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Ring (Hideo Nakata) 1998

    Hideo Nakataís Ring achieved a good deal of notoriety in Japan when its release became an unprecedented box office smash, prompting a flurry of sequels, remakes, spin-offs, and imitations that continues today. Looking at the movie itself, and trying to ignore the variety of hype and reputation that surrounds it, itís a surprisingly effective horror thriller. Even if itís been tailor made for Japanese schoolgirls, it had me screaming like one whenever I wasnít wearing a big dopey grin and soaking up the filmís considerable ambiance. The movie follows Nanako (Reiko Asakawa), a reporter who becomes obsessed with the spooky schoolyard tales that tell of a tape that, when watched, results in the viewerís death seven days later. Once Nanako tracks the tape down and views it, the film becomes Candyman with a countdown. Even if the filmís take on the preponderance and justification of urban legends in our otherwise myth free lives isnít as astute as the scholarly approach that Bernard Roseís underrated gem took, it manages to create a tale that manages to critique our current values as it frightens us.

  Ringís fear of technology, which is exemplified by the choice of instruments its demon uses in invoking its terror (videotape and telephone), seems indicative of a larger cultural discomfort with such media. That the lead character is a reporter, and a perpetrator of media, doesnít seem to be lost on the film. The trials that sheís put through would almost seem to be fitting retribution if they werenít so extreme. The deadline that looms over Nanakoís head this time seems to be payback for the exploitation that the media had caused in the past. Since the movieís ending seems to actually encourage piracy, everything about the film seems to be filled with self-loathing and a longing for self-destruction that lies just under the surface. The tape that haunts the characters, while decidedly unsettling, contains no explicit violence. The video contains an avant garde collection of eerie images that actually gain a bit of healing power when it leads to the filmís emotional catharsis. By comparison, the police video of the crime scene where two of the victims are found that Nanako obtains through her press privileges feels like a snuff film. Watching it answers nothing, and serves only the purpose of disturbing us. That a catharsis of sorts can be gleamed from the picture is not to suggest that Ring is a touchy-feely ghost story. Itís actually pretty relentless in the trials that it puts its heroine and her helpful ex-husband through. Nakataís direction rarely shows off, but the film works well anyway, mostly thanks to the power of suggestion. Without gore, and with the glimpse of a pair of white shoes, some distorted photos, and ever-present scary sound effects, the movie builds a degree of suspense that overcomes any silliness. By the end of Ring, we understand why the victims of the filmís ghoulish villain were found with their hearts stopped.




Jeremy Heilman