GHOST ACTRESS aka DON'T LOOK UP (1996, Japan, titled JOYUREI)
Directed by Hideo Nakata
White dress, black hair, haunted film - Hideo Nakata directing ghosts before RING
Ring (or Ringu) launched Japanese horror movies across the globe, based on Koji Suzuki's novels about Sadako wreaking her psychic revenge through cursed videotapes. Despite the fact there had already been a Japanese TV movie in 1995 (Ringu: Kanzen-ban), it was Hideo Nakata who directed the successful movie version - and he probably got the job because he had already made Ghost Actress.
The film centres around the making of a wartime drama at an old movie studio. The director starts running into trouble when the ghost of a young woman starts appearing in the rafters above the movie set, as well as on the filmed rushes. As the cast and begin to get spooked, accidents start to happen on set...
Ring wasn't just effortlessly scary - it didn't come out of nowhere. Hideo Nakata had already been trying out how to scare audiences with a ghost girl all the way through Ghost Actress, which makes it an interesting watch. Strangely, the ghost is seen many more times than in Ring - here she's more active, more vocal and more hands on!
There are a few more parallels, besides the appearence of the ghost - it's mentioned that the very celluloid itself might be haunted. Also, the basic structure of a story within a story is similar to that of Ring 0: Birthday - the 3rd Japanese Ring movie - where a play is in production.
Ghost Actress, is very well-acted, atmospheric, occasionally creepy, but a little too brief at 73 minutes - you're left wanting more story, including a better reason for the haunting. But it's a lively precursor to the terrifying Ring-cycle, and I'm surprised it's not been released properly on DVD - I can only find it on Korean release at the moment, and that's without english subtitles.
Lastly, a special mention of the leading actor playing the movie director - Yûrei Yanagi went on to play the pivotal role of the reporter in Ring and Ring 2, as well as the unlucky schoolteacher in the original 2 v-cinema movies of Ju-on: The Grudge. That must make him one of the most scared actors in Japan! Perhaps in Ghost Actress we're witnessing him originate the falling-over-backwards-to-the-ground-cos-he's-so-scared manoeuvre! He's soon to be seen in the awesome- looking vision of hell, Kidan (check out Twitch film for a trailer), which should hopefully be available in english in the coming months.
If you want to go to the Twitch film site, or learn more about scary Ring movies - check the links on the sidebar to the right.