A tape, a well, a desperate woman looking for answers. These are the disparate elements that came together in a modestly budgeted Japanese horror film that took the world by storm in the late 90s, and the reverberations of which are still felt to this day. Hideo Nakata’s 1998 film Ring, based on the 1991 novel by Koji Suzuki, reimagined elements of classical Japanese ghost stories into a world of technological anxiety and urban legends. Teased in January, and available in the UK for months now, Arrow Video’s Ringu Collection, is finally available in the US with Ring, Spiral (also known as Rasen), Ring 2, and Ring 0: Birthday on a three disc Blu-ray set.
First, a brief aside on the title of the set. The set refers to the film as “Ringu”, which is the lamentable way the Japanese movies are distinguished in the US from the Gore Verbinski helmed remake, The Ring. This spelling is loosely based on the Japanese pronunciation of ring. Interestingly the same Blu-ray set is simply called The Ring Collection in Arrow’s native UK. Perhaps Dreamworks is to blame for this title? There’s at least a degree of self awareness shown by Arrow as this subject is broached in the commentary track for Ring and the Ring Legacy featurette.
Hideo Nakata’s Ring is the ghost story that launched a thousand remakes. While not the first adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s novel (that distinction goes to the made for TV Ring: The Complete Edition), Nakata’s film set the tone for many films onward with its muted colors, visual cues that date back to the 19th century kabuki theatre, a modern setting, and a prevailing atmosphere of doom. Ring’s legendary cult status after the success of the Gore Verbinski remake, plus Quentin Tarantino’s chambara reference laden Kill Bill, lead to a surge of Japanese horror and cult cinema being released in the English speaking world on DVD at a time before streaming had erased brick and mortar movie stores. Soon came a deluge of American remakes of Japanese horror films such as Dark Water, The Grudge and One Missed Callthroughout the 00's. Even just as this era of long haired Japanese specters had seemed to come to an end (a series of Ring spin off movies with 3D glasses gimmicks didn’t exactly add esteem to the genre) yet another remake of The Grudge produced by Sam Raimi has been announced for 2020. Ring's Sadako is a ghost creeping from a television set in more ways than one: as a ghost of vengeance, and thanks to this new blu ray release, as a ghost from the cinematic past too.
While this is a four film set, the centerpiece of the collection is the first film, Ring, which boasts an unbelievably crisp new 4K transfer. Some fans that first saw the film on bootleg VHS in the states might even find it too crystal clear. Included with the film is a commentary trackby film historian David Kalat, going over the gestation of Ring from novel, to the state of horror films in Japan in the 1990s, to the many iterations of Ring over the years. While there is a wealth of features across these discs, some of it gets a little repetitive as they all have to touch on certain historical bullet points, but each featurette covers a certain unique aspect (gender politics, roots in kabuki theatre and folklore, and cinematic connections), making this set not only a primer on the history of Ring, but Japanese horror cinema at large.
Ring 2 and Spiral are somewhat weaker entries in the series, but they make for interesting oddities. Spiral, directed by Joji Iida was a sequel based on the Koji Suzuki novel of the same name. The film was produced at the same time as Nakata’s Ring and released featured alongside it as a double bill. However, the lukewarm reception to Spiral’s shift from ghost story motifs to science-fiction elements lead to the production of Ring 2, directed by Nakata once again, which more closely addresses events in the first film Ring, but deviates from Suzuki’s novels. Ring 0 is a bit of melodramatic tragedy which covers the origin Ring’s long haired spirit, Sadako. 0 doesn't have the same tone as Nakata’s Ring, but does bring a unique angle to the series (if a little derivative of Carrie). Arrow Video’s Ringu Collection manages to keep a slice of late 90s horror nostalgia in one neat, well remastered package that’s enjoyable for diehard J-horror fans and can act as a primer for that newcomer you want to bring into the fold.