Hideo Nakata’s original 1998 Japanese thriller Ringu not only inspired two sequels, a prequel and a television spin-off, but a decent American re-make starring Naomi Watts called, rather surprisingly, The Ring. He’s also just completed The Ring Two with Naomi Watts reprising her earlier role. Ringu of course remains the original point of reference, with its superior sense of unnerving tension, expertly handled by Nakata. His unhurried, perfectly calm mise en scene underlies the bubbling torrent of menace that gradually becomes unbearable as the central character of Reiko Asakawa, a journalist living in Tokyo, attempts to uncover the bizarre truth behind the fatal effect a video tape has on those who view it. On paper this may have appeared a rather risible pretext for a horror film, bereft as it was of any axe-wielding maniac or subterranean half-man with a fetid constitution. In fact you could argue that Ringu works largely because of its carefully constructed sound design. If you were to watch the film with the ‘mute’ button on it wouldn’t appear quite so frightening. Nevertheless, Hideo’s understanding of the horror film genre makes this a superior and influential example of its type.
A sequel was inevitable, given the success of its predecessor. However, with the failure of Hideo’s 1998 film ‘The Spiral’, the production company engaged the services of Nakata and crew to create the sequel to Ringu. The story concerns Mai Takano’s personal investigation into her boyfriend’s death, so memorably staged at the end of Ringu. Whilst not quite the equal of its predecessor, Ringu 2 nonetheless displays an equally assured command of horror film conventions as well as an understated approach that serves to unnerve the audience even further. As with many sequels, a repeat of what made the original popular is usually what’s on offer and Ringu 2 doesn’t go out of its way to break the mould. Entertaining enough, but not essential.
A new director came on board for the prequel to Ringu, the cleverly titled Ringu 0: Birthday. The film tells the story of Sadako Yamamura, a young girl who takes an interest in a local drama club (and who later becomes the avenging spirit in Ringu). Her unusual talents, and the teacher’s favouritism towards her, foster the suspicion of her fellow classmates and a journalist begins an investigation into Sadako’s strange mother. The third instalment in a film should, ideally, offer new characters with new insight and perhaps a reassessment of what made the original so successful. Unfortunately, none of those things are on display here with the filmmakers playing it safe throughout. Ringu O: Birthday is a reasonably distinguished horror film that still manages to pump up the fright factor with its well-timed editing and creative sound design.
This ultimate Ringu DVD Box set should be relished by those who buy it. Tech specs include a pristine new anamorphic transfer, correctly reproducing the director’s original vision, a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Audio and DTS Digital Surround 5.1 audio channel that should encourage you to buy that home cinema system at Argos you’ve been eyeing, original theatrical trailers, excellent film notes by Kim Newman that offer various nuggets of trivia, a better than average ‘making of’ documentary about Ringu 0, deleted scenes from Ringu 0 that were rightly left from the final film and of course Hideo Nakata’s minor gem Sleeping Bride, which is best left a surprise. The picture quality throughout the four discs is uniformly excellent, capturing dense blacks, naturalistic flesh tones, sharp and clear definition and crucially great shadow detail. The audio, as mentioned above, is wonderful, with generous lower frequencies (a staple of any horror film), shrieking trebles and undistorted, carefully separated middle frequencies. All in all, something of a must have DVD Box Set.