Dir. Chisui Takigawa
Anyone reading this may have an inkling of knowledge on film called Ring or Ringu, about a cursed videotape where, after watching it, you'll die seven days later. Those who don't, don't worry it'll be explained. Ringu/Ring (1998), (I prefer the original Japanese title Ringu, not out of hipsterism, but because of how I like the sound of it for a horror film title), is one of the most important horror films of the nineties. From director Hideo Nakata, it had a profound influence on where Japanese horror cinema, not all of it but the mainstream cinema, would lead to, of ghostly apparitions from folklore and older films given a new breath of life. And it's been a profound influence on Hollywood as well, as they saw films like this and thought they could have a slice of the pie, remaking Ringu as The Ring (2002) with Naomi Watts. Most people off the street will likely think of the American version first, which I don't mind, as having not seen it for over ten years since it first came out, I need to actually watch the film again. And as this review attests to, my attitude to remakes has been strengthen. Once I tried getting an online petition up to stop the US remake of Let The Right One In (2008), without having actually seen it, like the dumb, over passionate young adult I was. Now, I don't care about the remakes, the only grievance I have left more to do with laziness and a waste of money rather than the concept. It's not like the old Hollywood of the forties or so that would suppress the original film, even their own older films like the season reviewed Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), merely an irritating aspect of cinema baring the few successful ones. The complaints film fans have with remakes is pointless more so when you get to non-English cinema - not just the countless rip-offs from the likes of Bollywood, but the complicated franchise that like of Ringu actually are. It has sequels, a TV series, a Korean remake, and of course the American remake series that counts as part of its DNA. And then, reading Flowers From Hell: The Modern Japanese Horror Film by Jim Harper, I learnt even Nakata's original version wasn't the first either. Originally a novel by Koji Suzuki, Harper's book talked about the true first adaptation, a 1995 TV movie. My mind was noticeably blown, which is why I'm covering the film here. I intend to write about this film as well so other film fans learn about the pointlessness of complaining about remakes when even a seminal Japanese horror film has an odd place as a remake of another film and its own mother for a bigger franchise.
The plot is the same as Nakata's Ringu, and from vague memories, the American version too, but with a male protagonist here, rather than a female character in the others, a disgraced journalist Kazuyuki Asakawa (Katsunori Takahashi), discovering the coincidence in four young people, including his niece, dying the same night as each other from heart attacks. He ends up, investigating how the four got together, seeing a cursed tape in a hotel, now doomed to die in seven days after viewing it unless he finds a way to life the curse. Instead of a husband in Nakata's version, he gets the assistance of a controversial professor in paranormal studies, Ryûji Takayama (Yoshio Harada), the one that got him knocked down to proofreading other's articles in fact, the pair investigating the origins of the tape and a young woman named Sadako Yamamura (Ayane Miura), the individual responsible for the curse. It's identical in beat to the 1998 Ringu, the same basic plot points and scenes. The difference are smaller. The first is that this is a much more faithful adaptation of the original book with additional plot points, particularly aspects about Sadako that will be touched upon later in the review.
The second is how unfathomably bland the film is. Moments of flash cinematography aside, including an upside-down camera swing clearly taken from The Evil Dead (1981), this is a very static film, which follows the dreaded stereotype I always have in my mind when the phrase "TV movie" is brought up. Very padded out in tone, lengthy conversations rife in expedition - not even interesting expedition or that which adds a gleefully convoluted sense of fun to the material - and some incredibly dated effects that, are admittedly my catnip and I pore love over, will cause other viewers to groan. There's no atmosphere, most of the film in the day in bright locations. The music is a worse offender, continuous and trying to always be exciting or intense miserably. This is so far from what the theatrical 1998 version would do; not just as a higher budget but the drastic differences - almost bleached out in terms of visuals, atonal music by Kenji Kawai and use of quietness, a slowness that is purposeful than dragging - that make it a great work. It's perverse to watch this film having seen the most acclaimed version, and see the cheaper interpretation, only available to me in a soft VHS rip, and know it came before the other just three years earlier. If one thing does amuse me about this, barring those special effects and some of the flashy camera tricks, this does at least have its own version of the cursed videotape's content, which you get to see properly after the end credits of the version I saw. All psychedelic colours, overblown and with images of volcanoes and dice. Bright colours and, within the plot, an aspect of it that bafflingly reminds me of Videodrome (1983), Brian Brian O'Blivion uttering in my head 'the television screen is the retina of the mind's eye', wondering about the fan fiction of him encountering this version's cursed videotape as I write this.
