The Ring Trilogy Review
1998 was the year that horror started to get interesting again, with the introduction of Hideo Nakata's Ring - a film that transcended most modern day horrors and became one of the most talked about for years. Its history is a fairly rich one, having grown from a small film in Japan that was based upon a series of popular books written by Koji Suzuki, dealing with an urban myth that struck fear into school children yet remained a curiosity that was so intense it broke even the strongest willed.
After three Japanese sequels (one of which I'll get to later, that doesn't feature in this set), a television series, a Korean and USA re-make, with a further USA film coming out soon, the series' popularity continues to increase as new audiences are introduced to Hideo Nakata's horror phenomenon.
Tartan Video have re-released the original Ring Trilogy for 2004, with newly "remastered" transfers and DTS Surround Sound for this exclusive 4-disc set that features the rarely seen Sleeping Bride - Nakata's 2000 drama.
As a warning to those reading who have yet to see the films I advise you to steer clear from reading each film's synopsis as they will contain unavoidable spoilers.
Ring 1998, 91 Minutes
Starring: Matsushima Nanako, Sanada Hiroyuki, Nakatani Miki, Sato Hitomi.
Directed by Hideo Nakata.
One night two teenagers, Tomoko (Takeuchi Yuki) and Masami (Hitomi Sato) discuss a mysterious tape that carries an intriguing tale. It is said that whoever watches this tape will die within one week of seeing it. Naturally the girls laugh off the notion as such myths shouldn’t be taken seriously - or should they? Tomoko dies soon after the discussion, her face hideously frozen in the form of her last scream for help. After finding her best friend left like this, Masami goes insane and is taken to a hospital.
At Tomoko's funeral, her aunt Reiko (Matsushima Nanako) learns more about the possible reason behind Tomoko's death, having been recently investigating this latest myth and discovering many teens have been watching the much talked about tape. Not long after tracking down a copy, Reiko is cursed and knowing she only has one week to do so she must break the curse, with the help of her ex-husband, Ryuji (Sanada Hiroyuki) and learn the secrets behind the name, Sadako...
Ring is an interesting piece of work in that it doesn't heavily rely on the things that we naturally associate with horror films; for example, lashings of blood, gore and sex. Instead the film roots itself in a psychological haze, often foregoing certain plot elements and conventional horror in favour of creating a kind of tension that works because of the built up curiosity that it generates. By drawing in the viewer so that they become as tangled into the mystery as the teenagers and adults who investigate it, Nakata sets a fine example of how to psychologically torture the mind without the necessity to use obvious scare tactics that provide a cheap thrill. Ring slowly builds up, frustratingly so at times when it sinks into a more dramatic state but perseverance is the ultimate reward as by the end we witness one of the most original and chilling appearances seen in a long time, an image that is long remembered and has become something of a cult fave over the years.
It is Kenji Kawai's morbidly fascinating score that sets Ring apart from almost anything else in that its numerous, curdling sounds get right under the viewer's skin, quite literally I might add because I would be very surprised if no one else experiences goose bumps during one or two unsettling moments. The score is all about perfect timing, like any good horror it hits the right note at the right time, and does it so loudly and sometimes obnoxiously that you can't help but be bowled over by its creativity and lack of subtlety.
I can rarely go back to a horror film and be affected in the same way I was when I first saw it, but with Ring I can. The film has what it takes to play with the big boys, whether or not it will make any Western top ten horror list is anyone's guess (though curiously the US re-make does which is strange because it is rubbish and all about cheap scares and pretentious, arty moments) but I encourage anyone who has yet to see it to immediately go out and do so. Play it and play it loud!
Tartan Video has given the feature a neat, animated menu sequence that is simple yet atmospheric and is very easy to navigate.
In the past Tartan Video has been ridiculed for its poor DVD releases, one of which was notably Ring. The film has been released numerous times on all regions but nothing has ever been outstanding. In response to previous complaints and the need to better themselves Tartan have remastered and re-released the film. The remaster tag is one that I'm dubious about. This release appears to bear a resemblance to the Japanese Superbit title from last year and looks to be sourced from an NTSC master. The film is presented in an Anamorphic 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
With that said the image looks good, a great improvement over the previous release but still not perfect. It is unlikely that the film will ever look as sharp as it does here (and likewise the R1 release for which I have compared it to), although still exhibiting an overall soft and slightly washed out look. The contrast levels have also been boosted, making some darker scenes appear flat and unnatural.
