Welcome to today’s installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be talking to creators working in horror and share and recommend various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
International audiences at the last turn of the century were inundated with titles such as The Grudge, Dark Water, Pulse and a slew of films featuring black-haired antagonists whose ghostly visages haunt the living. Whilst Hideo Nakata’s 1998 film Ring (alternately Ringu) is by no means the first J-horror film (hell, it isn’t even the first Ring adaptation), it’s certainly the most recognizable film of the subgenre. It is certainly the film most directly responsible for the subgenre’s overseas marketability and the launchpad through which most future J-horror would try and emulate. Spawning a slew of sequels, alternate follow-ups, prequels, as well as both a South Korean and popular American remake (the latter of which directed by Pirates of the Caribbean’s Gore Verbinski and starring Naomi Watts), Ring would go on to define horror cinema throughout the early aughts.
Based on the series of supernatural suspense novels by acclaimed author Koji Suzuki (oft cited as Japan’s answer to Stephen King), Ring follows a public interest reporter by the name of Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) and her professorial ex-husband Ryūji (The Wolverine’s Hiroyuki Sanada) as they begin to unravel the sordid mystery surrounding a cursed VHS tape. In what today might make for the perfect internet born urban legend, those who watch this aforementioned video tape leave an agape mouthed corpse behind seven short days later. Four students (Reiko’s niece Tomoko included), having watched the ominous tape in question, simultaneously die a week later under mysterious circumstances. As Reiko and Ryūji investigate the dubious deaths, they too watch the tape, setting in motion a ticking clock to uncover the truth behind vengeful specter Sadako Yamamura (or Samara for you American remake fans) and her somber past.
Ring was a cinematic milestone. No film since David Cronenberg’s Videodrome had so seamlessly blended horror with widespread analog technology like Ring and it’s immediate sequels. This tension filled techno-thriller surpasses it’s teal toned American retelling, which substitutes cold color correcting in place of dynamic storytelling.
The film’s two alt-sequels Rasen (aka Spiral or the “forgotten sequel,” made simultaneously alongside the first film) and Ring 2 (helmed by Nakata, Ring 98’s original director) are a bit of a step down from their lofty predecessor. Ring 2 being a somewhat formulaic sequel that trumpets style over substance whereas Rasen (a film largely lacking in style) thrusts forward more fully fleshed out characters and an utter mind-f--k of an ending. Still, both sequels remain thoroughly entertaining in their own distinct ways as Mai Takano (Miki Nakatani), Ryūji’s student and implied love interest, goes on to pull both plots forward. Both sequels appear to be something of a predecessor to the indie-horror hit It Follows, as Rasen showcases sexually transmitted supernatural terror and Ring 2 (spoilers) climaxes with a poolside spectral showdown.
The true crown jewel adorning the Japanese Ring franchise would unquestionably have to be Ring 0: Birthday. Here we the audience become privy to psychic spook Sadako before she’s left for dead in her well on the isle of Izu. During her formative years as an theater troupe understudy, the then 19-year-old Sadako ascends toward a prominent leading role leaving death, destruction and psychological ruin in her wake. Think Susperia, Black Swan and Perfect Blue. Ring 0 is, for my money, the very best this franchise has to offer. Not only does the film make the shortlist of prequels that are actually good, it’s perhaps the only prequel that actually surpasses its forebearer. To quote the ever relevant Michael Fassbender/X-Men: First Class meme, Ring 0 is simply “perfection.”
While Arrow Video’s new Ring Collection fails to include some of the lesser entries in the Ring franchise (e.g. Sadako 3D, Sadako 3D 2 and 2019’s Sadako, the latter of which featuring Hideo Nakata returning to the director’s chair), this box set remains chock-full of extras. Replete with 4K restorations from the original camera negatives, insightful audio commentary tracks from film historian David Kalat and movie critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, the isolated Sadako’s video, interviews and more. The Ring series delves deep into technological anxiety, psychological terror and good ol’ fashioned gothic thrills. This linchpin of J-horror is a must for genre fans everywhere.