This October, we’re celebrating some of the best horror films ever made. Look out for a new classic review daily across the month on The Film Blog, as well as more special treats along the way!
Day nineteen is Ringu, the highest grossing Japanese horror ever made.
You watch the video, you die in a week.
That’s the conceit of Ringu, the Hideo Nakata thriller that became Japan’s highest grossing horror film of all time in 1998, before inspiring a string of transnational remakes. It’s a neat idea – taken from the book by Kozi Suzuki – and in this context allowed for a smart fusing of folklore and contemporary fears. Amped to the max by a chilling soundscape, Ringu takes its time but builds gradually to an iconic, heart-stopping conclusion.
Delivered to the UK as a Tartan Asia Extreme, Ringu is today preceded by a somewhat unjust reputation and hype. Contrary to claims that it stands among the scariest of all times, the film is, for the most part, best described as an investigative thriller rather than, ironically, a video nasty. Nakata masterfully toys with a back and forth of suspense and relief throughout the tale and reserves Ringu’s genuinely terrifying sting until the very end. By this point, so far stretched are our nerves that a simple jump scare might have left viewers quivering but Nakata deals a far dirtier hand with a special effect that must be seen to be believed.
The film opens with two teenagers discussing the cassette that everyone’s talking about; a video that, once viewed, is followed by a telephone call informing the watcher that they have just seven days to live. As it transpires, one of the two – Yüko Takeuchi’s Tomoko – has watched the video and is about to meet a ghastly end. Tomoko’s aunt is Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), a journalist who just happens to be investigating the story when she learns of her niece’s suspicious death. It is only when Reiko, her ex-husband and son each watch the video for themselves that she takes it seriously. But is it too late?
Styled with a noirish tint by cinematographer Jun’ichirō Hayashi, Ringu boasts a gloomy air and pervading aura of darkness. Kenji Kawai’s music is key to the building of suspense, which keeps the film going through slower stretches, mixing trembling strings, cymbals and synthetics to great effect. Complementing the score is a constant aural amplification of the every day. Nakata embraces white noise and heightens the noises of a ringing telephone and snapping polaroid to stimulate his shocks.
With a nod to Poltergeist, the film frequently milks the potential of television static to emit an unsettling display of light and disturbed splintering of sound. Emulating the video around which its plot revolves, the film gains value from a computer-implemented grain effect, so as to implicate home viewers in the curse of Sadako. Video cassettes may now have gone the way of the dinosaurs but in a world of viral clips and content sharing the concept is just as valid.
Not that such transference is really the principle thematic concern of the film. Made in an era that would soon fear a coming of ‘the millennium bug’, Ringu shrieks of the dangers of technological advancement, both culturally and psychologically. Female emancipation, it troublingly suggests, is causing a decline in parental responsibility, whilst allowing a generation to rise who spend far too long in front of the television. Like a virus, the film’s video represents new tech, which, when passed from home to home, stirs dire consequences.
What remains to be seen is whether we should watch Ringu at all. Why, asks Nakato, would one willingly experience a film that promises to scare you to death?