Horror for the Weekend: Ring Edition
Ah, another weekend is upon us. This one’s a personal favourite, as I discovered the Ring novels and Japanese film really young and it was among the first horror franchises I really followed (back when it was shown on Channel 4 Shriek Week). Today is the sixteenth anniversary of Ring’s Japanese release, so we’re going to take a look at the titles in the franchise and make some suggestions for your viewing this weekend. There’s a lot to get through, and some of the timeline can get pretty confusing, as illustrated by this not so helpful diagram provided by Wikipedia:
This timeline is not all that helpful, or accurate – but let’s approach this logically and divide the series up.
Actually the second adaption of the novel by Koji Suzuki, this is by far the most famous. It’s one of the few subtitled horror films that people who are not massive fans of the genre will actually sit down to watch, it’s shown on Western television, it’s always near the top of these ‘Scariest Film Countdown’ shows. For an overview of what to expect from the series (although we’ll admit it gets weirder from here), you’ll want to start here. We all know the climax by now, but you might be surprised to learn that the most famous scene (yes, that one!) was not present in the novels. Even having read them, it came as a total shock the first time I saw this at around eight years old.
Here’s where things start to get confusing. Basically, the Ring novels were massively successful in Japan prior to the films being made. Asmik Ace Entertainment therefore hired two separate crews to produce Ring and its sequel Rasen, and then released both films simultaneously. The thinking was that if audiences enjoyed one movie, they would watch the other to see how the stories interconnected. Whereas people flocked to see Ring, however, Rasen quickly faded to become the black sheep of the series. It’s kind of based on the novel Spiral, though it takes a few liberties, but it has become known by Ring fandom members (yes – that’s a thing), as ‘the forgotten sequel’. In fact, it was so badly received that another sequel was released only a few years later.
Ring 2 is the film considered the true successor to the 1998 film. The original staff came back on board, however there’s a huge difference in approach between the two movies. What made the first Ring so terrifying was its mystery, how so little was known of Yamamura Sadako or the videotape she made cursed. By revealing Sadako’s origins, by attempting to explain the supernatural through scientific logic, Ring 2 removes that mystery–with the result that audience members are informed rather than scared. It’s not a bad thing if you’re goal is to work out the backstory or sit and draw complex timelines of Sadako’s life (totally not how I spend my Friday nights…*shifty*), but it’s not really a horror film. One for the more hardcore fans among us perhaps.
Right, bear with me while I explain why this one is here. With Rasen largely abandoned as part of the timeline for over a decade, Sadako 3D is considered a direct sequel to the ‘forgotten sequel’. Still with me? Rasen followed Mitsuo Andō, a pathologist, and Sadako 3D is concerned with his son – Takanori Andō, so we’ll go ahead and call it a sequel…of sorts. We’ll look at the plot in a second, but take a moment to consider this. Ring is the one franchise that actually needs to be made in 3D. There is a real, plot driven reason to have it in the third dimension – and it was in no way conceived to push up admission pricing. Screw Avatar, I want Sadako reaching out of the big screen! In terms of plot, it’s one of the weirder entries. There’s 404 messages, bizarre internet suicide videos and the involvement of an iPhone. I can only presume they wanted to update the video tape aspect of the plot, but it come off as just…odd.
Sadako 3D 2
I had no idea what was going on in the image above until I did some research. It’s strangely hard to find information for this one – a direct sequel to Sadako 3D. The odds are, you won’t be able to find it. As far as I’m aware, there’s no international DVD release. From what I have read, it seems like it was treated more as an event or attraction than an actual film – with some sort of tie-in smartphone app used to interact with the characters while in the cinema. It was marketed as a ‘Smartphone 4D’ movie, which might have been interesting to see how it worked – but it’s one of the oddities of the series.
