I have always been a fan of Japanese films, especially the terrifying, nightmare-inducing ones. I know Halloween has long been over, but please allow me to introduce a J-Horror film for my contribution to this interesting series.
“A story is not something of this world. A real story requires a kind of magical baptism to link the world on this side with the world on the other side.” – Haruki Murakami, Sputnik Sweetheart (1999)
There’s something about Japanese literature and film that never fails to catch my attention. I couldn’t put my finger on what it is, until I read the excerpt above from renowned author Haruki Murakami. I realized there’s some truth to it; the best stories are often not of this world, and even more so when they’re tales of terror.
But unlike many implausible horror flicks, Ring, directed by Hideo Nakata and released in 1998, brings us a spooky story that seems not so far-fetched. Something that, as Murakami said above, appears to link the world on this side with the “other side.” The film is actually based on a book of the same title, penned by Koji Suzuki and published in 1991. But, let’s leave that one for the The Analogue Reader series!
Perhaps many of us are familiar with the movie’s plot: a group of friends comes across a mysterious video tape, said to bear a curse that kills the viewer within seven days. True enough, they all died a week later. The heroine comes in the form of a reporter tasked to investigate the popularity of the cursed video tape, which of course, leads her to watching it. After experiencing the tell-tale signs of the curse—receiving a phone call and seeing her face blurred in photographs—her mission is to find a way out of the gruesome fate. Yes, in seven days.
I believe that there are three elements that made Ring a potent horror flick:
- The movie’s villain, Sadako Yamamura, who appears in such an effortlessly terrifying form: dressed in white, her long, black hair covering her face. Also, she is a malevolent yet intriguing entity who kills without blood and gore—only psychic powers fueled by seething fury borne out of her mysterious past.
- The virulent nature of the curse’s medium: the video tape. Easy to watch, easy to copy, easy to pass along. Exactly the tool Sadako needed to unleash her fury to the world.
- Our society’s modern-day myths and legends which come in the form of urban legends, chain letters, and the like. Even in this time and age, they remain persuasive and supernatural.
Although it’s a relatively recent movie, Ring still enjoys cult status and remains a landmark film in the horror genre to this day, not only in its home country, but also across the globe. In Japan alone, it earned 12 billion yen ($137.7 million), making it the highest grossing horror film in the country. The Asian film industry soon followed suit, flooding movie houses with similar ghost films. And thus, the J-Horror genre was born the moment Sadako stepped out of the TV screen.
Inevitably, the West took interest in the thriller and was not spared from its reign of terror, warranting an American adaptation and even several sequels. The American versions may be frightening enough for some, but when it comes to J-Horror, the original Japanese ones will always have my vote. The term “J-Horror” is a misleading one though, since the genre is no longer limited to the Japanese films, but has come to encompass the growing selection of Asian films of the same style and calibre.
You can watch the trailer below or if you want, Part 1 of the movie here!
Read more about Ring on Cinema and Globalization, World Sci-Fi Cinema, and Interview with Hideo Nakata. Also, I strongly recommend the book J-Horror: The Definitive Guide to The Ring, The Grudge and Beyond by David Kalat, which I also used to write this article.
Are you a film buff who found this article interesting? Go ahead and check out other articles from the Appreciating Films series!