The other drastic things to this version all tie around Sadako. The first is, bizarrely, this has tinges of a pinku softcore film, with lurid sex scenes designed to pander to the male audience with female nudity. It's not a large portion of the film, the TV film released in a "hotter" version for video and laserdisc, but this is a big trait to this version that is unique. In fact one scene goes further to needing digital pixilation of gentials, as required for Japanese censorship, one up to even some theatrical pinku films in explicitness. It's all surprising to see a Ringu adaptation this steamy and scuzzball in tone when it's supposed to be about a cursed videotape and atmosphere. It's made more jarring as the centre of the titillation is Sadako herself. Yes, Sadako who is in the long lineage inspired by real mythology of long haired ghosts, whose face in the 1998 Ringu film is a horrifying close-up of her eye only and is depicted as a drowned woman with her hair covered over her face and grey skin. Here, played by Ayane Miura, the back-story added for this version of the character also includes many scenes of the actress getting her kit off. This is like there being a version of Friday of 13th where Jason Voorhees was an oiled beefcake who frequently ran around in just a thong......a mad, baffling juxtaposition, equalled in a real version by having the frightening figure of Sadako, crawling out of the well, next to her curvaceous, sexy doppelganger who we get to see frequently nude, including as the ghost version of her at the end claiming her victim. The additional plot, not able to go off the original novel for comparison, makes this even more absurd, including an eyebrow raising subplot about her openly having sex with her father. Yeah, take that in for a minute and how it's never looked down upon, something I'm just surprised about just for how blatant that later part actually is in dialogue at one point. This, the back-story, the fact Sadako is for the most part sweet and innocent, only to snap and use her psychic powers to kill, all of it is head scratching even by itself. Then there's the briefly introduced point about Sadako being a hermaphrodite, an intersex individual, for a key scene but never of importance for the narrative itself, which is from the novel and makes you realise how much an adaptation can be superior by cutting out tasteless and dumb ideas like this.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None):
For myself, it's a Low because of comparing it to the 1998 Ringu, but to be sane, it doesn't quality. It's strange, even without being compared to the known film, for all the plot it throws in with the Sadako character that is insane. It's strange for its abrupt moments of softcore sex, especially the first with an abrupt transition, originally for me presuming the main character and his wife were having a sex scene until it became clear it wasn't. I never mentioned the wife did I? Well oddly, she takes the place of the mother's son in the other Ringu, and while the way to break the curse is the same, the references to babies that happens at the end is ridiculous as well. The film is so wrought with drama yet crams into itself a positive spin on incest, the meandering tone and static dialogue, establishing shots of local Japanese villages and towns on bright days like a commercial, nineties digital effects and unexpected plot points, including one guy getting off scot free for murder, that it becomes more peculiar than it comes off originally as when you think about it.
Actually, scratch the original score, this gets a Low rating regardless.
A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
It's such a peculiar cultural artefact that it does. It's poor, and I speak as someone, revisiting Hideo Nakata's Ringu this year again, who thinks it's one of the best horror films from the last two or so decades, a simple and oppressively quiet spine tingler. It's greatest virtue is spinning what is a folklore tale through urban legends and creates a film which is great as a ghost tale but plays with the notion of how the ancient curses of our past, in a still very spiritual country, can still exist amongst technology and modern society. Ring: Kansenban was thankfully not the last we'd hear of this franchise, but now seeing it, it's poorness still doesn't mean it should be lost in obscurity. It should be preserved as a reminder that, for all the whinging about remakes and reboots, film is a mad web of adaptations and sequels especially when the films involve straight-to-video releases or TV movies. If someone had the balls to have this as a restored DVD extra for one of the Ringu films, I would buy even if it's terrible.