DirectorHideo Nakata/Joji Iida/Norio Tsuruta
Release Date(s)1998/1999/2000 (October 29, 2019)
Studio(s)Toho (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: See Below
- Video Grade: See Below
- Audio Grade: See Below
- Extras Grade: B-
- Overall Grade: B+
Spurring a Hollywood trend to remake any and all Japanese horror films from the late 1990s on through to the late 2000s, Ring (released here with its bastardized pronunciation Ringu) also influenced countless filmmakers all over the world—even though they learned the wrong lessons about what initially made J-horror so effective in the first place, which was creepy imagery set to methodically-paced sequences. Films like the original Ring, or even Pulse and Dark Water, spent more time building dread, but never told their audiences when to be frightened.
Originally based upon the novel of the same name by Koji Suzuki, Ring tells of a videotape containing odd and disturbing imagery that, according to rumor, will kill you seven days after you watch it. Investigating is Reiko (Nanako Matsushima), a journalist who is looking into the origins of the tape after her and her son Yoichi see it—later seeking the help of Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada), her ex-husband with a peculiar psychic ability. Learning that the tape is inhabited by the spirit of Sadako, a tragic but merciless spirit who seeks retribution from the grave for her unjust death, it’s now a race against the clock to appease her before they too fall prey to the curse.
Ring is obviously the crown jewel of its franchise. Despite an earlier TV movie that was more faithful to the original novel, its theatrical counterpart dethroned it in terms of popularity. It’s a solid piece of filmmaking—accessible enough to audiences that there was really never a need to remake it in the first place. It moves slowly and calmly, going more for a haunted atmosphere that gets under your skin and explores tragedy rather than relying on jump scares for cheap effect. The story is also left open-ended as to whether the curse was lifted or not, which is followed up on in the sequels.
The first of those sequels, Spiral (aka Rasen), was released in Japan on the same bill as Ring, but with a different writer and director (Joji Iida). In this entry, which was also based on the novel by Koji Suzuki, Ryuji’s surviving friend and pathologist Mitsuo Ando (Koichi Sato) learns of his unusual death through Mai (Miki Nakatani), Ryuji’s former student. Ando, still grief-stricken after the death of his young son, watches the cursed tape, later learning that the curse wasn’t lifted after all. Believing it to be more of a viral infection spreading from viewer to viewer, Ando attempts to discover how to stop it, but not before Sadako gets involved without his knowing it.
Unfortunately, none of the sequels to Ring really measure up to the original, but they all have interesting ideas that make them worth the time to see them. Spiral’s central idea that the tape’s curse is more of a sickness is, as kooky as it sounds, fascinating. However, it isn’t explored nearly enough and becomes more of an afterthought when the other elements of the story take over. The film also goes in a radical direction at the end, which is far more intriguing than anything that happens in the following two films. Whether it was the right move to make is uncertain, but as is, Spiral has more going for it in terms of originality.
Ring 2 was developed without the use of the original novelist’s involvement, and Spiral’s continuity was ignored completely, making it a one-off. In the film, the police begin searching for Reiko and Yoichi after finding the body of Ryuji. Mai, who also possesses psychic abilities, takes it upon herself to discover their whereabouts with the help of Reiko’s colleague Okazaki (Yurei Yanagi). After locating them, they realize that Yoichi’s psychic gifts have been enhanced since the death of his father. With the help of Dr. Kawajiri (Fumiyo Kohinata), they utilize Yoichi to conduct an experiment that may neutralize Sadako’s negative energy within the real world.
As evidenced by the more complex plot, Ring 2 is nowhere near as clean cut or as straightforward as its predecessor. It delves into the idea of spiritual energy in a way that is not all that interesting to watch. There’s also far too much time ponderously spent on moments and details that seems to slow plot progression. Ring 2 may continue the story in a more less pessimistic direction than Spiral, but aside from a few effective moments, it’s not as captivating.
Last in the original cycle, Ring 0: Birthday (helmed by Norio Tsuruta with a script by the original Ring scribe Hiroshi Takahashi) goes back to the beginning and tells us of the events that lead to Sadako’s death. Joining a theatre group of actors after the tragic events involving her and her dead mother, Sadako (Yukie Nakama) attempts to find normalcy, even taking a romantic liking to the troupe’s sound director, Hiroshi Toyama (Seiichi Tanabe). But her presence disrupts the group, particularly when mysterious deaths begin occurring, stirring up the interests of Akiko Miyaji (Yoshiko Tanaka), a reporter with a secret agenda.
Though going into Ring 0 is pointless aesthetically since we already know where Sadako is going to end up, the film actually manages to provide a few twists and turns along the way. It does suffer from a loathsome pace in its first half, but once the cat is out of the bag that Sadako is who she is then all bets are off. It’s certainly the least frightening of the four films, but since its focus is more on character, it can be overlooked. Prequels often get their character’s backstories wrong in one way or another, but Ring 0 is the exception to the rule. It not only takes place during an era that hasn’t been mentioned or delved into in the previous films, but it also sets up why Sadako became a vengeful spirit successfully. It wasn’t necessary, but it’s done fairly well.
The four films arrive on Blu-ray in the 3-Disc set The Ringu Collection from Arrow Video.
