Based on a 1991 novel by Koji Suzuki (claimed as the Japanese Stephen King) RINGU tells the story of reporter Asakawa Reiko (Nanako Matsushima), a middle-class Japanese single mother. Her latest story is the investigation of a mysterious urban legend that circulates around high schools about a tape that kills whoever watches it seven days later. She learns that five teenagers recently died from a heart attack at the exact same time, and that they were all friends who spent a vacation on a cabin resort exactly one week before. It becomes up close and personal when she finds out one of them was her recently deceased cousin Tomoko (Yuku Takeuchi.)
Reiko eventually tracks down and watches the mysterious tape, and in one of the movie's many chilling moments, receives a strange phone call confirming that the urban legend is true, an element that reminded me of the 1992's similar CANDYMAN. She finds help from her ex-husband Ryiuji (Hirouyuki Sanada), a psychic with paranormal powers (an element obviously removed from the US version). Both Reiko and Ryiuji examine the tape carefully and realize it was shot in a nearby volcanic island. With only a few days left, they travel to the island where the dark, disturbing truth remains hidden, waiting to be discovered.
Taking liberties from the infilmable novel, director Hideo Nakata (DARK WATER, CHAOS) and screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi (DON'T LOOK UP) were able to create what is perhaps one of the most impressive horror films of recent memory, challenged maybe only by the less-subliminal AUDITION. Nakata's direction already explains what makes RINGU so unique: The absence of music, limited photography, simple camera movements, and no cheap jump scares. The fear in RINGU comes from skin-deep slow burn. If you are looking for jumps, watch the American remake instead. Which brings us to the infamous RINGU vs. THE RING internet battle: A pointless one.
The 2002 remake had more technological resources and a stronger desire to freak out the audience. Director Gore Verbenski decided not to copy the original and went for a less subliminal more artsy Dario Argento dreamy approach with a Nine Inch Nails vibe and a David Fischer love for rain. While THE RING improved on the upcoming flaws of the original, it had problems of it's own. Not wanting to change the subject, let me tell you the Japanese version is the one to see. The problem is that most people who watch the recent remake will hate RINGU, and vice-versa.
Unlike THE RING, RINGU avoids CGI shocks and cheap jump scares like a plague. You won't find any suspenseful moments, chases, or any physical struggles between the cast here. While the remake scared you with fast zooms, weird camera tricks, and inhuman freaky bursts of weird noises, RINGU scares you with it's lack of... sadism. A good example are the videotapes. The videotape seen in THE RING is a Nine Inch Nails video, in a good way, with very weird supernatural images and weird gross-out quick glimpses. The original's videotape is shorter and maybe even weirder. It shows you different but equally impressive images that belong to a David Lynch nightmare while a "scratching" noise is heard on the background. A noise that was unfortunately omitted in the remake. The Japanese tape can be either laughable or scary depending on the mentality of whoever watches it.
But what makes RINGU the phenomenon that it is today is the character of Yamura Sadako, who turns out to be pulling the strings. Not wanting to spoil the plot, I will just say that never since Hanniball Lacter has a character with such little screen time terrorized the audience as good. The American doppelganger Samara was badly used in the remake. While what made Sadako scary was that she was pure evil, the remake's screenwriter Ehren Kruger tried to turn her into a Batman-like repressed character that you are supposed to feel sorry for. This terribly reduces the impact of "the scene". Which leads me to "the scene" itself. If you ask anyone who watched either version what "the scene" is, they will probably know. Let me tell you that "the scene" is done much better in this version. I will go as far as saying "the scene" is hands down one of the scariest moments in cinematographic history, very close to the shower scene and the climax of DON'T LOOK NOW. The remake tried to hard with it's own "scene", adding CGI effects, quick cuts, and many other gross-out elements that the original didn't need.
But RINGU is not without it's flaws. Either the fact that I am not Asian, or maybe that I am not familiar with psychics, but the whole Ryiuji character left me wishing for more. Maybe the subtitle translation didn't make it clear enough, but I couldn't connect to that way he always had an answer to everything. Not that Sanada's performance is lacking. He steals the scene and carries out most of the movie. Remember Bruce Lee in GREEN HORNET? Maybe not, but that is Ryiuji here. And Matsushima is equally good, although she is given less to do than her American counterpart Naomi Watts. I will give credit to the US remake by eliminating the psychic subplot. I won't forgive the fact that Ryuji's American counterpart is a pointless and boring sidekick which is what ironically gives Watts her chance to shine.
RINGU is still a superior horrifying experience that you will not easily forget. Forget the sequels (RING 2), forget the spin-offs (RASEN), the rip-offs (FEARDOTCOM), or remakes (RING VIRUS and THE RING). It all rounds up to here. Be sure to watch Nakata's equally good DARK WATER, which is already getting a remake on early works. Oh, the humanity...