A young pathologist seeks answers to the mysterious death of a friend and soon comes into contact with the same cursed videotape that caused the death of the friend's wife and son, which is haunted by the curse of Sadako, a relentless spirit.
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The prequel to the horror film Ringu, this movie provides the background story of how Sadako later became the vengeful murdering spirit. The story starts with her as a shy, somewhat withdrawn, college student who nonetheless gets involved in a drama club. The director thinks she has talent, but some of the other performers start to get jealous of the attention he gives her. Meanwhile, a reporter investigating Sadako's spiritualist mother thinks there's something very suspicious about the young woman, and arrives on campus to confront Sadako just as a series of strange deaths start sweeping through the drama club.Written by
Jean-Marc Rocher <email@example.com>
This film is a semi-loose adaptation of the short story Lemonheart by Koji Suzuki. In 1999, Suzuki was finishing his written sources for the Ring series by including a fourth titled Birthday which collects three short stories that filled in details of the story. Asmik Ace decided to hire Ring 2 (1999) screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi to adapt the story Lemonheart from Birthday. Birthday captured the life of the character of Sadako just before she songigned to her fate seen in the later Ring series. See more »
In one particular shot, Etsuko goes backstage for a scene in which no other person should have been present. And yet, in this scene, one can plainly see a small hand poking out from behind one of the dresses. See more »
Great ending, but probably my least favorite Ring film
Shortly after an oddly quiet young woman, Sadako Yamamura (Yukie Nakama), joins a drama troupe, strange events, including deaths with suspicious circumstances, start occurring. Is Sadako somehow connected to these events? And what does it have to do with a reporter investigating a years-old tragedy at a psychic demonstration?
Series Note: There are many different films, television series, books, comic books, etc. based on the "Ring Universe", and it's very complicated trying to sort them out. The Japanese films known as "Ring" or "Ringu" can be numbered 0 (this one), 1 (Ringu, 1998) and 2 (Ringu 2, 1999), and function well as a self-contained story. This film, Ring 0: Birthday is a prequel. I prefer watching it first, but if you want more mystery in the other films, watch them in their release order: Ringu, Ringu 2, then Ringu 0. Note that there is also a Japanese film named Rasen (aka Spiral, 1998) which was meant to be a "Ring 2", but that was later superseded with the 1999 Ringu 2. Rasen is supposedly closer to the second Ring novel, but 1999's Ringu 2 is seen as more or less the "official" Ringu sequel.
There is an infamous mock commercial from the early days of "Saturday Night Live" (1975) about a product named "Shimmer". Shimmer was notable for being both a floor wax and a dessert topping. Ring 0 has Sadako as a Shimmer-like entity. Only, instead of being just two kinds of things, she's six--a telekinetic, a psychic, a precognizant, a ghost, a psychic healer, and a physical manifestation of a split personality. The film overall has a Shimmer-like quality, too. It's both a horror film and a slow, realistic drama with romance overtones. The horror stuff generally works, although Sadako would have benefited from not having so many functions. The more serious dramatic sections, which take up almost an hour of this 90-minute film, are not quite as successful.
The script, by Hiroshi Takahashi, from a story by Ring novelist Koji Suzuki, is admirable on an artistic level. Takahashi is fond of parallelism, setting up the drama troupe's rehearsals and performance as an innocuous veil that often matches more sinister events beneath the surface. He frequently changes our perspective so that we see a stage performer scream, say, at the same time someone offstage should be screaming. These kinds of parallels can be found throughout the film.
The problem is that director Norio Tsuruta just cannot get much momentum going with the material. The dramatic rehearsals and backstage bickering that take up a large percentage of screen-time just aren't that eventful or exciting. There are glimpses, through Sadako or around her, of a more intriguing world, but they're often little more than "flashes" that might cause us to do a double take. Takahashi and Tsuruta work hard to establish a romance subplot involving a love triangle (or two), but this can barely get off the ground. It often feels superfluous.
The best material featuring Sadako in the earlier part of the film resembles something of a cross between a Hitchcockian thriller and Brian De Palma's Carrie (1976). But those are overly generous comparisons, since at least the first hour of Ring 0 has little of the suspense, style or directorial panache of either.
I would have preferred a stronger focus on Shoko Miyaji (Yoshiko Tanaka), the reporter who is trying to investigate the psychic demonstration tragedy. Her scenes, which tend to have the flavor of a police procedural with slight horror twinges, are entertaining, and a larger focus on her would have broken up play rehearsal scenes better. It would have also given the character more weight for the climax, which would have given the ending even greater impact.
As it stands, the last half hour is still the best part. We finally unravel much of the mystery behind Sadako (although there are a lot of questions that could still be answered), and gain insight into some of the events and comments in the first two-thirds of the film, which otherwise can seem cryptic (it pays to rewatch the first hour after the film is over--I enjoyed it more the second time).
There are a number of events during the climax that are breathtaking in their brutality, all nicely scripted and directed. One of these, when two characters are enigmatically killed off-screen, is a rare example of an "attack scene" where I agree that what you're not shown can be more effective than what you are shown. We get to see the event leading right up to the death, and we see the bloody aftermath. Filming how it happened would have drained much of its mystique. Another outstanding development in the climax is rooted in the relationship between two characters, and works so well because of strong cultural taboos.
While it's probably my least favorite Ring-related film, Ring 0 is worth viewing because of its place in the series and the excellent climax.
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