Ringu (1998)

Director: Hideo Nakata

Starring: Matsushima Nanako, Sanada Hiroyuki, Nakatani Miki, Sato Himoti

“Frolic in brine, golbins be thine.” (proverb, Ringu)

Rumour has it that a dodgy video tape exists, one that’s even more dangerous to have in your video library than Jesus Christ: Serial Rapist. If you watch this mythical tape, you’ll be treated to five minutes of weird and creepy imagery – people crawling backwards out of the sea, moving mirrors, worms and the like – then a shot of a well in a field, ending with static.

When the tape ends the viewer gets a phone call immediately afterwards, telling them that they’ll die in seven days. Sure enough, a week later they die in a gruesome, mysterious manner. I know what you’re thinking – Blockbuster’s late return policy is getting a bit overdramatic – but the tape has actually been cursed. At least, that’s what ‘they’ say. And you know what they’re like. If you’re curious and you want to see it for yourself, here’s a YouTube link to it – but of course, you may die a week later. It’s your risk.

The Vanessa Feltz sex tape had something of a mixed response

Cynical journalist Asakawa doesn’t believe in the curse, so after her niece and her friends all die with horrific expressions on their faces a week after watching the tape she decides to investigate to find out what’s really going on.

Ringu was the film that mainly kick-started western audiences’ obsession with Asian horror, an obsession that continued with the likes of The Eye, Dark Water, The Grudge, Pulse and Shutter. It, and the other films listed, proved that big budgets and fancy CGI weren’t necessary to create a terrifying experience (of course, all the above films were later remade in the US, complete with big budgets and fancy CGI). While constant jump scenes and slasher stalking sequences saturated western horror throughout the 90s, Ringu was a quiet, atmospheric, slow-burning Yin to our typical balls-to-the-wall Yang.

This was the most engrossing episode of You've Been Framed they'd ever seen

This continues throughout the film, its key scenes messing with the viewer’s mind rather than their reflexes. When Asakawa gets hold of her niece’s photos and sees that her face and those of all her friends have been blurred – a scene reminiscent of The Omen – this simple effect, which must have taken twenty seconds in Photoshop, is truly chilling. It’s far more effective than any ‘boo’ scare (don’t worry though, ‘boo’ scare fans, there’s one in there near the start).

A group of Glasgow Rangers supporters show off their holiday snaps

Looking back, it’s likely that some of the love gushed towards Ringu at the time was mainly because horror in the west at that point was at a low point and Ringu was the first big example of how it could be done in Asia. Looking at it more than a decade later, with Asian horror very much a common part of many filmgoers’ diet, it’s easier to see Ringu for what it is – a film that, while undeniably atmospheric and chilling, could probably be told as a 45-minute TV drama. While the slow pace manages to stretch it out to 90 minutes, it may be a bit too plodding for some especially given the ‘scare them every five minutes’ strategy used by the likes of The Grudge and The Eye.

Still, perhaps that’s a little unfair, since that was never the sort of film Ringu was trying to be. As long as you don’t mind a slow burner this still tells a gripping story and the famous twist ending – assuming nobody’s spoiled it for you, and I’m deliberately not showing it in the screens for a reason – will knock you on your arse. Just bear in mind its pace isn’t for everyone.

If you live in the UK you can buy the Ringu DVD relatively cheap here or get it in a box set with Ringu 2 and Ringu O here. I’d recommend the box set if you can afford it because the first film doesn’t suffer from the dodgy white-on-white subtitles that the single DVD does. If you live in the US, you can get the single DVD here and get the box set here.

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