Ringu (1998) | 31 Days of Horror: Oct 29

by Jovial Jay

So many films about the evils of television this year!

This Japanese horror film is different from almost every other Western horror film. Ringu makes use of alternate methods of horror that are equally, if not more, chilling.

Before Viewing

The characters in the trailer speak of a cursed video that if it’s watched, the viewer will die. Apparently copies of this video tape are being handed off to many people as weird and freaky things begin to happen. This is the original Japanese version of the film released in America as The Ring.

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Spoiler Warning - Halloween


Ringu title card.

After Viewing

Two school girls in Japan discuss the rumor they heard about a haunted video tape that if watched causes the viewer to die a week later. Tomoko (Yûko Takeuchi) admits that she and three friends actually did watch it a week ago. Her roommate Masami (Hitomi Satô) thinks she’s kidding but when she goes to answer the phone, the television turns on behind Tomoko who stares at it with a sudden shock coming over her face.

TV reporter Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), who is also Tomoko’s aunt, is investigating the story as well, which leads her to a set of cabins in Izu, Japan. She finds the video and watches it in the same cabin that Tomoko and her friends did. The video is a low quality tape of a woman brushing her hair in a mirror, some floating letters, a man with a towel over his head and a well in the middle of the woods. When the tape abruptly ends, Reiko sees a strange reflection in the screen and the phone rings accompanied by a strange noise.

She now realizes she’s cursed and has one week to figure this out. She meets with her ex-husband Ryûji (Hiroyuki Sanada), the father of her son Yoichi (Rikiya Ôtaka). She shows Ryûji the tape the next day, but there’s no ringing phone, so he chalks it up to superstition, but helps her anyway. On the third day she makes a copy of the tape for him to review in more detail. They discover information about the strange words on the tape which leads them to investigate Oshima Island.


Reiko notices something strange behind her in the reflection of the televison.

One night while staying at her father’s house with Yoichi, Reiko finds the young boy awake at night watching the tape. She feels guilty for leaving the tape around and re-doubles her efforts to find a way to break the curse. Reiko and Ryûji travel to the island and find out about a psychic woman named Shizoku (Masako). She was in love with Dr. Ikuma ( Daisuke Ban) but committed suicide when slanderous reports got out. Ryûji, who is slightly psychic himself, realizes that a fisherman on the island was responsible for the stories surrounding Shizoku.

They also find out about an even more powerful psychic named Sadako (Rie Ino’o) who is the daughter of Ikuma and Shizoku. They feel that she is the key to the tape. Returning to the cabins on the mainland, Reiko and Ryûji find a well underneath one of the cabins. With only one hour left until she dies, Reiko has a vision of Sadako’s death at the hands of Dr. Ikuma who dumped her into the well. They begin draining the well one bucket of water at the time until Reiko finds the skeleton of Sadako and solves the mystery, absolving herself of the curse.

The next day Ryûji is startled when the television turns on by itself and the image of Sadako climbs creepily out of the well, and the out of the television lurching towards him. He is paralyzed with fear and dies of fright, a twisted look on his face. When Reiko hears of his death, she realizes it was not the finding of the skeleton, but the copying of the tape and showing it to another that saved her. She grabs the video tape and heads to her father’s house, calling ahead to ask him for a favor to help Yoichi.

This kind of thing… It doesn’t start by one person telling a story. It’s more like everyone’s fear just takes on a life of its own.” – Ryuji


Reiko and Ryuki examine the mysterious video tape for clues that might help them survive.

Ringu, or technically just Ring, was one of the first breakthrough Japanese horror films to invade the United States. Fans of horror films were hungry to find this and films like Ju-on: The Grudge and Dark Water. Within a couple of years there would be an American remake, called The Ring, as well as remakes of The Grudge, each containing the seeds for multiple sequels. Ringu, like any foreign language film, seems novel because it is different. Culturally the film is foreign to Western audiences and chooses different things to focus on in terms of theme and in this case the aspects of horror.

Unlike most of the other horror films focused on here under the 31 Days of Horror banner, Ringu uses horror in a different way. There’s no overt gore and blood or frequent jump scares. Instead it creates a slow tension and anxiety, almost like a building dread that manages to send shivers down the audience’s spine. An example is Reiko’s first encounter with the tape where she spies a white clad figure reflected in the television behind her, but of course when she turns around there’s nothing there. The film is not about how many people can be killed or an escaped killer running loose. It deals with a woman and her ex-husband finding a way to work together to save themselves, and eventually their child as well. Ryûji does not have to help Reiko with her quest, nor review the cursed tape, but he does so because he obviously feels something still for her. Once he realizes that Yoichi has also seen the tape, he feels stronger about trying to see if he can help put a stop to the curse,

Of course, by the end of the film it seems like the curse is lifted and everything will be ok, at least for Reiko. The other shoe falls when Ryûji is attacked by the ghost of Sadako, in the now classic moment when she crawls off the video tape and out of the television, jerkily lurching towards Ryûji as he dies from fright. Then the most horrific realization comes, which is that the only reason Reiko survived was due to her making a copy of the tape and sharing it with others. That’s the saving method for the film. And in order to save her son, she is going to get her elderly father to watch a tape given to him by Yoichi so he can survive as well. The passing on of pain and eventually death so that you can survive is a much greater, and lasting element on the film than witnessing a dozen co-eds get murdered in a grisly fashion.


Reiko nurses the “burn” where the ghostly Sadako grabbed her, while Ryuji subconsciously mirrors her actions.

So why is the film called Ring? It seems like the video has a lot of round imagery in it. The mirror, the text is rather loopy, and of course the well. A shot from the end of the film, colored in sepia to indicate a flashback, shows Dr. Ikuma looking down the well at the camera, as if the audience was Sadako, stuck in the bottom. The round image is centered in the frame. But I think the title is more about the ongoing nature of an actual ring. A closed, repeating circle. In this way, the misery that Sadako had through her life manifests itself in misery for the people that watch the video tape. To stave off their death they must impose this misery on more people, in a never ending loop. Sadako’s pain is slowly and methodically unleashed across the country like a wave from the ocean, which is another often shown piece of imagery, and shown beneath the title card as well.

I wouldn’t say Ringu is a super scary film. I think in terms of Japanese styled horror, the American version of The Grudge was more chilling. But there are certain elements of the film that stick with me and I can’t stop thinking about. There are also probably a lot of cultural elements in the film that I am ignorant about that would also provide additional satisfaction and variation to the genre. The movie is a nice change of pace to a more standard formula of horror films and creates little moments out of the corner of your eye while watching. Always be wary of unlabeled video tapes, but I guess today, the adage would be more about thumb drives instead,


Don’t watch this part of the video tape. This is the scariest part!

Assorted Musings

  • The original Japanese film spawned five sequels, three based off the follow-up novels to Ring (Rasen, Sadako 3D, & Sadako 3D 2), and two other sequels that followed the storylines from the film (Ring 2 & Sadako).
  • The American version of The Ring also spawned two sequels, The Ring 2 and Rings.
  • The 2014 It Follows takes a similar premise of “passing it on” in order to survive the curse, though in that film the metaphor is more about sexually transmitted infections, rather familial disconnection.

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