Japanese theatrical release poster
|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||¥1 billion (Japan)|
Ring (リング, Ringu) is a 1998 Japanese horror film directed by Hideo Nakata, based on the 1991 novel by Kôji Suzuki. The film stars Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada and Rikiya Ōtaka, and follows a reporter who is racing to investigate the mystery behind a cursed videotape that kills the viewer seven days after watching it.
Production took approximately nine months. Ring and its sequel Rasen 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 within the Ring franchise 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 also bears a curse that kills the viewer in one week. Tomoko reveals that a week ago, she and three of her friends watched a strange tape and received a call after watching. The two are interrupted by a phone call, but it turns out to only be Tomoko's mother. However, as soon as Masami returns upstairs, Tomoko witnesses her TV turn on by itself. She later hears startling noises and turns around, only to be killed by an unseen force.
Meanwhile, the same cursed video story is being investigated by Tomoko's maternal aunt; newspaper reporter Reiko Asakawa. As such, when Reiko and her young son Yoichi are at Tomoko's funeral, she discovers through an independent investigation that three of Tomoko's friends also died on the same night, with their faces twisted in fear. While investigating Tomoko's room the next day, Reiko notices a photo receipt and goes to pick up the photo copies. Looking through Tomoko's photos, Reiko finds that the four teenagers stayed in a rental cabin in Izu, and that one of the photos shows their faces are blurred. Eventually, Reiko heads off to the cabin, but not before Yoichi claims to have learned that Tomoko saw the cursed tape.
Reiko arrives at the cabin in Izu, and eventually attempts to get information from the clerk. In the process, Reiko notices an unlabeled tape on the rental shelf, and picks up the tape to see for herself. The tape shows a series of seemingly unrelated and disturbing images, accompanied by a cacophonic, metallic screeching. As the tape ends, she sees a mysterious reflection in the television and receives a phone call. However, there are only the screeching sounds from the tape. Fearing that her days are now numbered, Reiko quickly leaves the cabin with the tape.
The next morning, Reiko enlists her ex-husband, Ryūji Takayama to investigate the tape's origin. Ryuji discovers that Reiko's face is blurred in a photo, much like those of the teenagers were. Despite Reiko's objections, Ryūji watches the tape and tells her to make him a copy, which they start reviewing the next day, aside from a brief interruption from Ryuji's student Mai Tokano. Studying further, the two find a hidden message embedded within the tape saying "frolic in brine, goblins be thine". The next morning, Ryuji calls Reiko, telling her that he has found the message is in the form of a dialect from Izu Ōshima Island. Two nights later, while the two are staying with Reiko's father, Reiko catches Yoichi watching the videotape, claiming the ghost of Tomoko asked him to do so.
Reiko and Ryūji sail for Ōshima and discover the history of the great psychic Shizuko Yamamura and stay in an inn run by Takashi, Shizuko's brother. The next day, Ryūji reveals to Takashi that he knows through his clairvoyant powers that the old man exposed Shizuko to the media, hoping to make money from the situation. The media attention attracted Dr. Heihachiro Ikuma, who, besides researching ESP, had an affair with Shizuko. Dr. Ikuma held a demonstration, where Shizuko successfully displayed her psychic abilities. However, one journalist spitefully denounced her as a fraud, inciting his other colleagues to do the same. In retaliation, Shizuko's daughter, Sadako, psychokinetically killed the journalist, with his face twisted like Tomoko's and her friends. Shortly after, a series of slanderous reports drove Shizuko to commit suicide. Meanwhile, Dr. Ikuma was fired and took Sadako to an unknown location.
Reiko and Ryūji deduce that Sadako psionically created the cursed videotape to express her fury against the world. After an epiphany, the two go back to Izu and uncover a well underneath the cabin. Through a vision, they discover that Dr. Ikuma murdered Sadako and threw her body into the well. They try to find Sadako's body in an attempt to appease her spirit. Minutes before her seven days are up, Reiko finds Sadako's corpse, and they return home, relieved that the curse is seemingly broken.
