Hideo Nakata’s Ringu has had an interesting history. Nakata’s movie was a remake of a 1995 TV show Ringu: Kanzen-ban directed by Chisui Takigawa about a journalist who investigates the sudden deaths of four young healthy people and traces it back to a cabin and a videotape. The rather lacklustre TV series was in turn based on a trilogy of books by Koji Suzuki ( which will be released in an English translation by New York publisher Vertical in April ).

Following the success of Nakata’s Ringu there followed a 1999 movie remake, the Korean and Japanese produced Ring Virus directed by Kim Dong-bin, a well-received sequel directed by Nakata, Ringu 2, and a prequel Ringu 0 directed by Tsuruta Norio which explored the childhood of Ringu protagonist Sadako. There also exists another sequel, based on Koji Suzuki’s second book Rasen (Spiral in English), directed by Iida Jouji which was filmed at the same time as Nakata’s Ringu and released simultaneously. The dull direction meant this movie had little of the success of Nakata’s Ringu, and is probably only worth watching by Ringu completists.

And now the US remake… (We’re rightly ignoring the risible Feardotcom which used a similar theme).

The US has a poor record of taking successful movies from other countries and adapting them for an American audience. The Vanishing starring Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland had director George Sluizer destroying the memory of his own excellent Dutch film Spoorloos with a Hollywood ending and an amazing lack of shame that only money can buy. You could equally point to Bridget Fonda in Point of No Return (also known as Assassin) which was a weak translation of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita, and the disappointing Abre los Ojos remake, Vanilla Sky, with Tom Cruise.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Although Preshaa will disagree with me, I thought that Chris Nolan’s Insomnia was a worthy update to the 1997 Norwegian movie of the same name and John Sturges’ classic western The Magnificent Seven starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughan and Charles Bronson is a stirring remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai).

Gore Verbinski, who narrowly missed out on directing Catch Me If You Can, was given the task of bringing Nakata’s Ringu to a Western audience. When I heard of the remake, I was gripped with a fear that it would be turned into a post-Scream teenager horror flick, stripped of its chilling undercurrents in exchange for cheap shocks. A quick look at Verbinski’s back catalogue provided little in the way of clues: The Mexican and Mouse Hunt were well crafted, but gave no indication of what Verbinski would do with a Japanese horror movie.

The plot roughly follows that of Nakata’s Ringu, taking some scenes and inspiration from Ringu 2, but deviating in some key areas to make this less of a remake and more of an inspired by. The Ring kicks off in the same way with two young teenagers trying to spook each other out with tale of a mysterious video that kills whoever watches it after a week. It transpires that one of the young girls actually did watch the video seven days previously and she dies with a look of absolute terror on her face.

This death, and the deaths of the three other teenagers who watched the video, catches the attention of a reporter Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) who is the dead teen’s aunt. her investigations leads her to a remote holiday cabin where she manages to watch the video.

The video, which is like watching a Salvador Dalí and Luis Buñuel collaboration such as Un Chien Andalou in fast forward, is full of creepy, grainy images. Some of these have been culled from Ringu such as a well and a moving mirror, whilst most are new additions in the same vein: mysterious chairs, ladders against walls, dead horses on a beach, someone falling off a cliff and so on.

At the end of the short video Rachel gets a phone call and a child’s voice says “seven days”. Convinced that this is no hoax and that she only has a week to live, Rachel frantically tries to get to the bottom of the mystery. When her young son, Aiden (David Dorfman), accidentally watches the video she calls on the help of her former boyfriend Noah (Martin Henderson) and becomes desperate.

The video seems to be tied up with the death of a young girl called Samara (Daveigh Chase) who seemed to have supernatural powers and was subjected to scientific investigation. Rachel tracks down Samara’s father who is not interested in hearing about the video, but matters start spiralling out of control as the seventh day draws closer.

Verbinski has not played the movie for laughs or cheap thrills, and the tone of the movie is a good match for the Japanese original. In some respects, I prefer The Ring to Ringu, such as the more even pacing and the introduction of the horse theme, but in many ways Nakata’s movie is better. There’s been a greater attempt to explain things in The Ring, which answer some of the seeming plot holes in Ringu, but Nakata prefers to invoke a sense of mystery and leaves more to the imagination.

Sadako Yamamura (Rie Inou), the Japanese version of Samara Morgan, is a much more chilling apparition in Ringu than she is The Ring, and the jerky unnatural movements she makes (created by filming Rie backwards) are genuinely unsettling.

With The Ring, I got more of a sense of lost childhood than I did with Ringu, and I saw links between the sadness of Aiden, who lives with his seemingly workaholic mother and has little in the way of contact with his father. Aiden desires a stable family life, perhaps the kind of life Samara wanted until it was snatched away from her.

Fans of Ringu will be intrigued by The Ring, and hopefully they’ll come to see it as an interesting new take on the story that compliments rather than replaces Nakata’s movie. The Japanese version has already blossomed into a successful franchise (if a little contradictory and uncoordinated) and differences in the fundamental story of Samara could mean that the US franchise will take off in totally new directions.

If you’ve never seen Ringu, the biggest obstacle in the film is accepting the premise that after watching Samara’s video you will die seven days later, unless you discover the not-particularly-well-explained way to stay alive. But Verbinski’s cold atmosphere and startling imagery will help you suspend your disbelief and draw you into a nightmarish story of a vengeful ghost.

My advice: see both movies and don’t answer the phone.

The Ring (2003)
Dir. Gore Verbinski
Stars: Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson, David Dorfman, Brian Cox, Daveigh Chase
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Drama

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