A lank-haired ghost girl, her face completely shrouded by her wet and stringy locks, crawls out of a well and then straight through a watcher’s TV set! The girl in question, of course, is Sadako Yamamura, a character who has, since her first on-screen appearance in 1998’s Ringu, become one of the most frightening creations in all of Japanese cinema. Based on the 1991 novel Ring by Koji Suzuki, the first Ring film would prove so popular that it went on to become the basis for an entire franchise; a bewildering number of interlinked projects that today comprises some eight Japanese films, a Korean film, three English-language remakes, two television series, manga, video games and more. But in today’s Shocktober column, I would like to focus on the first three connected films dealing with Sadako: Ringu, Ringu 2, and the prequel, Ringu 0: Birthday, which gives us the origin story of the Sadako phenomenon. A remarkable trilogy of films for many reasons, all three of these outings might make for perfect fare during this Shocktober season:
The 1998 Japanese thriller Ringu has turned out to be that country’s most successful horror film of all time, spawning a series of movies over there as well as here in the U.S. I have not seen the American remake, but word on the street has it that the original is the one to go with, and since I’ve seen very few remakes that could compare to their original (1941’s The Maltese Falcon being the most notable exception), I would tend to agree. I CAN tell you that Ringu is one remarkably effective modern-day ghost story. It involves a mysterious videotape that spells the death of anyone who watches it, and the beautiful journalist (Nanako Matsushima) who investigates the background of said tape. It is a fascinating, involving story, which sometimes plays out like a police procedural, but with at least a 9.7 on the Creepometer. Eerie sound effects and music constantly keep the viewer primed for shocks, and although there is no real blood or violence to speak of, there IS a constant air of menace and dread. Many scenes will remind the veteran horror fan of other classic film moments: the supplied dates (e.g., Sunday, September 5th) with accompanying gonglike noises reminiscent of The Legend of Hell House (1973); excavating under a building for the bones of a dead child, like in The Changeling (1979); and the whole “teens in jeopardy from an urban legend” setup, from everything from the Freddy Krueger movies to Candyman (1992). I’m not sure whether all the pieces hang together in Ringu, or if all our questions are answered, but I DO know that this film does indeed scare! Be sure to take the phone off the hook while watching this film; if it should happen to ring, you just might jump through the roof! And look out for that TV crawl-through scene!
A few years back, I was the 376th person on the IMDb to review the 1998 Japanese horror classic Ringu; a day later, I was #78 to review the sequel to that film, Ringu 2 (1999). This disparity in numbers surprises me, as it’s hard for me to believe that any viewer who saw the original film would not want to know more about Sadako, the lank-haired ghost girl who kills via videotape. However, although we DO learn more about this fascinating character in Ringu 2, and get some plot points cleared up, this sequel proved something of an anticlimax for me, and raised more questions than it explained. The original Ringu is a truly scary film, with great, ominous atmosphere and at least one classic horror sequence (that TV crawl-through). The sequel picks up precisely where the original left off, but is somehow not as creepy, centering on one of the minor characters of the original (the very pretty Miki Nakatani) and on police and scientific investigations into the Sadako phenomenon. The movie indulges in strangeness for the sake of strangeness, logic be damned, with the Sadako curse now affecting even those who haven’t “gone to the videotape,” and features psychic manifestations and assorted spectral mishegas thicker than a bowl of soba noodles. It’s a case of atmosphere over coherent content, but man, what atmosphere! Still, I dare anyone to explain those final 15 minutes to me, as we go back into that darn well. The movie is a fascinating one, although it sure does leave one scratching the ol’ noggin. Guess we’ll have to proceed on to Ringu 0: Birthday for some additional explication…
RINGU 0: BIRTHDAY (2000)
The original Ringu (1998) is a truly creepy, modern-day Japanese horror classic; its sequel, Ringu 2 (1999), is a sometimes confusing anticlimax of sorts, but still quite fun, nevertheless. And in Ringu 0: Birthday (2000), the prequel to the original, we get to see the face of Sadako Yamamura, heretofore mostly hidden behind long, stringy hair, and, as played by actress Yukie Nakama, it is quite a lovely face indeed. We also get to discover some of Sadako’s back story, and learn what she was up to 30 years before she began slaying via videotape. We see her as a woman of around 20, an aspiring actress in a dramatic troupe, and all seems to go well with her, until her otherworldly powers begin to manifest themselves, and her fellow thespians start to drop faster than victims of tsutsugamushi disease. Compared to Carrie White in the 1976 film Carrie, Sadako is far nastier, and just like in that earlier film, all heck breaks loose following an instigated public freakout. Ringu 0 is a fairly slow-moving film, and a surprise revelation concerning Sadako that comes halfway through is very hard to swallow. But since it effectively doubles the Sadako quotient, why quibble? Sadako is certainly a fascinating character, and the film’s final 1/2 hour does repay the slow buildup. Coming full circle (closing the ring?), the film culminates with the terrible act of attempted murder that we partially witnessed in the original Ringu, and fans of the series will perhaps understand me when I say that, um, all’s well that ends well!
So there you have it … three movies featuring one of the creepiest Japanese creations of all time, Sadako Yamamura. My advice: Grab yourself a nice cool Asahi beer or a cup of warm sake before settling down to watch these films. Trust me … you’re gonna need it! Kampai!