I've decided to include two screen shots that compare the new R2 release to Dream work's R1 release from 2003. Note how the R1 has a stronger colour palette yet on closer inspection the level of detail and sharpness is relatively similar over both versions.
What better way to watch Ring than in DTS? This is what fans have been waiting for and it doesn't disappoint. While the film coasts along at a steady pace, showing little sign of what is about to come the sound remains rather subdued, though atmospheric with the daily surrounds of life. It is when the tension starts to mount that the track really starts to kick in and if you're of a weak disposition then this might be a little too much for you. I'm surprised at how aggressive the track is when it needs to be and it most certainly will make the hairs on your body stand at end. Also included is a Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo and 5.1 Surround track that is also a good listen but for your money's worth stick with the DTS.
The English subtitles are optional, easy to read and provide a good translation of the events.
The original theatrical trailer is available to watch, clocking in at nearly 2-minutes. This would appear to have been taken directly from Tartan's older release as it features large, burnt in subtitles.
Ring 2 1999, 95 Minutes.
Starring: Daisuke Ban, Kyoko Fukada, Kenjiro Ishimaru, Matsushima Nanako, Katsumi Muramatsu, Nakatani Miki, Rikiya Otaka.
Directed by Hideo Nakata.
A week or so has passed since Sadako's body was discovered and the police have been making efforts to find the victim's family and locate Reiko (Matsushima Nanako) and her son, Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka) who have disappeared. They have been questioning Takano Mai (Nakatani Miki) over the shocking death of her boyfriend, Ryuji (Sanada Hiroyuki) and Reiko's father. They believe that Reiko has something to do with these events and soon Yoichi turns up, now a mute child after witnessing the tape.
Mai decides to take up an investigation of her own, which leads her to Reiko's old newspaper office where she meets a reporter who is also interested in the story concerning the tape. They visit the mental hospital where Masami (Hitomi Sato) is still being kept and learn that she has developed some interesting abilities and is being studied by Dr. Heihachiro Ikuma (Daisuke Ban) who has a theory about psychic powers that he wishes to carry out in due course.
In the same year that Ring was released theatrically, so was its sequel Rasen, though not of Nakata's doing. This continued the story and followed the original novel, with a different cast. It didn't do particularly well and so Nakata retaliated with his "official" follow up to the 1998 smash hit, where he brought back his original cast and played around with the formula.
As a sequel Ring 2 isn't half bad but it is more convoluted than its predecessor due to an attempt at trying to give a scientific explanation to the story. The trouble is that none of it is very interesting and largely it steers away from trying to be unnerving. While it does have a couple of decent moments they never reach the heights of the first and Nakata's reliance on his attention to explain more of the story is his ultimate weakness.
There's something about these films that I've always felt didn't have to matter, such as certain expositions - whilst Sadako's history is an interesting addition the psychic sub plot that ties in with the main story it is just boring. This time around much of the plot focuses on Yoichi and Masami and both have some drawn out scenes that offer little to the story, in contrast the flashbacks that involve Sadako's mother are a lot more engaging so it is troubling to see Nakata put a lot more attention in fleshing out two characters for the purpose of getting his point across. Masami's character starts of well but becomes overused by the end, whilst Yoichi is grating this time around, with his try as he might to scare look.
Ring 2 is too silly. Its final act is almost comical and I had a hard time taking it seriously when we reach the farce in the indoor pool experiment scene that drags on for far too long, and without a strong lead to support it, like Sanada and Matsushima in the first (though Matsushima appears for a short while here) the film struggles to stand well on its own. More to the point this film shouldn't be seen without having watched the first one as it’s vital to know what has happened up to this point. As a companion piece it is okay but had more of these elements been used in Ring then the story might have worked better as a whole.
Presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, Ring 2 is very similar in terms of clarity to the first film. The picture suffers from the same problems mentioned previously; low contrast, softness and a washed out colour palette. As such this gets the same score. It is a marked improvement over the original release and looks like it will be the best we'll get for some time.
