I'm big on the source material for anything I review. I believe that accuracy is important, so when I decided that 2002's The Ring was a must see, I realized that I had to view the original it was remade from... Hideo Nakata's Ringu! I have to say that with or without seeing The Ring, Ringu is a great peice of psychological horror, somewhat Peerless considering that which passes for suspense in Hollywood half the time.
It's going to take me a while to unravel Ringu! For the .001% of you who are reading this review but never saw the dump truck load of previews for The Ring, both movies are about a seemingly innocuous video cassette that, once viewed kills each viewer within seven days. The key to surviving the curse of the tape is a mystery that character and audience alike fight to figure out before the clock, and the life runs out!
The film begins with just such an example. The legend of the tape has preceded it, and two young ladies are joking about it... until it's revealed that one of the two, Tomoko, knows what she's talking about, because she's seen the tape. Immediately afterward she received a phone call with no one on the other end. The legend states that those marked for death receive a call stating that they have only seven days to live (must be a contract with the William Morris agency). Like all the others, Tomoko dies in fright, her petrified body still caught in a grimace of pain and fear like mine after seeing Ethan Hawke's version of Hamlet.
Enter Tomoko's cousin Asakawa (wide eyed and beautiful Nanako Matsushima), a newspaper reporter investigating the related unexplainable deaths (of which there are many of late). Suspecting that the legend of the tape and the death of Tomoko might be related, she begins to seek out possibilities for a story. Her investigative skills lead her to a rental cabin in the woods, where the Tape is found. She watched its content (essentially an Ingmar Bergman flick with black and white imagery of a pained woman, a well out in the woods, a hooded figure by a body of water and other scenes that loosely come together into a cohesively creepy mosaic)! D'oh! Then the phone rings... Asakawa is on the slippery slope to perdition, baby!
Asakawa and her ex-husband Ryuji (with whom she has a son) go on the hunt to find the woman on the tape... meanwhile Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada) and other major characters view the tape and are infected with the timeline on their own. Oh, my! The adventure takes them across Japan, into the past and back, meeting several fascinatingly creepy people with every bit of the suspenseful countdown of an episode of 24! Beyond that... I couldn't tell you... and believe me... I haven't told you a thing yet!
I watch a lot of Foreign films, and I'm a huge fan of some of them. As with all others I can, I watched this one subtitled. Because of that, I can say that all the actors were very good. So frequently the subtitles were not needed because the expressive nature of each actor spoke for them. Like all good horror, there was no need to be bloody or over the top in its scariness. So often the fright comes from what might be, not what is spoon-fed to you as you're advised to be freaked out like a trusted high school councillor. The music (by Kenji Kawai) compliments the film as well. There are no cheesy orchestra hits here to remind you that you should be frightened. The score knows when not to play, sharing the main characters' ESP in knowing when silence is more frightening than texture. Cinematographer Junichir˘ Hayashi similarly creates an almost clausterphobic film with tight shots and sparse cuts (making the actual "Tape" seem all the more surreal with its lack of close-ups and choppy nature).
If Ringu has any flaw it is the reliance on certain supernatural conceits. At its core Ringu is a mystery, but so often the plot is jump started by the notion of ESP. If Asakawa and Ryuji hit a brick wall in their investigations, a psychic vision will move them three squares ahead to a conclusion that couldn't have been solved in only 7 days without ESP. I'll bet Mulder and Scully could have used that a few hundred times in their cases (that they never solved). Luckily, though this conceit is used quite a lot, it doesn't change the fact that the movie is full of surprises. More than once a red herring is offerred to the heroes (and the audience) and is immediately jerked away. ESP or not, no one knew for sure what was going on. In the climactic double-ending we are surprised, to say the least, but we have to wonder how these particular conclusions were reached.
Taken for all with all, I have to give Ringu Four and one half Stars! The film keeps you surprised in an artistic and thrilling tour of the surreal. While the ending is great, I liked it so much I feel a real need to watch the Sequel Ringu 2 (not to mention the American remake, Gore Verbinski's The Ring). I wonder if writing a review of Ringu will endow me with the power to ice any reader in 7 days... If so... could you get Che-Kirk Wong to read this so we never have to endure another intestinal cramp like The Big Hit again? Thank you and God bless!