It’s amazing how similar the American and Japanese version of Ringu are. They both draw from Koji Suzuki’s 1991 novel, but the American version is almost an exact carbon copy, from the aesthetic of the cursed videotape, to every suspenseful beat. Don’t get me wrong, I like Gore Verbinski’s version. I like the American version’s polished effects and the fact it was set in in my beloved Seattle, but it’s the Japanese version that should be remembered. It did most of the same things better and earlier. It’s rare I’ve seen a film this scary and yet so subtle. Hideo Nakata’s version doesn’t need big effects or a big budget. The horror in his is cerebral. What’s scary isn’t necessarily what you see on screen, it’s the implication. It’s what gets stuck in your head for days after you’ve seen the film. It follows you. Just like a cursed videotape.
If you’re familiar with the American version of Ringu, I don’t need to explain the plot. If not I’ll be brief. Ringu is about a reporter named Reiko, played by Nanako Matsushima, investigating a rash of unexplained teen deaths. What do all these deaths have in common? Supposedly, all of them watched a mysterious videotape and then died seven days later. Reiko’s investigation leads her to a cabin where the tape is believed to have made its way and proceeds by watching it herself. What she sees a series of grainy, black and white images of things like a moving portrait, a stone well, and a sinister-looking dark haired girl. After viewing the tape, Reiko is contacted via telephone where a voice says, “seven days.” What follows is a race against time to stop the curse. What dark locations will this mystery take her? Who is this little girl? What does she want? It’s a fantastic mystery I don’t want to spoil for those who haven’t yet witnessed it.
Ringu led to a whole spree of Japanese ghost movies throughout the late 1990s and 2000s. A lot of them even made their way overseas in the form of crappy American remakes. It was kind of an interesting trend. Ringu wasn’t all bells and whistles, nor cheap jump scares, and yet it really spoke to people… Or should I say “screamed?” Even today its influence is present. Take this years It Follows. I completely forgot until seeing Ringu again, that the only way to remove the curse from yourself was to give it to another. This is very similar to how the curse is passed on in It Follows. What makes the idea so great is it immediately gets you thinking. You start to strategize what you would do, how you would avoid certain death. Films like Ringu engage your mind. It’s hard to believe a film like this would ever share the same video store shelf as a film like Leprechaun. And now I feel old.
Ringu may not look like much now. It’s a slow film with not a lot of huge moments, but that’s also why it’s so great. It’s not about big scares, rather the little moments. The little moments make up life. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of seeing Ringu, I highly recommend it. Just be careful you don’t recieve a mysterious late night phone call….