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 on the run 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 critically 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 teenagers, Masami (Hitomi Satō) and Tomoko (Yūko Takeuchi), talk about a videotape recorded by a boy in Izu which is fabled to bear a curse that kills the viewer seven days after watching. Tomoko reveals that a week ago, she and three of her friends watched a weird tape and received a call after watching. Tomoko goes downstairs and witnesses her TV turn on by itself. She later hears startling noises and turns around, only to be killed by an unseen force.
Days later, Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), a reporter investigating the popularity of the video curse, discovers that her niece Tomoko, and her three other friends, mysteriously died at the same time, on the same night, with their faces twisted in fear. She also discovers that Masami became insane from witnessing Tomoko's death and is institutionalised in a mental hospital. After stumbling upon Tomoko's photos from the past week, Reiko finds that the four teenagers stayed in a rental cabin in Izu.
Reiko goes to Izu and arrives at the rented cabin, where she finds an unlabeled tape in the cabin's reception room. Watching the tape, Reiko sees a series of seemingly unrelated disturbing images. As soon as the tape is over, Reiko sees a mysterious reflection in the television and receives a phone call containing the screeching sounds from the tape. Disturbed, she flees the cabin.
Reiko enlists the help of her ex-husband, Ryūji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada). They take a picture of Reiko and find her face blurred in the photograph. Ryūji then watches the tape, despite Reiko's objections. A day later, Reiko creates a copy for Ryūji for them to study. They find a hidden message embedded within the tape saying "frolic in brine, goblins be thine". The message is in a form of dialect from Izu Ōshima Island. That night, Reiko catches her young son Yoichi watching the videotape, who claims that the ghost of Tomoko ordered him to watch it. Reiko and Ryūji sail for Ōshima and discover the history of the great psychic Shizuko Yamamura, who predicted Mount Mihara's eruption. The prediction received media attention but soon, Shizuko became the target of slanderous reports, driving her to commit suicide by leaping into Mount Mihara.
With only a day left, Reiko and Ryūji uncover that Shizuko also had a daughter named Sadako. It is revealed that Sadako's uncle, Takashi, was responsible for exposing Shizuko to the media, hoping to make money from the situation. The media attention attracted Dr. Heichachiro Ikuma, who, besides wanting to prove the existence of ESP, was also involved in a secret affair with Shizuko. Soon, Dr. Ikuma holds an ESP demonstration, with Takashi, Sadako and several journalists attending. Shizuko successfully displays her psychic abilities throughout the demonstration but one journalist spitefully denounces her as a fraud. Sadako kills the journalist and after the demonstration, Dr. Ikuma is fired, escaping the limelight with Sadako, with their whereabouts currently unknown. Reiko and Ryūji then deduce that Sadako psionically created the cursed videotape, to express her fury against the world. After an epiphany, the two go back to Izu, uncovering a well underneath the cabin. Through a vision, they discover that Dr. Ikuma murdered Sadako with a machete 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 believe that the curse is broken.
The next day Ryūji is at home and his TV switches on by itself, showing 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 via cardiac arrest. Before dying, he manages to dial Reiko's number; she hears his last minutes over the phone and realizes the videotape's curse remains unbroken. Desperate to save her son, Reiko realizes that copying the tape and showing it to someone else saved her. With a VCR and Ryūji's copy of the tape, Reiko plans to show the tape to her father, realizing that this is a never-ending cycle: The tape must always be copied and passed on to ensure the survival of the viewers.
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.
- 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.
- Rie Inō as Sadako Yamamura, the antagonist of the film. A girl with psychic powers who was thrown down a well where she died, but 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.
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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 1.2 million USD, 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. 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.
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The review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 97 percent 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, aka 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 subgenre, which relied on on-screen violence, shock tactics, and gore. Ring, whose release in Japan roughly coincided with the stylistically similar film The Blair Witch Project in the United States, helped to revitalize 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 TV series, Ring: The Final Chapter, was made, with a similiar storyline but many changes in characters and their backstories. An American remake was made, The Ring (2002).
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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.