Ringu

I watched Ringu, the Japanese horror film on which The Ring is based. Like Steven Shaviro, I found the film to be “an effectively creepy horror film.” In fact, after finishing it last night around 2 AM, I double-checked my doors and saw movement behind every shadow. Having watched the American remake a few times recently, I was struck by a few of the differences between the two films (although I genuinely like and recommend both).

The Japanese film is rather minimalist (as Shaviro observes), and I enjoyed the use of black-and-white flashback to explain the cursed video. I was also surprised at how “faithful” the American film was to the plot of Ringu, while still being a much different, much “cooler,” film in the sense that it felt more self-conscious (I don’t necessarily mean that as a critique or compliment, but in the more neutral sense of “hipness” or “stylishness”). Both films also negotiate narrative closure in remarkably similar ways (although that may be due to the constraints of the horror film genre).

The Ring also attempted a more explicit commentary on a media system that preys on other people’s emotional pain, especially through the implicit critique of the Naomi Watts character, who initially sees the mysterious deaths as nothing but a headline story. The American remake mines the European-American avant-garde for most of the images in the murderous videotape, and of course it more explicitly plays out the supposed attenuation of the traditional American family.

There are a few things I’m still trying to sort out: I’m struck by the fact that the American film is made in 2002, after the DVD revolution, while Ringu was made in 1998 before DVD players were nearly as commonplace. In the American film, when the hotel clerk mentions that his cabins have VCRs, it almost sounds quaint or obsolete, and the old, discarded videotapes in the hotel clerk’s collection reinforce that observation. There’s something specific about the materiality of the videotape that appears to be significant here in the American film, while in Ringu, the videotape seems closer to a “return of the repressed,” emphasizing the revival of a forgotten past (the emphasis on specific haunted locations might reinforce this thesis).

The other significant moment, to my mind, would be the use of photography. In both films, photographs play a key evidentiary role in showing which people have seen the videotape. After a person sees the tape, her face is blurred in all future photographs (it also seems crucial that in the Japanese film, the main characters test this hypothesis with a Polaroid). I’m still thinking through the precise problem that The Ring opens up, and I do think that electronic media create the conditions of possibility for the videotape, although the matreial tape itself (the hard plastic casing, the fragile tape inside) seems important, especially in the American film (in which Naomi Watts tosses the tape into a fireplace and burns it).

15 Comments »

  1. weez Said,

    October 19, 2003 @ 10:04 pm

    I’m intrigued by your descriptions of both movies…as a horror movie light-weight (couldn’t shower with the curtain drawn for a year after Psycho), but still a great fan of well-done film (Kubric’s The Shining transcends my squeam factor) – should I see these?

  2. chuck Said,

    October 19, 2003 @ 10:45 pm

    I don’t think they’ll inspire too much squeamishness, especially the American version, but I wouldn’t advise watching them alone after midnight. To be honest, I’m not a very good judge (in terms of squeamishness) because horror films usually don’t affect me much. Other opinions?

    “Ringu,” especially is a well-made film and worth seeing. The pacing and atmosphere of the film are fantastic. I was a sucker for “The Ring” because it pushes all the right film-theory buttons, but reviews of it have been pretty mixed, but I think it’s a solid film. Again, the atmosphere (although significantly different) was very interesting.

  3. weez Said,

    October 19, 2003 @ 11:11 pm

    Will check it out.

    During the day,
    under a blanket.

  4. Jason Said,

    October 20, 2003 @ 11:57 am

    Chuck, Does _Ringu_ have the somewhat explicit tone of a “chain letter/e-mail” like _The Ring_ does?

    Chain e-mails, with their “pass this along or suffer the consequences” can sometimes be outright ferocious. Your connection of Watts’ character (and the news media)- with their unfeeling attachment to the Next Big Thing (Next Big Meme?) was striking to me in comparison. I had never really thought of those two things – media outlets and chain letters – in quite such close proximity.

  5. chuck Said,

    October 20, 2003 @ 12:06 pm

    That’s a pretty apt comparison. In the Japanese version, it explicitly explains that the journalist is spared because she shows the tape to someone (her ex-husband), and the film further suggests that she will show the tape to her father in order to save her son who watches the tape by accident.

    This observation about chain e-mails makes Shaviro’s comparison between _Ringu_ and Chuck Palahniuk’s _Lullaby_ even more powerful.

  6. chuck Said,

    October 20, 2003 @ 12:49 pm

    By the way, there *is* another horror film that pursues a similar premise (in this case a “killer” website), _fear.dot.com._ I don’t know much about it, other than the fact that it was apparently disappointing. In this case, the haunting presence is explicitly identified with the web.

  7. Brittney Said,

    November 24, 2003 @ 3:23 pm

    I have never seen this movie but i am going to because i am in a film studies class and we are going to watch it>

  8. chuck Said,

    November 24, 2003 @ 5:12 pm

    If you get a chance, let me know what you think of the film. I’m glad to hear that people are teaching it.

  9. celeste Said,

    December 13, 2003 @ 2:41 pm

    para mi el anillo la version japonesa es mejor q la americana ya q es mas original

  10. Sophie Said,

    July 6, 2007 @ 6:52 am

    I think your view on these films is really interesting. for my film studies coursework i have chosen to compare both of these films and audience response to both, so thanks, and by the way feardotcom is absolute sh*te!!! thanks :)

  11. Chuck Said,

    July 6, 2007 @ 9:05 am

    Agreed on feardotcom. I finally saw it and it’s awful. Hope the paper goes well.

  12. Sobi Said,

    August 1, 2009 @ 5:32 pm

    Im writing about the Ring for part of my my phd thesis, which looks at alot of recent Japanese horror films. I find the aesthetic of these films interesting, and the way they create a slow creeping fear is far more effective than in their hollywood counterparts…well for me, anyway. I think these films possess a subtlety that is all too lacking in contemporary horror. thought provoking article though…specifically re: “return of the repressed”

  13. Chuck Said,

    August 1, 2009 @ 7:38 pm

    I like the Japanese films better, too, for the most part. I do think the “return of the repressed” operates in the US films, too, but it’s a different “thing” that’s being repressed in both cases.

  14. Sobi Said,

    August 2, 2009 @ 6:00 pm

    How is the “return of the repressed” more significant in these films than in horror in general? Is the different thing cultural?

  15. Sobi Said,

    August 2, 2009 @ 6:01 pm

    That is, is the different thing in U.S. and Japanese films a cultural aspect?

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