Director: Hideo Nakata
Starring: Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Yuko Takeuchi, Miki Nakatani
Following the death of her niece, reporter Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) discovers that the unusual departure may have something to do with an urban legend concerning a cursed videotape that has been said to kill anyone who watches it after 7 days. When she watches the tape and finds herself under the same curse, she calls on her ex-husband Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada), a professor with a sixth sense, to help her find the cause of the curse and survive.
The first time I saw The Ring, it was from a VHS cassette that was without subtitles and from a cousin who had sent it from Japan without saying what we were watching. At the time, it was chilling; a culturally unique horror film that would not only dominate the genre for at least a decade, but would help to foster my love of Asian cinema. I’m happy to say that my recent viewing, for this review, has only helped to cement my feelings on the film; that it is not only as effective a horror film as ever, but also perhaps one of the most important Japanese films ever released.
The strength of the film is certainly in the atmospheric quality of the horror. The use of shadows, unsettling music, and simple psychological horror helps to craft a film full of dread but is light on gore and violence. The addition of a time limit, the eponymous seven days, helps to propel the film at a pace that while carefully composed, doesn’t linger needlessly on exposition. While it may seem passe going on nearly 20 years since its release, the film’s precedents and importance to the genre and indeed, Japanese film as it relates to a wider international audience is not to be questioned.
Matsushima carries the film and more than holds her own against one of my favorite actors period, Hiroyuki Sanada. She’s a vulnerable character but possesses a stronger character than most Japanese horror heroines. As her paranoia and desperation rises she really shows multiple dimensions that tend to get ignored in most horror films. Sanada is as commanding as always; serious and level-headed, he also shows a slight unhinging as the timer runs down and the prospect of losing a loved one becomes more and more likely.
A modern horror film that has more than stood the test of time, The Ring is as effective as ever in delivering chills, the supernatural, and creating a substantial and enduring mythos. Nakata, while still delivering solid Japanese horror, has never quite been able to capture the lightning in a bottle that he was able in this gem from 1998, but it perhaps speaks to the quality of the picture and the enduring completeness of the film that makes it so influential and in the process, has created one of the greatest cinematic villains ever in the iconic Sadako.