Like Ring this features a great DTS track, a 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo and a 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround track. Again I opted to listen in DTS and like the first film this one is also dynamic when called upon, with very little separating it from my comments about the first film.
Included are optional English subtitles which read well.
Like the previously mentioned trailer, this also features large, burnt in subtitles.
Ring 0: Birthday 2000, 99 Minutes.
Starring: Nakama Yukie, Kumiko Aso, Daisuke Ban, Chinami Furuya, Masami Hashimoto, Kazue Kadokae.
Directed by Norio Tsuruta.
It's the 1960's in Tokyo, Japan and Sadako (Nakama Yukie) is studying acting - a method that her doctor believes may cure her disturbed mental state, since the suicide of her mother, Shizuko (Masako) when she was a young girl. As she tries to settle into the acting group she meets Toyama (Seiichi Tanabe) - the soundman for a local production and the only one who approaches her as a friend. It isn't long before each member starts to have vivid dreams of a well in a mysterious surrounding, followed by a series of inexplicable events that they end up blaming Sadako for. As Sadako struggles to fight her inner demons the world around her closes in, alienating her further until the beast within is let out and the origins of Sadako are finally explained.
Hideo Nakata takes a break from the series and in his place comes Norio Tsuruta whose task it is to wrap up the series with this prequel. Norio confidently takes the helm and presents a side to the series that has been rarely tapped into previously. As such what we have here is a far more dramatic tale than both Ring and Ring 2 as we're taken back in time to learn about the life of Sadako and how she came to haunt the lives of those in the years since.
Ring 0: Birthday is every bit a tragic tale of prejudice and hopelessness that strikes a chord, begging for sympathy for a girl who has to go through many a trauma that has so often been mirrored in real life for many people and not to mention various other movies over the years. It shares similarities with the likes of Carrie and addresses some instances in the same way but it also stands on its own as being a fully realised piece of work that doesn't forget where its history lies. The trilogy still leaves a few questions unanswered that probably don't even need to be in all honesty, but by the end it wraps up the series well, although leaving us on a down note of tragedy.
After seeing the first two films you might expect the third to offer an equal amount of chills - far from it. Ring 0: Birthday is a hybrid of drama and horror that leans toward the former. Yukie Nakama is the centrepiece who is impressively cast as Sadako, balancing sadness and sweetness and who captures the character with a charming essence that you can't help but pity. The film is carried along at a good pace, offering a few moments of horror that don't particularly work as highly, save for the final act when Sadako does her nasty walk.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and is clearly the worst out of the three, showing lower contrast that becomes a nuisance throughout, with dark scenes faring quite poorly. The rest of the image is evidently softer in places, particularly for distance shots, later significantly dropping in quality for the last 20-minutes, with some very dark and lower quality scenes, and in my opinion it doesn't deserve a "remastered" tag.
As with the previous films mentioned we get a choice of DTS, 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo and 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. I decided to go for DTS and found it to be another fine mix. While this film doesn't have to rely on heavy surround usage it tackles the job nicely and for the occasions when we are served up some brief horror it does the job in offering another aggressive approach.
Again we have optional English subtitles and these appear to be very good, well timed, easy to read and all that jazz.
The third film is a little meatier in terms of features, though they aren't essential they make a nice addition. All extras have optional English subtitles, except for the trailer which has them burnt in.
Watch the film first and avoid potential spoilers.
Behind the Scenes
Running for approximately 20-minutes this features a host of on-set footage that takes us through several locations, behind some of the set designs and shows the actors going through the motions. For some strange reason at the 18-minute mark the feature pauses and then plays 2 minutes from a scene in the film, as if the authoring went a bit bonkers somewhere. I cannot confirm if this happens in the retail version or not.
Six scenes that are variants on already existing ones in the film. Some are extended, some are a little new but none of them hold any real relevance to the story.
Sleeping Bride 2000, 100 Minutes.
Starring: Risa Goto, Hiroki Kohara, Takaaki Enoki, Yuki Natori.
Directed by Hideo Nakata.
