Friday, May 5, 2017

A Japanese Ghost Story Lost in the 90’s, or Thoughts on Ringu リング

If you have seen The Ring (2002) but not the Japanese original Ringu (リング, 1998), fear not, what you watched was a louder, more expensive, essentially shot for shot remake in English with white people.  Coming from Naomi Watt’s Rachel Keller to Nanaoko Matsushima as TV reporter and single mom Reiko Asakawa will require some patience, subtitles and a willingness to let the story unfold at a slower, quieter pace.  The end results are the same; terror, dread and an immediate distrust of any random videotapes you may find lying about.
You know the plot elements by now; cursed videotapes, scary phone calls, twisted and contorted faces in photographs before dying of a heart attack after 7 days.  Sadako, (Samira in the remakes), crawls out of the TV screen; a transgressive image that reverses the ubiquitous window that can be found everywhere.  We stare into these screens, but Ringu asks what’s staring back at us?  And what if whatever’s behind that screen could come out and get us?  We watch the video along with the characters in the movie, we share in the curse, and we laugh at the end because it was only a movie. 
Western ghost stories were content with mere communication, rapping on tables and slamming doors, whereas Japanese ghosts were actively resentful of the living and more inclined to physical harm.  A Western ghost would remind you of life after death, an Asian ghost would do their best to pull you over to the other side.  Ringu also helped introduce the concept that a ghost could haunt a person as well as a place, no longer confined to the traditional haunted house, a Japanese ghost could follow you across oceans. 
Ringu gave rise to all those paranormal conjurings and from contemporary standards is so nostalgically analog; it’s all haunted landlines, cursed videotapes, CRT TV screens and Polaroid cameras.  Director Hideo Nakata was brought in to direct The Ring Two (2005), while the late 90’s and early 2000’s saw the birth of the modern J-horror movie with movies including Ju-on The Grudge (2003), Ichi the Killer (2001), Audition (1999), and One Missed Call (2003).  Not counting the American remakes, there are to date 3 more Ringus, none of which I have seen as apparently my tolerance for stringy-haired Japanese ghosts that live in TVs is far lower than you’d think.

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