Ring 0: Birthday
Okay, let’s attempt to decipher this. Ring 0 takes place 30 years prior to the 1998Ring, making it technically first in the timeline. However, it makes more sense to watch Ring, Ring 2 (and indeed Rasen) first. It’s the one that really enforces the mythology of the ‘second Sadako’, though it’s a slow burn compared with the previous films. Ring encyclopedia, Curse of the Ring described this one as – “Watching Ring Ø is like reading the secret diary of your worst enemy and finding out they’re not all that different from you, with fears and frailties of their own” There’s aspects that don’t really make sense in the timeline, but I’d say it’s a better film overall than the two sequels.
I wasn’t entirely sure where to put this one. The Ring Virus is first-ever joint production between Korea and Japan, with each side footing 50% of the production costs. Korean director Kim Dong-bin is said to have sought a more mysterious than horror-based tone for his version. It’s actual classification is a bit of a hot topic in the Ring fandom, but I’d class it as a remake of the 1998 version, with elements from the novel emphasised more. In truth, this isn’t totally accurate – but unless you’ve read all of the novels, seen all the movies, and mapped out Sadako’s backstory – then going into it with that attitude is probably the best way to approach it.
On the subject of remakes, here’s the one everyone’s probably seen. Walter Parkes, one of the producers for DreamWorks’ version of The Ring, told an interesting anecdote at the film’s Hollywood premiere on October 2nd: at 4:00 p.m. he and an associate watched the original Japanese film, and were so blown away by what they saw that by 7:00 p.m. that same day, they had already secured the remake rights. It’s certainly not as chilling as it’s Japanese counterpart, but compared with other US remakes of J-Horror – it’s decent. If you have no familiarity with the series or novels, it might actually be a good starting point. It does feel a little…dumbed down in comparison to other entries. The biggest gripe fans have with this one is the changing of what the ‘ring’ itself actually signifies. In this one, there is an actual physical ring which is central to the plot – with previous entries having a more abstract approach (the ring of a telephone, the neverending cycle of a virus)
This one also takes a bit of explaining. Clever internet maketing is pretty much a requirement in a film launch, but back in 2005 it was a fairly rare occurrence. In preparation for the release of The Ring 2 in the US, Dreamworks created this interesting little short to launch their viral marketing site – She is Here. It’s included in the US box set, and while the film isn’t all that remarkable, it’s the ideas and links to the campaign which make it interesting. Basically the film is about a teen subculture who view the cursed tape and see how long they can wait until their deadline before replicating it (in this case ‘rings’ being the name of the groups/clubs who undertake the challenge). Now owned by fans, She is Here presents the documents of people who take the challenge – their drawings, audio recordings and writing documenting the effect the tape had on them. It’s a cool idea, and work looking through the archive if you have time to spare this weekend.
The Ring Two
The second instalment in the US series (third if we want to count Rings), was not well received (to put it politely). But, we’ll give credit in that they came up with an original story, a branch off from the timeline, rather than a straight up remake of Ring 2 or Rasen. Hideo Nakata, director of the 1998 version, also directed this one – so I remember hopes being pretty high. No, it’s not a good film. There’s some scenes with a bathtub that make zero sense, Sadako/Samara is reduced to another cliched spooky kid (despite not being a young child at this point in the timeline – if it is a sequel to the remake of the 1998 version) There’s a bizarre subplot with a social worker that’s really out of place. If you really want to have seen them all, then check it out – but since it doesn’t fit in anywhere, you’re just as well skipping.
As a side note, there have been years of rumours surrounding another US instalment – filmed in 3D. It is supposedly a prequel to the first US remake, more closely following the events of Ring 0.
Technically this one should be first, but if you’re planning to ease yourself (or a reluctant cowardly friend) into the franchise – it’s probably not the one to start with. It was the first screen adaption of the novels – screened on Fuji Television in 1995. It’s extremely low budget, though it does stick more closely to the book than more famous adaptions. Overall – it’s hard to get through, but an interesting little piece of history. One for the hardcore fans only.
