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).