A.K.A. Ring Directed by Hideo Nakata 96 Minutes / VideoCD VERSION 2.0 VCD (Hong Kong) / 1.85:1 Widescreen
I first saw Ring before it caught on stateside, launched massive interest in J-Horror (or Pacific Horror in general) globally, and spawned an Americanized remake. This VCD was purchased from a trader friend when DVDs were as expensive as Blu-rays and the vast majority of horror/cult video studios we enjoy now hadn't started up yet. The guy saying he didn't care for it, but he specialized in fetish tapes and violent pinku so I took that with a grain of salt. Being all about watching the goriest extravaganzas possible at that time, Ring didn't leave an immediate impression, but my appreciation has grown vastly with repeat viewings ever since.
Frolic in brine, goblins be thine. Nakata's film, adapted from Kôji Suzuki's 1991 novel, has a quietness and modesty lacking from the explosion of similar riffs after its enormous Japanese theatrical success. There's some ghostly imagery scattered throughout, like Sadako appearing to Reiko in the TV screen after she initially views the tape, but Nakata's camera seems to detest close-ups and frames actors with plentiful dead space around them. J-Horror prides itself on said creepy visuals, but it's gotten far out-of-hand and watching a Ju-on compared to Ring is sensory overkill. A splashy cavalcade of too many cats, too much flowing hair, and hard-to-sell tactics like nakedly showing the yūrei crawling down stairs while gurgling. The old adage of too much of a good thing. It's even more frightening not to be given the expected subtle visual scares and Nakata teaches a master class in more tell than show.
The true nature of Sadako is barely touched upon. She's supposedly "a monster" that may have not had a human father. This along with her mother speaking "not a human language" during her long sittings on the seashore brings an intriguing cryptozoological angle to the girl's ghostly story. Of course, Sadako's backstory has been explained in this film's lackluster sequels, though I prefer to believe she might be a half-bred psychically endowed creature of the sea, the largest unexplored area on Earth. I get the willies every time I think of the possibilities of the black oceans referred to several times in the film, especially in the ominous opening credits.
There's two sticking points that still manage to annoy me. Ryuji has the sudden ability to see the press event that caused Sadako's mother to commit suicide merely by touching another person. The character does state he can feel the presence of apparitions, but the level of detail in the flashback is too extraordinary. Could this have screamed "forced exposition" any louder? It would have been nice to see more tension between ex-spouses Reiko and Ryuji as well. Also there's a rushed jumble of explaination in the last five minutes as to why Sadako spared Reiko from death and a terrible techno track over the credits (Kairo(Pulse) had a terrible pop song during its end credits too).
Aside from these issues, Ring stills stands as the modern Japanese horror classic it was immediately hailed as by critics and box office receipts. I also consider it easily superior to the novel.
As for the VCD, the presentation sucks, sporting an extremely murky picture and gross spelling errors in nearly every sentence. In a strange change, all of the characters have been given Chinese names in the English subtitles. I did cheat a little for this review, I got through about ten minutes of the VCD before swapping it out for Dreamwork's fantastic DVD.