Ring: The Final Chapter
We’re really delving into the obscure stuff now. The Final Chapter was a 12 part television series which bizarrely changes the infamous seven day deadline to thirteen. It was based on the 1998 film, and the episodes all have strange long winded titles that sound like B-Movies (fans of Coffin Joe will know what we’re talking about), such as Someone Will Die When the Curse is Solved, and The Curse Was Not Lifted. The Thirteenth Day, a New Dead Person Destroys the World. Far too much is changed from the novels/films for it to fit in the timeline anywhere – another one for the enthusiast only.
Wow, we really have reached the bottom of the barrel here. Remember Rasen, the ‘forgotten sequel’ to the 1998 adaption of the novel. Well a thirteen episode series was made as a direct sequel to Rasen (still with us?) This one also has some interesting episode titles such as A Dead Person is Resurrected to a Legendary Village, and, The World Will Fall to Ruins Tomorrow. Fans particularly hate this one, mainly as a result of the treatment of Sadako’s character (who should never repent, nor strangle her victims) Many of the episodes are available on YouTube, so it’s at least pretty easy to check out if you are curious.
So movies and TV shows covered, let’s cast a brief eye over some of the other entries and where they fit in.
There are a lot of manga adaptions out there, and we’re going to take a shot at covering the main ones. Keeping in mind that there’s a lot of fan created comics, some obscure Japanese only stuff that we’re unlikely to ever get English translations for, and small comic inserts that haven’t been well documented.
Originally published in serial form by Monthly Magazine KC, this first manga incarnation of the Ring is quite faithful to the novel, featuring Asakawa Kazuyuki (not Reiko) as the lead character. While the dialogue is oftentimes inspired by or taken directly from the source, it is interesting to note that more controversial aspects of the story (the rape subplot for example), are omitted. The tiny image on the right is the only version of the cover I can find, although supposedly it was re-issued as a small, pocket sized book.
The movie tie in manga is probably the best known, and most readily available with English translation. While it was released as a film tie in, it’s actually an odd mishmash of movie, television, and novelized versions. The Ryuji in this version is clean-shaven, an obvious nod to Nagase Tomoya’s appearance in the Saishusho television series. Meanwhile, one of the images on the cursed video is of an old woman speaking in an unrecognizable dialect. In the novels, this person was Sadako’s grandmother, who uttered the phrase often translated as “Frolic in brine, goblins be thine.” Of course, this line was assigned in the film to the mysterious towel-headed man…who also appears in this manga’s version of the cursed videotape. Confused yet?
A second film tie in. Virtually nothing is known about this one.
The English version of the first film tie in is fairly easy to find in comic book stores, so is perhaps your best starting point for investigating the manga. The translation isn’t great, some of the dialogue is awkward and strange, but it’s not a bad place to start.
The film tie in for Ring 2, is considered to have the best artwork on offer. Check out a sample below.
Masami looks in terror as Sadako appears in the mental ward.
The Brussels Cut
Perhaps your weekend is still a little empty, and you feel like solving a mystery. The “Brussels Cut” of Hideo Nakata’s 1998 version is said to be an alternate version of the movie that was shown at the Brussels International Festival of Fantasy Film in 1999, for the film’s European premiere.The alleged different between the two is that in the “Brussels Cut”, the mouths of the victims are much more vertically deformed, creating a much creepier effect.
Director Hideo Nakata, when asked about the subject denied its existence, although Javier over at curseofthering.com has received multiple emails from people claiming to have seen the “Brussels Cut” through various means. There are also a few instances of people online claiming to have copies. It is still unknown if the film is indeed non-existent, or if it does exist, as so many claim, and that Hideo Nakata is trying to cover up its existence for his own unknown reasons. You probably won’t come across it this weekend – but let us know if you do!
We haven’t even begun to explore the video games, radio shows and attractions which all tie in somewhere to this complex story. But we’re guessing your weekend’s looking pretty full. Have a good one, and remember…She Never Sleeps!