Could Ring have worked if it had been released at any other time? The DVD was invented in 1995, released in 1996, and within a fairly short time, video cassettes had become obsolete technology. How many of us grew up with videos containing a film and then some weird stuff from the telly accidentally recorded afterwards? For the most part, you’d get ¾ of another film and then the tape would run out just as it starts to get interesting, but occasionally…
And that is the premise that underlies Ring. Directed by Japanese horror legend Hideo Nakata and based on the novel by Kôji Suzuki. A Nondescript videotape in a holiday cabin, buried in a pile of rom coms and other overwound distorted tapes that have been watched and rewound too many times.
The tactile nature of analogue technology, where they can be wiped with a simple magnet, plays into the idea that the opposite can happen. A mysterious force can project an image and implant it onto the tape like a memory, a physical manifestation of pure energy.
It’s easy enough to wonder what would have made people watch this video? Many people would probably assume it was a blank tape. But something about this tape drew people’s attention to it, made them watch it, and tied up their fates in this local curse.
The premise is simple enough, you watch the tape, your phone rings (a landline) and a voice announces “you will die in seven days”. A journalist, Reiko (Nanako Matsushima), hears about this mysterious tape at the funeral of her niece. The girl died aged just 15 of a supposed heart attack. Her face frozen in an expression of pure terror. As Reiko investigates, she discovers a complicated multigenerational mystery that has left a curse on the land under the cabin. The ghost is strong enough that it must use any means possible to escape its confinement and release its rage.
Reiko watches the tape, the phone rings, and the clock is ticking. She races to find a way to prevent her own death. The tape itself contains amongst its strange images clues that lead Reiko to uncover a murder and a young girl who was misunderstood and maligned for having powers that those around her couldn’t understand.
On release, it was heralded as the scariest film ever made, and it started a tidal wave of releases of Japanese horror films in the west. Many of these were also remade in English (to varied success). Some from other East Asian markets also made it through, and the landscape of horror was changed by these complex terrifying stories. Something about the bright colour palette of Hollywood diminished the fear invoked by the scariest moments of this film though, and it has never really been matched in spite of a franchise that gained its last entry in 2017.
The grey tone of the film loaned itself to watching on a videotape itself, and some of that atmospheric nervousness is lost in watching it on blu-ray. That said, the mystery and the story is gripping regardless of what format you watch it on.
Not sure how Sadako would fit in a flatscreen though.