A few years before Gore Verbinski and Dreamworks hit box office gold with The Ring, Japanese filmmaker Hideo Nakata had helmed the original adaptation of Koji Suzuki's novel, Ring. Though the first film and it's three follow ups were a raging success in Asia, they remained unreleased on DVD in Region One until the Dreamworks remake hit home theaters across the continent at which point Nakata's first film was slapped on a silver platter and dubbed Ringu. Now, timed to coincide with the DVD release of The Ring Two (directed by Nakata himself of all people) Dreamworks has repackaged their domestic release of Ring (or, if you choose, Ringu but that's not the name of the movie) and bundled it with the three follow up films that are seeing release for the first time in North American on any format. Here's what viewers can expect out of the so called Ringu Anthology Of Terror…
A pretty young newspaper woman named Reiko Asakawa (played by Nanako Matsushima) has recently split up with her , Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada). Together, they have a son named Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka) and despite the fact that they're divorced, they remain on pretty good terms with one another, possibly for Yoichi's sake, possibly because they still care for one another.
Reiko becomes alerted to the bizarre death of her niece, Tomoko (Yuko Takeuchi), who investigating officers were shocked to find laying dead with an expression of absolute fear and terror burned into her face. To make matters more confusing, Tomoko's three best friends also died at the same time with similar expressions on their faces. Reiko takes it upon herself to start nosing around to find out what exactly happened to these poor kids – she is, after all, a journalist and it is in her nature to do so. As she starts investigating she gets word of a mysterious videotape that's been making the rounds that supposedly kills you one week to the second after you finish watching the thing. Reiko, after some clever detective work, manages to track the tape down and soon she sets herself down to watch it. Once she does, things start to get a little out of hand for her and Ryuji, who also gets a chance to see it. With the seven day time limit creeping up on them faster than they realize, Reiko and Ryuji will have to figure things out quickly or pay the same price that the three teenagers did before them. Who is the girl named Sadako (Rie Inou) in the tape? Why and how is she killing people? Where did she come from? There's a lot of questions they'll need to find answers to before it's too late.
The strongest of the four movies in the set, Hideo Nakata's Ring is an excellent horror movie that builds and builds and builds so expertly that it's really hard not to get pulled into the characters and their plights. Climaxing with one of the most memorably horrific set pieces in recent years, the movie is relentless in its subtle suspense. No matter how cliché some of this may seem now that the formula has been used and abused all the way from Tokyo to Hollywood a few times over now, this film holds up and it remains just as scary now as it did almost ten years ago when it was first made.
Directed and adapted for the screen by Joji Iida shortly after Nakata's film hit it big, this second entry in the set, also based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, finds Dr. Ando (Koichi Sato) doing an autopsy on his late friend's body (telling you who this 'friend' is would spoil things for those who haven't seen the first film yet). During the procedure he finds an unusual note tucked away in the man's stomach which leads him to investigate the circumstances under which he died. This, of course, brings him around to discovering the aforementioned cursed tape that is still in circulation after the events in the first movie. Ando learns of Sadako and how she has haunted the tape and also learns about the seven day window in which you have to live before being killed by the evil spirit.
To make poor Ando's life even more complicated, he's recently lost his son. He feels that his friend's ghost is leading him to make a connection between his death, his son's death and Sadako and as such he is willing to watch the tape for himself. Once he does, it all hits the fan for him and strange paranormal activity soon becomes a problem for the good man when he realizes that the ghost in the tape has got a different idea of how things are going to turn out than he does…
This one moves at a considerably slower pace than the first movie does but it is rich with atmosphere and although the scares come slowly, when they do they completely redeem the film. The story doesn't unfold all that quickly and those with a short attention span would be better served with something a little quicker but the character development, which is a big part of all the Ring films, is handled very, very well in this second film (yes, this is the second film in the series - Ring 2 is actually the third). This film also gets quite interesting when it tries to explain the curse of the tape through scientific rather than supernatural methods, which gives it a unique spot in among the rest of the films in the series which just automatically chalk it all up to a ghost. The fact that the main characters from the first film don't really return in this one probably irked a few fans here and there but this was an interesting progression of the plot from the first movie and if you're willing to try something a little different, you should enjoy this one.
Ring 2 (1999):
A year after the success of Ring and after the not so successful Rasen, Hideo Nakata got behind the camera again for another sequel, one that completely ignored and made no reference at all to the events that took place in Joji Iida's film.
In Ring 2 a woman named Mai Takano (Miki Nakatini) is investigating the strange and horrible death of her boyfriend (again, I'm not telling you who it is). Of course, as you could guess by now, she finds out about the infamous videotape that Sadako has possessed and through some smart detective work, she soon hooks up with Ryuji from the first film. As she gets to know her, the two set about trying to figure out the strange death and as they do, they find that young Yoichi is starting to develop strange paranormal abilities that mirror those that a young Sadako demonstrated before her untimely death.