On the 13th of March 1954 a tragic plane crash in Japan left only one survivor - Masako Iida, a woman from Tokyo in the late stages of pregnancy. Shortly after being taken to hospital she died but her child, Yumi was born and taken care of at the same hospital. There was one concern however - Yumi was in a permanent state of sleep, and no one knew when she would awaken.
Cut to 1961. A young boy by the name of Yuiichi Nagasawa is staying at Yumi's hospital and is being treated for asthma. While giving himself a tour of the area he stumbles into the room where the sleeping girl stays and becomes curious as to why she never awakens. When he reads a story about Sleeping Beauty he comes to the conclusion that if he kisses her she will wake up and talk to him. One night he tries this but his efforts are in vain and despite visiting her every night she continues to remain in her slumber.
It is now 1971, Yuuichi (Hiroki Kohara) is now at school and has forgotten about the girl he used to be so fond of, that is until he sees an old broadcast from the event in 1954 on television and discovers that Yumi (Risa Goto) is still being taken care of at the same hospital, where upon he decides to go and visit her. From this point on he visits her everyday, after school and attempts to awaken her by giving her a kiss each time. Eventually Yumi opens her eyes for the first time in 17 years and she must learn to adapt to her new world, like a new born child. She quickly shows an amazing ability to learn at a rapid rate and in the space of a few days she can talk, read, write and live normally. During this time she and Yuuichi become close friends, people around them become curious and anxious as questions loom and Yumi becomes the focus of attention with the local media.
After completing Ring 2 Hideo Nakata left behind the series that made him famous in favour of directing this sweet, little love story. The premise is original enough but it is the delivery that is more important, which Nakata is good at doing here, even if he clearly shows his influence from other films in the romantic genre.
I'm a sucker for sappy melodrama, if it is done well and Sleeping Bride offers enough of that to appease my apparent need to be swept up by a heartfelt tale. The pacing prevents it from presenting the kind of immediate, emotional impact that films like Tokyo Biyori, Christmas in August and Failan (to name a few) manage to achieve but as a fellow melodramatic film for which Asia just can't get enough of it comfortably sits in amongst the more highly regarded features of its ilk.
Risa Goto has been largely overlooked as an actress of late which is something of a shame as she shows quite an adept skill in what she does here. Risa is very charming in her role as a playful, innocent, child-like figure for which time is a struggle. We don't really get to know too much about her as there isn't much to tell, her character is more an embodiment of life for which the basis of the story gets across, while Yuuichi played subtly by Hiroki Kohara is, like the audience the recipient of understanding.
Sleeping Bride isn't a perfect picture in any sense; it has problems but ones that shouldn't be dwelled upon too much. It runs a little long but it has enough charm and sympathy to sustain its run time, helped largely by an impressive cast who each deliver credible performances.
This is a very welcome addition to the set. Tartan has done a great job in acquiring this title for fellow Nakata fans to appreciate.
Sleeping Bride is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and looks very good. There is a fair amount of grain which does little to distract and varies from time to time. Colours are strong, black levels are thankfully better than those appearing on some of the other discs in this collection, but like the other films mentioned the picture is a little soft and I suspect part of this is due to certain film stock used.
Rather surprisingly we get a choice of three tracks: DTS, 5.1 and 2.0 Surround. I went for DTS again but this film really doesn't require it. What we get is good but depending on how much of a DTS aficionado you are you shouldn't have any troubles with the other tracks here.
Hideo Nakata Trailer Reel
Four trailers for - Dark Water, Chaos, Ring and Ring 2.
This set is apparently available as a limited edition release, complete with lenticular cover. For this review I did not have access to the full box, nor the Kim Newman film notes that are also advertised. I feel that the cover is too much of a spoiler but at the same time many people are already familiar with this image anyway.
The Ring Trilogy is a great collection of modern horror films that offer something different to the usual stalk and slash routine and thus provides a breath of fresh air. Fans of the genre owe it to themselves to check out these offerings from Japan and get into the culture of the already famous series and find out what all the fuss is about. The inclusion of Hideo Nakata's Sleeping Bride makes this an excellent, value for money purchase, even if there are some minor issues with the varied transfer quality of each disc.
8 out of 10
8 out of 10
9 out of 10
6 out of 10