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Film of the Book: Ring

Just to get this out of the way: I'm not gonna talk about Ringu 2, The Ring 2, Rasen, Ring 0: Birthday, or any of the other films that came out of the Ring world after the original Ringu, directed by Hideo Nakata, and the American remake starring Naomi Watts. Partly because I haven't seen any of those; partly because, with the exception of Rasen, the other films follow the movie-verse set up by Nakata and aren't true adaptations of Koji Suzuki's books. (In the same vein, I won't be addressing the books beyond Ring.)

That said, let's explore the now infamous story of a girl, a well, and a videotape. . .

Title: Ring
Author: Koji Suzuki
Directors: Hideo Nakata and Gore Verbinski
Rhoda's First Taste: Verbinski's movie

Let's talk about the Fourth Wall: The term comes from the theater, which has three solid, structural walls plus the invisible fourth wall between the players and the audience. When the players either address the audience directly or give some indication that they're aware of being characters in a fictional universe, the fourth wall is broken. My favorite use of this particular trope is The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You, in which it's implied, and sometimes outright stated, that the viewer is not safe. The monsters on the screen are not contained by virtue of being fictional, and just by watching them you can potentially endanger yourself in real life.

My first encounter with this trope was in The Neverending Story, which I'll be talking about later, but The Ring is probably the most famous and effective example in horror cinema. If you're not familiar with the story, the basic conceit is this: a haunted videotape has the power to kill whoever watches it seven days after they've seen it, down to the minute. We don't know how, but several teenagers have turned up dead lately, all at the same time, all with nothing physically wrong with them other than being dead, all having watched the rumored tape exactly seven days prior.

But what everyone remembers about the movie is that iconic scene when Sadako/Samara crawls out of the television at the end. Firstly, that doesn't happen in the book. Secondly, I must give massive props to Nakata for coming up with that idea. We've had haunted objects before, and we've had characters playing with the fourth wall before, but that scene brings them together in a way that, love it or hate it, made such a lasting impression in viewers' minds that it brought J-horror to the immortal cult status it's still enjoying. This movie, along with Takashi Miike's Audition, is responsible for the massive international success of the entire subgenre, and that scene is why.

Honestly, I think the scene is a little cheap, at least compared to how Sadako kills people in the book. However, I understand why Nakata chose to do it this way. In the book, when their seven days are up, the people who have watched Sadako's tape don't get a visitation from her ghost. What happens is they're suddenly forced to face their own mortality: the years they have left roll out before them so fast it's overwhelming, and their hearts stop in a fit of nihilistic despair. Now, I love that concept, but it's way too philosophical to depict in any striking way on camera. How would you even film that? You can't. So instead we have a little girl crawling out of the TV. Which is creepy and weird enough that it freaks people out in a new, exciting way and makes them go, "This is awesome!" So, well done.

However, it's still much cheaper than what happens in the book. Also, it's hard to work out exactly how Sadako/Samara kills in the movies. She breaks the fourth wall, gives the Evil Eye to whoever is in the room, and then . . . what? How does that kill them? It looks damn cool, but it's confusing.

The bulk of the story itself is taken up by an intrepid reporter--Reiko/Rachel in the movies, Asakawa in the book--trying to track down the origins of the tape and get some answers as to why all this is happening. With the help of Noah/Ryuji (ex-lover in the movies, good buddy in the book), s/he uncovers a lot about Sadako/Samara's childhood and background, but ultimately this leads in a huge circle that brings them back to where they started. The Japanese movie is a much closer adaptation than the American one, and the main difference between the two is how quickly our protagonists accept that supernatural forces are at work here. Ryuji isn't a skeptic--in fact, he's an urban mystic who uses his own connection to the spiritual world as a tool to help uncover a lot of clues.

The main thing both movies have in common that did not come from the books--apart from the ending, which I already mentioned--is changing the main character from a man to a woman, and making her connection to Ryuji/Noah that of an ex-lover, as opposed to just a buddy. I'm not sure why they did this, because it doesn't change the narrative much at all. Our intrepid reporter still has a niece who was killed by the cursed tape and that gives him/her a personal interest in the story, and later on his/her child watches the tape and this rushes the investigation forward with greater urgency, and ultimately we wind up at the well where Sadako/Samara's remains are--all that's the same. So what's the point in changing the relationship between the reporter character and Ryuji? My best guess is it adds a layer of human drama and conflict. They had a romantic connection, said connection was lost, they have to put aside their differences to work together, a connection is reforged, and then BAM!--somebody dies. It pulls on the heartstrings just a little bit more. For what it's worth, I'm not a huge fan of this kind of plot change. But as I said, it doesn't really change the story that much.

Overall, I do like the book better. But honestly? What I like isn't that first book by itself, but the saga as a whole. It's one of my favorite horror franchises of all time, and I don't know that it would've reached that status if I hadn't had the strength of will to finish the entire series. However, I do still have a lot of affection for the American version of the movie, simply because it was the first one to introduce me to this particular universe.