Containing more scare scenes than either of the two films that came before it, this one sadly gets bogged down a little bit with too many subplots to the point where we start to become distracted from the main storyline. What does make this one interesting though is that we start to delve into Sadako's origins a bit and find out more about her history and why she does what she does, but without learning too much, therefore preserving a little bit of the mystery behind her and her ways. Again, it's well directed under Nakata's watchful eye and the pacing is quite quick, but the originality of the first one has waned a little bit in this sequel and while it certainly does have some exemplary moments of creepy horror, it isn't as strong as Ring or as interesting as Rasen Regardless, it still has enough going on to make it very much worth a watch if you dug either of its predecessors and it's a fun and frightening film in its own right.
Ring 0 - Birthday (2000):
Hideo Nakata jumped ship by the time this one came around, and the fourth and (so far) final film in the Ring series to come out of Japan was directed by Norio Tsuruta, who Asian/J-Horror fans should recognize as the man who helmed Kakashi (known in North America as Scarecrow). Rather than continue with the story of Ryuji and Yoichi, this time out the movie takes a look at Sadako's story. While elements of it were hinted at in the previous films, this time out the movie lays it all on the line and it gives us the full skinny on how a young girl became a murderous vengeful spirit haunted a videotape.
When we first meet Sadako, she's enrolled in a college drama program. She's a shy girl, kind of a social outcast, who doesn't say a lot to her fellow classmates and who more or less keeps to herself. When her teacher starts paying attention to her, claiming that she has what it takes, some of the other people in her class start to get jealous of her, leading to some tension between them all. While all of this is going on, an investigative reporter is following up on some leads he has that relate to Sadako's mother, who may or may not have supernatural abilities of her own. The more he looks into the two women, the stranger things get and eventually he gets involved in trying to solve the mysterious deaths of a group of students – all of whom are in the same drama class as Sadako.
This one is structured more like Rasen in that it builds very slowly and it starts off as more of a character piece than an out and out horror film. Sadako is actually a nice, quiet girl when we first meet her, not a horrifying monster with a penchant for murder at all. She just wants to do well in school, she doesn't want to bother anyone. Her past is a little odd though, thanks to her mother and her strange home life but she's honestly trying to put that behind her and lead a normal life. It's the fact that she's pushed by her peers that makes her start to become more aggressive, it's not a natural trait on her end – at least not at the beginning of the movie. Though it takes this one a while to get going, again like Rasen, it pays off in the end and patient horror fans should enjoy the ending which just might be the strongest of the four films in this set. This film is quite different from Ring and Ring 2 but it's no less interesting and seeing the film unfold in a completely linear fashion is a refreshing change in that at least this time out they tried to do something different. At the same time, this final chapter removes some of the mystery behind the character and although the ending is a good one, it does take some of Sadako's fear factor away once we know who she is and why she does what she does.
All four films are presented in their original theatrical aspect ratios: Ring, Rasen and Ring 0 at 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen and Ring 2 at 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen. There's little room for complaining on any of these transfers. All four films look nice and sharp with only minimal edge enhancement and line shimmering popping up here and there. No mpeg compression artifacts are present and color reproduction is top notch. The black levels are strong and deep and there's a pretty solid level of detail present in both the foreground and the background of the image for all four movies.
Ring comes with two audio options, both in Japanese – a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix and a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix. The other three films are also in their native Japanese and are treated to Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mixes only. Optional subtitles are available across the board for all four movies in English, French and Spanish and there are English closed captioning options available for each disc (except for Ring which has no such feature) as well.
All four movies sound very nice and make great use of the rear surround channels during the spookier scenes but are wise enough to tone things down when not needed – there's no audible 'filler' in these mixes, they're quite well constructed. Dialogue comes through clean and clear without any traces of hiss or distortion and the lower front end rumbles out of the subwoofer smoothly adding some punch to the scare scenes and boosting the levels of quality for the musical scores that permeate each of the four films. The subtitles are clean, clear and very easy to read and I didn't detect a single solitary typographical error in any of the features in this set.
I've got to say, for a boxed set of four films with an MSRP of $59.99, it's a little disappointing to see that there are no extra features at all included on any of these discs (aside from a couple of unrelated trailers for other Dreamworks films on the first disc). The setup menus are nice, and there's chapter selection for each and every one of them, but those don't qualify as extra features in my mind. The packaging for this set is very nice, however, with a great creepy image of Sadako crawling out of the well that sets the mood nicely without providing any real spoilers. Each of the four discs sits firmly inside the fold out that itself is housed inside a cardboard slipcase sleeve with embossed lettering on top.
While the presentation on the four films in this set is quite good and three of the four movies are great, this release is barebones. With that in mind, this is a more affordable and convenient way to check out the original Japanese films without paying import prices or needing a region free player. With that in mind, The Ringu Anthology Of Terror comes recommended, especially when you can look around and find it for forty bucks or so.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.