31 by 31 Challenge #16: RINGU (1998)


To this day, the enormously successful Ringu, which follows TV reporter Reiko Asakawa and her ex-husband on an investigation into the origins of a cursed videotape, holds the record for being Japan’s highest-grossing horror film of all time. It spearheaded a renaissance not only in American remakes and remarketings of J-horror, but in Japanese horror overall, affecting dozens of films that didn’t even get (yet?) American screw-ups. Sorry, I mean adaptations.

Whereas Gore Verbinski’s 2002 American version of the tale relies on mood and a slowburn and coherent narrative to induce dread and suspense, Ringu is more about inciting a kind of pervasive eeriness, something that feels much more invasive and sticky. Watching The Ring, you feel as though you might encounter Samara…one day. Watching the original, you feel as though Sadako is right there in the room with you, thinly veiled behind each and every reflective surface. In Ringu, the investigation unravels through a series of startling images, non-sequiturs, free association, and psychic intuition, all of which lead to some incredibly unsettling moments absent from the watered-down American version. Chief among these would be the far bleaker, more ambiguous ending.

The overall atmosphere in Ringu, crafted so expertly by director Hideo Nakata, is one of oppressiveness and claustrophobic gloom that comes off very personal. The loose ends are intentionally denied resolution in order to increase tension in a manner absent from the American film. Western audiences tend to like their stories wrapped up with neat little bows, and studios are hesitant to move away from that kind of closure, though this has hesitation has lessened somewhat in recent years.

In Japan, the release of the film was met with a level of hysteria akin to that of The Exorcist (1973) in the United States. There have been claims that the apartment used in the film for Reiko’s home is actually haunted.  Ringu themed tours took place in the building for years, and there is now a theme park based on the original movie, as well as two sequels, a prequel, tv series, two remakes (one American, one Korean), and a host of pan-Asian clones that are mostly formula pieces parading an endless succession of wraith-like girls in long black hair and pallid features. Of these knockoffs I’d say that One Missed Call (2003) might be the only one worth checking out for the awesome set piece during the exorcism scene.

Few films are better enjoyed on a windy October night than Ringu. It’s a psychologically chilling and spine-tingling movie that’s full of genuinely upsetting and unsettling moments and features an unmatched oppressive atmosphere that even the most jaded and seasoned horror fans will be hard pressed to deny is palpable. Happily, Ringu is far more accessible than it used to be, and the advent of the internet and online horror communities have allowed fans of the genre a chance to see what inspired the Naomi Watts remake. Throw it on when you’re in the mood for mood. You know, just give yourself about a week’s time to set things in order afterwards…


  • 5 – Totally Terrifying
  • 4 – Crazy Creepy
  • 3 – Fairly Frightening
  • 2 – Slightly Scary
  • 1 – Hardly Horror