Urban myths are as fascinating as they are daunting - even when we do discover that they are untrue, they still retain an aura of mystery around them, leaving us wondering how much of it -if any- is true and who invented them... Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) is trying to answer these questions in a documentary she is making for a Tokyo TV channel about a myth which is spreading amongst Tokyo teenagers. The myth talks about some strange TV program or video that after having been viewed kills you exactly 7 days later. Things start taking a strange turn when she discovers that her cousin and a group of her friends seem to have died on the same day at different locations. Is it all just some strange coincidence or is there some truth to this myth? Sensing a great story, she decides to research the myth in greater depth...
Ring is a marvellously well-crafted piece of horror which manages to give a new twist on this slightly predictable genre. Distilling together elements of American horror (such as Poltergeist) with traditional Japanese ghost stories, Hideo gives them both a breeze of fresh air and an unpredictability that has at times been missing from the genre. Aside from the thriller elements, the film also looks at the stark differences that have emerged in Japan over the last 50 years - the traditional Japanese way of life versus the high tech society, the strong family versus the westernised mono-parental family depicted here... Using the Alien philosophy of less-is-more, Hideo manages to increment the tension and fear through the mere power of suggestion, thus making the film remarkably gore-free. The cast serve the film well by thankfully remaining restrained and decidedly not over-the-top - a welcome change from their frantically screaming Hollywood counterparts!
Despite taking a year and a half for the film to make its way onto UK screens, it received a warm welcome from the UK press but, being a foreign language film, it never became the smash hit it was in Japan.
This is a Tartan Video release (are they not called Tartan DVD for legal reasons?). For those who are not aware of their reputation, Tartan have not been doing a good job of releasing some seminal films in the past so when I received this I was not holding my breath.
Let's start with the good points: it's anamorphic and as far as I can see it's correctly framed. That said Tartan once again have decided to go the cheap-skate way and gone for a scratchy film reel so of course we have a nice array of white spots, scratches, “cigarette burns” (for reel changes) and the usual blemishes you'd expect when you're watching an old reel of a film. There may be some people out there who enjoy that harsh cinema-like feel to the transfer but I suspect most DVD buyers are expecting a better image quality than what's on offer here. The colours seem at times a little washed out and the image lacks in crispness throughout, without much artifacting. Not too good really but watchable all the same.
The subtitles are of the burnt in variety so no way of switching them off. They are difficult to read at times especially as they are white so whenever there's a white background you're in trouble!
The sound is 2.0 stereo. Although not a 5.1 obsessive, I felt that in this instance it could have been effectively used to enhance the viewing experience - a missed opportunity I think. The sound is adequate although one can hear change of reel sound scratches which I think is quite unforgivable.
Tartan really do score points here. The menus are set against an animated background and the transitions are snippets from the film (although I recommend if you haven't seen the film before to avoid looking at them). The introduction is really stylish and reminiscent of the film - a surprising amount of effort has been put into this which seems at odds with the rest of the DVD.
We get three trailers: the original UK trailer for Ring a trailer for Ring 2 and a trailer for Audition; none of them are anamorphic but they do seem to be in pretty much the correct aspect ratio (not that I'd be that bothered if they weren't!). The other extra features are a Mark Kermode review of the film, some press quotes, a 10 photo stills gallery (looking suspiciously like mere screengrabs!) and the traditional filmographies. We are also given the possibility to view the deadly TV program - a nice touch although it's just a grab from the film itself which explains why it's not in full-screen.
This is a painfully bad release of a film that deserved much better - if this were a budget release, I might be be a bit more clement, but when you know this DVD retails for around £18, you can only recommend people to avoid this release. Sadly there are no other UK releases of this film so for those who missed it when it came out, I advise you to wait a little to see what release we may get in the EU or elsewhere in the world.
Although I realise that a great deal of the films that Tartan release are not going to sell huge amounts, they are going to be bought by people who usually care about image quality and who will eventually start avoiding them like the plague. If only Tartan invested more money into their releases, they will find more people buying them and a better return on investement. If they continue putting out poor releases like this, they're going to find that their target audience will be getting their DVDs from the US or the EU- in fact from anywhere but from them...