November 21, 2008

RING - ten years of the J-horror phenomenon

2008 marks the tenth anniversary of the J-horror phenomenon.

OK, it should have really been a little earlier in the year. January 31st, 1998 was when Ring first hit cinemas and became the most successful Japanese horror film. It started off my enthusiasm for Japanese horror films and reignited a love of being frightened. In London, Ring returned for a Halloween run at the ICA cinema, a longtime haven for Japanese cinema.

For me, it should have been the first review on this blog, and not the 350th. The original books about Sadako and the Ring curse have lead to many film and TV adaptions, and they’re still being made. At the moment a third US film is being planned. Ring is simply dormant, waiting to re-emerge...

Ring inspired the name of this blog, the black hole refers to looking down the scary well. I always write about the films in the Black Hole soon after I’ve watched them, and I haven’t rewatched Ring since I began writing here, so its appearance is resultingly overdue

Back in 1999 my interest in horror films had been overtaken by Japanese monster movies. I’d not had a good scare in ages and actually thought that I’d seen it all and they couldn’t scare me anymore. Sure, movies could still make me jump or wince, but my favourite horror movie thrill is skin-crawling terror. Anyhow, I was in London’s Chinatown scouring the VideoCDs (the predecessor to DVD). It was a cheap option of getting hold of Japanese films and TV without paying $60 a pop for Japanese laserdiscs. They were also more likely to have English subtitles on them.

My first Ring video - a Hong Kong VideoCD

Occasionally I’d find a Godzilla movie, sometimes a good anime, but usually it was episodes of Ultraman (Tiga or Dyna). But this one day, I saw a cover with this huge scary eye peeking through ratty strands of long black hair. Was it a film, TV, rock videos? The writing on it was all in Chinese. I asked the owner of the shop what it was. In cracked English I got “You like scary movies? This very scary. From Japan. Very big. There are three.” A Japanese horror film that already had two sequels and I knew nothing about it? She only had the first two for sale, the third was yet to be released. What I’d found was Ring and Rasen, its first sequel, misleadly labelled as Ring 2.

Free Sadako stickers with the Ring VCD!

I watched it at home, late at night. There were no English subtitles. But the camerawork was spooky, the music was creepy and the climax made my skin crawl with terror. Bingo! A horror movie that actually horrified. So began my long, extensive descent into J-horror.

Watching Rasen, otherwise known as Spiral, I was more clued in on the events of Ring. There wasn’t much about it on the net, nothing in English at first. Like the characters in the film, the more facts that were uncovered, the more horrible the story became.

Ring became a big subject for me, huge. Besides trying to understand what actually happens in the stories, much of the actual horror is implied, it's taken me until now to track down all the different Japanese versions. I've also been trying to keep track of the other scary movies from Japan, earlier horror films, Korean horrors, Thai…

It's since influenced many, many films, but I’d like to look at how the original story of Ring grew - originally filmed many different ways in a short period of time.

It started in 1991. The story of Sadako was first told in three novels by Koji Suzuki, Ring, Spiral and Loop. Thankfully all have now been translated, together with Birthday, a collection of short stories. Like Dracula and Frankenstein, the movies then added to the mythology and assured their success. The many adaptions have mutated the story, much like Chinese whispers or an urban legend.

Before Hideo Nakata’s 1998 runaway hit film, the story had already been made into a TV movie, usually refered to as Ring: Kanzenban (1995), which had been shown in Japan without a hint that the story would later become a success. The cinema version was released in Japanese cinemas in 1998, as a double-bill with Rasen, an adaption of Suzuki’s second book, Spiral. But while Ring became a worldwide phenomenon, Rasen was quickly forgotten, even though it continued the story.

By the time Ring had been released in a few UK cinemas in 2000, there had already been two more Japanese movie sequels, Ring 2 and Ring 0: Birthday, plus a remake in South Korea, Ring Virus (1999). Japan had also made two TV series, loosely based on Ring and Spiral! The UK then got a subtitled DVD release in 2001.

Later still, Gore Verbinski’s remake The Ring was released in the US in 2002. It wasn’t until 2003 that the original Japanese version was officially released on DVD in the US. A five year delay. Hideo Nakata himself directed the US sequel, The Ring Two, and is currently involved in The Ring Three which is reportedly in production now.

Like I said, it’s a big subject. The many interpretations change elements of the story, like Sadako's fate, and who her father is. Other elements remain the same, like the video curse - a subplot so potent, it’s almost become an actual urban legend.

Every element of Ring has been copied by other horror movies, trying to catch similar success. But none of the constituent parts, or even any creative talent, can guarantee a hit. The director doesn’t frighten me with his other ghost movies, Ring 2 being the exception. Having a ghost with long black hair doesn’t make your film a hit – and there’s been dozens of those…

So, I’m going to start reviewing each film and series. One character. 7 films, 25 TV episodes...

RING: KANZENBAN - the TV movie (1995)

RING (1998)
RASEN aka SPIRAL (1998)
RING 2 (1999)

RING – the TV series (1999)
RASEN – the TV series (1999)

RING VIRUS - South Korean remake (1999)

THE RING - US remake (2002)
THE RING 2 - US sequel (2005)

More Sadako info...

The Ring Cycle - an alternate look and another welcome Japan forum.

Very informative, especially about Ring's western horror inspirations - Denis Meikle's marvellous Ring Companion guidebook.


  1. Those Ring posters still look scary after a decade.

  2. Aww, I wish I had Sadako stickers....

  3. I wish there was more Ring merchandise. I'd really love a scary little well diorama and a Sadako action figure. But that's just me...