Ringu, directed by Hideo Nakata, was released in 1998 and catapulted Japanese Horror (now know as J-Horror) on the international scene.
The film opens with two teenage girls discussing a videotape one of them saw. The legend says anyone who watches this tape will die seven days later. It just so happens that it has been a week since the girl and three of her friends watched the cursed tape. The next day, all four teenagers are found dead, under mysterious circumstances. Reiko, a reporter whose niece is one of the victims, decides to investigate these strange deaths. During her research, she finds the tape and watches it. The phone rings and Reiko’s seven days begin. She must unravel the mystery of the cursed tape to save herself, helped in her quest by her ex-husband.
The opening sequence works perfectly at establishing the essence of Ringu. The premise of the film is brilliant in every way : a tape, one of the most common items found in the house, is the object through which terror is unleashed. Ringu (as well as Pulse) established the link between technology and horror, a subject which is more than relevant in today’s society. Thankfully, Ringu is a product of the 1990’s ! I cannot imagine Ringu having the same impact if the VHS was replaced by a digital file (it sure didn’t work in Rings, in my opinion).
The film is very quiet and slow-paced. It takes its time to set up the characters and develop its story. The general atmosphere is unnerving throughout the entire film. The director made the smart choice of not showing much, making you paranoid and scrutinizing the screen. Ambiance and sound rather than jump scares are what make Ringu such a creepy experience. There is a constant sense of dread and the low lights and cold colors convey a sort of sadness.
The only flaw of Ringu is the character of Ryuji (the ex-husband) who knows too much about everything. He almost ruins the mystery by solving it with such ease. You are left a bit frustrated when he reveals everything. But what permanently ruined his character for me was his psychic abilities. I thought it was completely out-of-place and an absolutely unnecessary addition to the plot.
Ringu is a very important film in cinema history and it introduced a wider audience to Japanese horror films. With no gore or jump scares but a spooky vibe that you feel even in slower parts, the film gets under your skin. I also recommend the remake which I have a new appreciation for since watching the original.