The next day, however, when Ryūji is at home, his TV switches on by itself and shows the image of a well. The vengeful ghost of Sadako crawls out of the well, out of Ryūji's TV set and frightens him into a state of shock, killing him. Immediately before his death, Reiko had tried to call Ryuji; so she hears his last minutes over the phone and finds out only she is free from the curse. Desperate to save Yoichi, Reiko realizes that copying the tape and showing it to someone else was what saved her. So with a VCR, Reiko drives to her father's house, where she plans to let her son copy the tape and show it to her father. As she drives, the voices of some schoolgirls Reiko interviewed about the urban legend earlier in the film discuss this escape clause.
- 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.
- Yūko Takeuchi as Tomoko Ōishi, Reiko's niece who watches the cursed videotape and is amongst its first victims.
- Hitomi Satō as Masami Kurahashi, Tomoko's best friend.
- Daisuke Ban as Dr. Heihachiro Ikuma, Sadako's father who threw her down a well.
- Yukie Nakama as Sadako Yamamura, a girl with psychic powers who was thrown down a well where she died; her spirit lived on within a videotape.
- Rie Ino as Sadako Stunt Double
- 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 Ring: Kanzenban, Fuji Television Network's 1995 made-for-TV film, directed by Chisui Takigawa. However, the TV version was re-edited and released on VHS under a new title, Ring: Kanzenban (Ring: The Complete Edition). Nakata did not state which TV version 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 in 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 Theater actress Rie Ino'o 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.
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.
To coincide with its 20th anniversary, Arrow Films issued a Blu-ray version of Ring on March 18, 2019 in the UK. Additionally, a Blu-ray box set featuring Ring, the sequels Rasen 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 Blu-Ray restoration and the Blu-ray box set were later released in the United States on October 29, 2019.
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The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 97% based on 38 reviews, and a weighted average of 7.58 out of 10. The website's "Critics Consensus" is that the film "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 has been described as the most frightening film of all time by Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian's film critic. Ring is also listed as the twelfth best horror film of all time by The Guardian.
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 Circuit (回路, Kairo) 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, literally 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 Itō 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 Korea (A Tale of Two Sisters) and Hong Kong (The Eye).
Sequels and remake
The original sequel was Rasen, 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. A television series, Ring: The Final Chapter, was made, with a similar storyline but many changes in characters and their backstories. An American remake, The Ring, was made in 2002 .
- Galbraith IV 2008, p. 402.
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- Goldberg, Ruth (2004), 'Demons in the Family', in Planks of Reason, ed. Barry Keith Grant and Christopher Sharrett, (Scarecrow Press), pp. 370-385.
- McRoy, Jay (2007), Nightmare Japan: Contemporary Japanese Cinema (Rodopi).
- Meikle, Dennis (2005), The Ring Companion (London: Titan Books).
- "Ringu (1998)" – via www.imdb.com.
- Kermode, Mark (2011), 'Review of Ring', BFI | Sight and Sound.
- "Movie Listings 1999". Fantasia Film Festival. Archived from the original on October 6, 2001. Retrieved February 3, 2016.
- "The Ring 2". Variety. Vol. 375 no. 11. August 2, 1999.
- Ma, Kevin. "Doraemon sets box office record in Hong Kong". Film Business Asia. Archived from the original on 3 March 2016. Retrieved March 4, 2015.
- Miska, Brad (February 25, 2019). "'Ringu's Original DP Helped Restore the Japanese Classic to its Original Horrific Glory!". Bloody Disgusting. Retrieved February 26, 2019.
- "Ringu (Ring) (1998)". Rotten Tomatoes. CBS Interactive. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
- Smith, Adam (n.d.), 'Review of Ring', Empire Online.
- (1999), 'Review: The Ring', Variety Magazine.
- Ring: the film that frightened me most, The Guardian, Tuesday 21 October 2014
- Heritage, Stuart (October 22, 2010). "Ring: No 12 best horror film of all time". Retrieved September 12, 2016.
- 'The 100 Best Films of World Cinema - 69. Ringu', Empire Magazine.
- "The 100 best horror films". Time Out. Retrieved April 13, 2014.
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- Martin, Daniel (2009), 'Japan’s Blair Witch: Restraint, Maturity, and Generic Canons in the British Critical Reception of Ring', Cinema Journal 48, Number 3, Spring: 35-51.