The Spiral Review
This review contains spoilers for the film Ringu.
Suzuki Koji's original novel Ring was the first part of a trilogy completed by the books Spiral and Loop. When Asmik Ace Entertainment decided to adapt Ring for the screen, they took the unusual step of also filming Spiral at the same time, using a different director and crew, for a simultaneous theatrical release. The theory was presumably that the audience that enjoyed one of the films would then return to see the other, but things did not go quite according to plan - whereas Hideo Nakata's Ringu was a box-office smash, Joji Iida's companion piece Spiral (Rasen) was largely ignored. In fact, Asmik Ace Entertainment later decided to ignore the film themselves when they re-hired director Hideo Nakata and screenwriter Takahashi Hiroshi to produce Ringu 2, a film whose title and plot seemed to deny the existence of the earlier sequel.
The Spiral begins with Dr Mitsuo Ando (Koichi Sato) performing an autopsy on Ryuji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada), an old friend from his medical school days and Sadako's final and most memorable victim in Ringu. Puzzled as to the cause of Takayama's death and by an apparent message for him from beyond the grave, Dr Ando decides to investigate the case further. Questioning Takayama's girlfriend, Mai Takano (Miki Nakatani), Ando eventually uncovers the mystery behind the cursed video tape responsible for the death, and eventually the exact nature and purpose of the curse itself.
In interview, Joji Iida states that he always regarded the novel Spiral as a science fiction story rather than a horror tale, and indeed his film adaptation ignores the mysticism and suspense of Ringu and replaces it instead with pseudo-science and, well, boredom. It is possible that the film's flaws are a consequence of the source novel and that its pseudo-scientific mystery narrative could never be translated effectively onto the screen, but even Ringu fanatics who are keen to further understand Sadako and her intentions will find the film struggles to keep their attention, and even when the secret of Sadako's curse is finally revealed they may find themselves wishing it had remained a mystery.
The UK DVD release of The Spiral arrives from ArtsMagic via their Eastern Cult Cinema brand. The disc is PAL format and encoded for Region 2 only.
The transfer is anamorphic, but that is where the good news ends. The image is poorly contrasted and downright murky with a level of sharpness that descends below the soft and into the realm of fuzzy. On-screen movements sometimes leave trails into the following frames, occasionally producing (unintentional) distortion of actors' faces. The layer change is also badly positioned, appearing as it does in the middle of a point-of-view shot from inside a moving car.
The Japanese Dolby Digital stereo soundtrack is functional but unimpressive. Dialogue is clear and balanced well with the score and sound effects, but the overall quality is nothing more than adequate.
The main extra is a thirty-five minute interview with director Joji Iida, in which he discusses his career and works including Sprial and Another Heaven. Although Joji Iida has some interesting things to say, his delivery is slow and the feature could have been livened up considerably if the interview footage had been liberally interspersed with footage from the films discussed.
The Previews section contains trailers for other ArtsMagic releases Evil Dead Trap, Junk and Uzumaki.
Brief but informative text biographies and filmographies are included for Joji Iida, Hinako Saeki, Hiroyuki Sanada, Koichi Sato, Miki Nakatani and Yutaka Matsuhige.
Finally, the Artwork Showreel displays sleeve designs for various ArtsMagic releases.
The Spiral is really only of interest to hardcore fans of the Ring cycle who would like to know more about the nature and purpose of Sadako's curse, anybody with only a casual interest need not apply.
The UK DVD release from ArtsMagic is a rather lacklustre effort, but is the only version available with English subtitles.