May 31, 2006

RING - THE FINAL CHAPTER (1999) Sadako on TV again

(1999, Japanese TV series, IMDB title - Ringu: Saishusho)

All-region DVD (HK Video)

Long-winded TV series adaption of the Japanese horror classic

The solitary stone well, sitting in a clearing at the edge of the woods, in the movie version of Ring inspired me to seek out more horror films from the east. The TV series wouldn't have.

I finally finished watching this 12-episode live-action TV series. I was prompted to persevere by the observations of Denis Meikle in his substantial book on the subject - THE RING COMPANION. In it, he not only examines all the adaptions of the Ring books as films and TV shows, but also looks at the roots of Koji Suzuki's novels, in the tradition of Japanese horror stories and earlier ghost films.

He notes that the TV series Ring: The Final Chapter takes Suzuki's first 2 books (Ring and Spiral) as source material (after both books had already been turned into films), blending the video curse with a biological origin. Admittedly the script has to pad out 11 x 45-minute episodes and a 75-minute finale.

Once again there's a journalist investigating a number of heart-attack victims who all died simultaneously. A cursed videotape seems to be involved, but he watches it before learning that it has the power to kill. He's helped by two women, one a reporter, the other a friend who just happens to be a professor in a medical university. He only has 13 days to unravel the mystery of the video before his time is up.

The scriptwriters manage to mangle all sorts of mad theories together, insistent that every element of the curse can be explained scientifically. This makes a lot of the plot sound like a stretch, and demystifies the supernatural element, making it ludicrous rather than frightening.

They add numerous new plotlines and characters, and rewrite Sadako's backstory (once more), but still include her joining a theatre group - a scenario that was filmed again in the film Ring 0: Birthday (2000).

The only familiar face in the cast is Hitomi Kuroki, playing Rieko, the scientist. She starred in the original Dark Water, as well as appearing in Senrigan and Haunted School 3.

Even as television drama, it's hard to get involved because of the production values - this Japanese TV series is shot on video (which is very apt considering the central premise). But this is a 'look' that went out with the 80's. Most western drama is shot on film, with only soap operas shooting on video. This could distance the audience, or at least make them think the production is a lot older than it is.

Despite the running time, there are relatively few locations and only occasional action. It works well dramatically, most of the cliffhangers may make you come back for more, but the main problem is that it's rarely scary - another example of how the film trilogy got it right, while using the same source material.

Another annoying sign of the tight budget is the music, many of the cues being reused endlessly, even within an episode.

The DVDs (pictured above) squeeze all 12 episodes onto 2 discs, the picture looking a little soft, but it hardly matters. The English subtitles are removable and well-translated. There are a few newspaper headlines and signs that aren't translated and there's occasional spelling mistakes, but they don't spoil your understanding.

But I'd only really recommend this series to Ring completists who insist on seeing every incarnation of Sadako (who actually hardly appears here) and want to take another yet trip down that well...

If you'd like to learn more about the many other films, books, manga and TV that make up the world of the Ring, then go to
The Ringworld. It's a very helpful and expansive website that I find myself constantly refering to, as I try and track down every last version of this modern legend.

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