Japanese Cinema Series
3rd Most Influential Film:
Ringu, 1998Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Back in 1999, when Ringu had recently debuted in Asia, veteran industry magazine Variety published a review of this eerie Japanese film. At the time, the American entertainment magazine praised Ringu as well-shot and technically sound; a horror flick with the ability to ‘suspend [audiences’] disbelief in the hokey story through pure atmosphere.’ It then also suggested that, so effective was the film, that ‘in the right hands, this could have some Western legs, too.’
Well, the memorable tale of terror and tragedy, of a journalist racing against time to uncover the mysterious truth behind a cursed video tape that holds gruesome consequences for those who view it didn’t just grow legs in the West. It ended up sparking a revolutionary new genre of Japanese horror, or ‘J-Horror,’ there and across parts of Asia.
Its popularity in places like Hong Kong, where it reportedly spawned ‘Ring fever’, and South Korea has resulted in similar films being made there.
In 2002, it was entirely re-made for Hollywood audiences and is now widely credited with inspiring a new wave of successful films (and Hollywood remakes) including The Grudge (2003), Dark Water (2005) and Pulse (2006), all cementing the idea that Asia is the prime place to look for spine-tingling chills.
And of course, we mustn’t forget the most distinguishable factor of Ringu; the cringe-inducing girl from the well, who likely had a key part in the movie’s global popularity, crawling across cultures and shattering standard Western expectations of really scary horror movies.
While discussing this film, Timothy Illes, one of my chief consultants for this series, added an interesting point, describing Sadaka as ‘an icon of inexorable power from which there is simply no escape—and yet a villain for whom we have such a profound sympathy for the cruelties she endured in her life and her death.’ He also pointed out that in his opinion Ringu is also still a classic horror movie, because it’s a story that grips with its simplicity:
‘The film works because of its general restraint, allowing a steadily more oppressive mood to build toward the apparent (though false) moment of “safety” in the well, before throwing us back into the ‘real’ terror of the conclusion.’
The final terror certainly has had a long-term psychological effect on me. And today it’s made me wonder whether I’ll have to sleep with the lights on again.