It's the ever first Ringu adaptation. Apparently it's also the most faithful to the original novel, whereas Hideo Nakata's famous 1998 adaptation changed quite a few things. In this 1995 film, for instance, the protagonist is male.
It's quite good, actually, but only after the first ten minutes.
It was made for TV, you see. Most of the film is actually quite good, with a tight narrative focus and a script that's basically a two-hander for two decent actors. However the beginning sets up the horror with a bunch of killings, which are kind of painful to watch and just look like cheap TV. These ten minutes will be the reason this film's only ever been released on VHS, in Japan, before the Hideo Nakata version came out. Look at the opening kill, for instance. The director's utterly failing to create fear. The shot sequence is fine and I'm sure it could have been effective had this been a feature film, but what's on-screen looks like the output of a workaday TV production team that doesn't have enough time, money and/or talent. It doesn't feel as if anyone was really trying.
Shortly after that, you'll start getting annoyed with the acting, too. The protagonist has an air of knowing that he's the hero in a TV movie. Tomoko's parents' grief is glib and throwaway, being a token line of dialogue for a cameo character. There's almost nothing good about these scenes. They smell of TV. The cinematography is cheap. Even the picture quality is only VHS-level, although there's an obvious reason for that.
The motorcyclist scene works, though. There's also some sleaze as a couple gets killed during sex. If you're surprised by that, just wait until you meet Sadako. She's played by a softcore porn actress (Ayane Miura) and she gets at least topless in almost all her appearances.
Fortunately though the film improves once its focus moves on to our reporter hero (Katsunori Takahashi). He finds those deaths suspicious, but his narrow-minded editor won't listen to him. He investigates. He finds a video tape, which is actually more disorientating and effective than I'd somehow expected. The film becomes fairly good. Takahashi and his veteran co-star, Yoshio Harada, do well at carrying a tense narrative as their characters try to do something about their suddenly limited life expectancy. Takahashi's character in particular is being allowed to be unheroic, in interesting ways. He gives up, he makes bad decisions and he has a scene where he curls up in a pathetic cringing ball. This fits the character's ultimate choice.
Sadako and her backstory are very different from other screen versions. This basically means "sleazier", but to a disturbing extent. Sadako has a physical peculiarity that's apparently true to the novels but otherwise unknown in the movies, while her sex life should have got a certain person arrested. The most shocking thing about the latter, incidentally, is that two men still find her attractive and want to shag her even after knowing about it.
That's even changed the story's themes. This film's about sex. Its Sadako is a sex ghost. She died because of sex, her victims commit sex and there's a lot of heavy sexuality all over the film. The two male heroes, though, spend almost all the film together and are either chaste (despite appearances) or happily married with a pregnant wife. It's a pretty dominant theme, actually, once you start thinking about it. The more famous Ringu, in contrast, is female-driven and if anything is more about motherhood, although that's less prominent than the clash of Japanese traditions (e.g. Sadako being a lot like a classical yuurei) vs. the modern world (phones, videos, etc.)
It's pretty good film, I think, once you've settled into it. It works. The pacing's good and it's a solid telling of an iconic horror story. You've got to be a bit forgiving of it, but that's okay. You'll forget about the picture quality, which could even be argued to fit the material in a retro sort of way. It's a throwback. You're watching a VHS film about a killer VHS film. Obviously you'll also need to forget about the franchise's iconic imagery, which was all invented three years later by Hideo Nakata. This Sadako doesn't have "drowned in a well" hair, for instance, and she never crawls from a televion. On the other hand, though, this TV movie fits surprisingly well with later movies, with for instance Sadako's acting troupe from Ring 0: Birthday and what feels like foreshadowing of her child in Sadako 3D 2.
It's just a shame about those opening ten minutes, really. They're shoddy. If it hadn't been for those, I'm sure this would have been available in the West on DVD and you might even have seen it by now.