korea, 56,983 tickets were sold in the capital city of Seoul, equivalent to an estimated gross revenue of approximately ₩341,970,000 ($287,656). The film also grossed $59,001 in Chile and the United Kingdom, adding up to an estimated worldwide gross revenue of approximately $19,448,394.
To coincide with its 20th anniversary, Arrow Films under their Arrow Video imprint issued a Blu-ray Disc of Ring on March 18, 2019 in the UK and Ireland. Additionally, a Blu-ray box set featuring Ring, the sequels Spiral and Ring 2, and prequel Ring 0, was also released. The transfer features a 4K resolution restoration that was scanned from the film's original camera negative. The picture grading and restoration, which took place at Imagica Labs in Tokyo, was supervised and approved by Ring cinematographer Jun'ichirō Hayashi. Both Arrow's single Blu-ray Disc and Blu-ray box set were later released in the United States and Canada on October 29, 2019, again under the transliterated title Ringu.
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The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 97% based on 38 reviews, with a weighted average of 7.5 out of 10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Ringu combines supernatural elements with anxieties about modern technology in a truly frightening and unnerving way."
Sight & Sound critic Mark Kermode praised the film's "timeless terror," with its "combination of old folk devils and contemporary moral panics" which appeal to both teen and adult audiences alike. While Adam Smith of Empire Online finds the film "throttled by its over complexity, duff plotting and a distinct lack of actual action," Kermode emphasizes that "one is inclined to conclude that it is the telling, rather than the content of the tale, that is all-important." Variety agrees that the slow pace, with "its gradual evocation of evil lying await beneath the surface of normality," is one of the film's biggest strengths. Ring was listed as the twelfth best horror film of all time by The Guardian and also picked by Stuart Heritage in the same paper as “the film that frightened me most.
Ring was ranked No. 69 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010. In the early 2010s, Time Out conducted a poll with several authors, directors, actors and critics who have worked within the horror genre to vote for their top horror films. Ring placed at number 61 on their top 100 list.
The international success of the Japanese films launched a revival of horror filmmaking in Japan that resulted in such pictures as Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 film Pulse (known as Kairo (回路, lit. "Circuit") in Japan), Takashi Shimizu's The Grudge (呪怨, Juon) (2000), Hideo Nakata's Dark Water (仄暗い水の底から, Honogurai Mizu no Soko kara, lit. "From the Depths of Dark Water"), also based on a short story by Suzuki), and Higuchinsky's Uzumaki (2000, a.k.a. Vortex, based on the Junji Ito horror manga of the same name).
Influence on Western cinema
Ring had some influence on Western cinema and gained cult status in the West.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Hollywood horror had largely been dominated by the slasher sub-genre, which relied on on-screen violence, shock tactics, and gore. Ring, whose release in Japan roughly coincided with The Blair Witch Project in the United States, helped to revitalise the genre by taking a more restrained approach to horror, leaving much of the terror to the audience's imagination. The film initiated global interest in Japanese cinema in general and Japanese horror cinema in particular, a renaissance which led to the coining of the term J-Horror in the West. This "New Asian Horror" resulted in further successful releases, such as Ju-on: The Grudge and Dark Water. In addition to Japanese productions this boom also managed to bring attention to similar films made in other East Asian nations at the same time such as South Korea (A Tale of Two Sisters) and Hong Kong (The Eye).
All of these films were later remade in English. Released in 2002, The Ring reached number 1 at the box office and grossed slightly more in Japan than the original. The original Ring grossed ¥1.7 billion in 1998, while The Ring remake grossed ¥1.75 billion in 2002.
Sequels and remake
The original sequel was Spiral, however, due to poor reception, a new sequel, Ring 2, was released in 1999 which continued the storyline of this film. Then, it was followed by a 2000 prequel, Ring 0: Birthday.
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