Ring comes to Blu-ray utilizing a 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative in the original aspect radio of 1.85:1. It’s a fantastic presentation, soaking in all the fine detail you would expect. Grain levels are refined and blacks are deep and inky, yet leaving room for shadow detail to poke through organically. The color palette is sparse, but everything is well-represented, including splashes of green in the foliage, as well as various city-bound hues. Skin tones and textures also appear genuine. Brightness and contrast levels are ideal and there are no leftover instances of dirt or debris. The image is stable and the only visual flaws are inherent.
The presentations of Spiral, Ring 2, and Ring 0: Birthday are generally the same across the board as they come sourced from existing masters. They’re not quite as sharp and refined as their predecessor, but detail still manages to come through potently. Black levels aren’t as deep and the colors aren’t as robust, though Ring 0 offers a bit more in terms of variety. Ring 0 also features moments that appear more washed out than others. There are no issues with overall brightness and contrast, nor are the presentations unstable or heavily damaged—the only leftover flaw being minor speckling. All is as it should be, but without the boost in clarity.
All four films feature audio tracks in Japanese 5.1 DTS-HD and 2.0 LPCM with optional English subtitles. Ring offers the best experiences overall, regardless of which track you choose. The film’s often subtle sound design, relying on ambience and allowing the noise of empty spaces to resonate, is in full force. It also pushes LFE activity whenever sound effects or moments of score kick in. Dialogue is clear and precise, and the only difference between the two tracks is the amount of speaker space that they share. They’re otherwise identical—the 5.1 in particular surrounding and enveloping the listener with ease. The tracks for Spiral, Ring 2, and Ring 0: Birthday are similar, but don’t offer quite as much push or surround activity. On all of the tracks, there are no instances of hiss, crackle, distortion, or dropouts.
RING (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): A/A/A
SPIRAL (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/B+/B+
RING 2 (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): C+/B+/B+
RING 0: BIRTHDAY (FILM/VIDEO/AUDIO): B-/B-/B+
The following extras are included on each disc:
DISC ONE (RING)
- Audio Commentary with Author and Film Historian David Kalat
- The Ring Legacy Featurette (HD – 27:34)
- A Vicious Circle: Kat Ellinger on Hideo Nakata’s The Ring (HD – 21:12)
- Circumnavigating Ring (HD – 24:56)
- Sadako’s Video (SD – 0:50)
- Ring/Spiral Japanese Double Bill Trailer #1 (HD – 1:11)
- Ring/Spiral Japanese Double Bill Trailer #2 (SD – 2:03)
- Ring UK Trailer (HD – 0:53)
- Image Gallery (HD – 6 in all)
DISC TWO (RING 2/SPIRAL)
- The Psychology of Fear (SD – 25:11)
- Ring 2 UK Trailer (HD – 0:43)
- Ring 2/Shikoku Japanese Double Bill Trailer (HD – 1:28)
- Ring 2/Spiral Japanese Double Bill Trailer (HD – 1:11)
DISC THREE (RING 0: BIRTHDAY)
- Audio Commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicolas
- Spooks, Sighs and Videotape: An Essay by Jasper Sharp (HD – 37:29)
- Behind the Scenes Featurette (SD – 21:32)
- Deleted Scenes (SD – 6 in all – 7:06)
- Ring 0: Birthday Japanese Theatrical Trailer (SD – 1:25)
- Ring 0: Birthday/Isola Japanese Double Bill Trailer (HD – 1:17)
On Disc One, the audio commentary by David Kalat is dry and straightforward, but offers plenty of great information about the film. The Ring Legacy features interviews with editor/filmmaker Andrew Kasch, professor/filmmaker Rebekah McKendry, and author/journalist Alyse Wax about their exposure to the Ring series. A Vicious Circle interviews author and critic Kat Ellinger about Hideo Nakata and his career. Circumnavigating Ring is a video essay by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas about the history of the original novels and various films based upon them. Disc Two offers The Psychology of Fear, which is an archival interview with author Koji Suzuki about the series and his feelings on it. On Disc Three is Spooks, Sighs and Videotape, in which Jasper Sharp breathlessly takes us through the history of Japanese horror cinema. In addition, the behind the scenes footage offers a fly-on-the-wall look at the film while in production. The deleted scenes for Ring 0 are fairly short and add little to the final narrative.
Inside the package is a 60-page insert booklet with the essays Sadako’s Impossible Moves by Violet Lucca; Ring cast and crew information; Ringu: This Vortex of Evil Energy by Alexandria Heller-Nicholas; Spiral cast and crew information; Spiral: Out of the Loop by Jasper Sharp; Ring 2 cast and crew information; Exploring the Chaos and Technophobia in Ringu 2 by Kieran Fisher; Ring 0: Birthday cast and crew information; If I Could Be Reborn: Becoming Sadako by Kat Ellinger; restoration details for Ring; and transfer details for Spiral, Ring 2, and Ring 0: Birthday. The Blu-ray discs sit inside separate cases with reversible artwork, all of which are housed within handsome cardboard slipcase packaging.
A series that has been in need of better treatment since its inception, the Ring series has finally been given its due by Arrow Video in a handsome boxset with nice transfers and decent bonus materials. For J-horror fans, this one is a must.
– Tim Salmons