Directed by: #HideoNakata
Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (1998) holds a very special place in the dead and blackened void, which once held heart. For it may well have been my first foray into foreign-language film. But one thing I am sure of is that Ringu was my introduction to Japanese horror. I remember watching it one night when I was far too young and far too naive: I regularly followed the classic horror movies of old and hadn’t been scared of Jurassic Park, unlike all my friends, and so thought this made me a seasoned horror-movie veteran. I was wrong. So yeah, I didn’t get much sleep for quite a while after that. You live and learn. But it opened up a whole new and horrific world for me; the world of the Japanese ghost story. In many ways, it opened it up to the rest of the world too. It was followed shortly by the excellent Ju-on: The Grudge and Dark Water and helped to bring Japanese horror into the mainstream, and in the process, spawning a string of crap Hollywood remakes.
We should all know the story by now: a reporter investigates a mysterious, and cursed, videotape said to be linked to the deaths of anyone who watches it. Once viewed, seven days is all you get. And so, like any good investigative reporter, Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) decides to put herself into the firing line by watching it too. Her plans backfire though, when her young son, Yȏichi (Rikiya Ôtaka), also finds and views the tape. Now racing against the clock, Reiko enlists the help of ex-husband, Ryȗji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada), in a desperate race to save her son’s life.
Both Matsushima and Ôtaka are instantly likeable in the lead roles and wholly believable as mother and son; sharing brilliant chemistry. And Sanada, when he finally comes into the film, adds plenty to the proceedings and never once feels like an afterthought. But, of course, it’s Rie Ino’o as the ghostly Sadako who leaves a lasting impression in the mind of the viewer: she’s iconic; one of the most easily recognisable creatures of horror. Based on the legendary ghost of the Onryo (someone, usually a female, who’s died in the grip of intense rage, and whose spirit returns to seek vengeance on the living) and novel by Kȏji Suzuki, she’s the epitome of the classic Japanese ghost. And she’s terrifying!
While the movie has its basis in Japanese ghost mythology, it also boasts more contemporary threads of thought, one with a distinctly more feminist vibe. Predominantly, it’s an extended commentary on women surviving – or not – in a patriarchal society. Sadako’s backstory is one of tragic misfortune at the hands of men, her father among them. And there are definite parallels to be drawn between Sadako’s horrifying past and Reiko’s own experiences with male-dominated society.
No-one forgets seeing Sadako emerge from that well, or clamber out of the TV for the first time. It’s an image almost anyone can recognise, and it’s one that stays with you for years after. It’s as iconic as Giger’s bio-mechanic designs are for the Alien franchise, or Michael Myers unnerving face mask is to Halloween. And justifiably so, Ringu is a visual experience, as surely as A Quiet Place is an aural experience. The very fact Ringu can still elicit such dread from an audience, and has, even after 22-years, imprinted perpetual and terrifying imagery onto the psyche of many horror-movie veterans, speaks volumes for it’s worth as a horror classic. Ringu is one of the best and most influential Japanese horror films of all time. If you still haven’t seen it yet—what are you playing at?