The history of the Ring franchise is complicated. The original Ring was made and released back-to-back with a sequel, Rasen (aka. Spiral), in 1998. Both were based on novels by Koji Suzuki. Audiences went crazy for Ring and steered clear of Rasen, so an all-new Ring 2 came out the following year from the same director (Hideo Nakata) and is the only entry in the Japanese-language Ring franchise not to be based on a Suzuki story. Probably not coincidentally, it's also structurally the messiest. The roster to date is:
- 1995: Ringu: Kanzen-ban - TV movie
- 1998: Ringu - first movie
- 1998: Rasen - forgotten sequel
- 1999: Ringu 2 - replacement sequel
- 1999: Ringu: The Final Chapter - 12-part TV series
- 1999: Rasen - 13-part TV sequel to The Final Chapter
- 1999: The Ring Virus - Korean remake
- 2000: Ringu 0: Birthday - prequel
- 2000: The Ring: Terror's Realm - computer game
- 2002: The Ring - American remake
- 2005: Rings - 16-minute American video
- 2005: The Ring Two - sequel to the American remake
- 2013: Sadako 3D, with a sequel in production
Normally I hate the kind of people who insist on saying "Ringu" instead of "Ring". The original Japanese is a transliteration of the English word "ring", so writing "Ringu" is only a short step away from claiming that Hellsing is set in Rondon, Engrand. However in this case it's a useful convention for telling apart the Japanese and American versions, so I'm sticking with it. I'll be buggered if I'm referring to the prequel as Ringu 0: Baasudei, though.
The problem Hideo Nakata faced here is that it's practically impossible to write a sequel to Ringu. Most horror franchises are based around their monsters, but this one's based around a high concept that once told can't be repeated, especially given its ending. If you don't count the prequel, Ringu 0, we've had three sequels to date (Rasen, Ringu 2
and the American The Ring Two
) and they're all regarded as lesser works. I liked Ringu 2
a lot and I don't think Rasen is terrible at all either, but at best they're stories set in the same universe that happen to share some style and mood. I actually like this. As horror franchises go, this might just be the most creative of them all, simply because they're having to reinvent themselves from the ground up every single time.
So, is Ringu 2
good? Yes, it is, but it's also less accessible than the original and relies heavily on the audience having already seen that film. Ringu was a ghost story driven by one brilliant idea that could be got across in ten seconds. Ringu 2
doesn't try to cover the same ground, but instead moves on and extends the original's ideas in baffling and elusive ways. It's clever. I admire what they're doing. I think its ideas make a lot of sense, but unfortunately it isn't always too concerned about communicating them. It's very Japanese, that refusal to spoon-feed you. The film faithfully maintains continuity and tone with the original, but its high-mindedness means you'll have to be paying attention if you want to be able to piece it all together.
Of course all that's absolutely fine. Not every film should have to be made for morons. However this one ends up disorientating its audience, to an even greater degree than its predecessor, which is a valid approach for a ghost story but still makes it less likely to play well down your local Blockbusters. I've heard this film called dull and it's an easy point of view to understand, even if it wasn't my personal reaction. All I can say is that if you didn't like Ringu 2
, run like the wind from Rasen but you might yet enjoy Ringu 0: Birthday
I admire this film's ideas. Ringu gave us a murderous video and ended by showing us a brutal but straightforward way of surviving its effects. The problem faced by the makers of Ringu 2
was how to deal with this. Theoretically you could counter the tape's effects with a kind of pyramid selling technique. Of course logic suggests that sooner or later you'd run out of willing volunteers and the deaths would just begin again, but for the purposes of a horror movie you've still defanged your monster. No one in this film should have to die, or so the audience will be thinking. That's quite a problem, so Ringu 2
sets out to systematically demolish every assumption that could possibly be based on this premise. Ringu was about the horror of being killed by Sadako, but Ringu 2
shows us the horror faced by the survivors.
It's plotted differently. Ringu was structured like a detective story, but this is a scientific investigation. This is clever since at the root of the franchise is a horror of technology. Ringu 2
actually takes this even further than its predecessor and it's all good stuff. Video, television, telephones, cameras, photographs... they're still here and still sinister. The scientific method is a wonderful thing, except here when it's giving Sadako all the weapons she needs to eat your soul.
The tone is sombre, with occasional use of camera tricks and odd kinds of footage to reflect Sadako's powers. What's more, it plays fair. They never cheat with rubber reality. There's an explanation even for the really weird stuff at the end, which had me thinking for a few minutes that they'd gone swanning off into pure Japanese surrealism. However you might want a second or third viewing to feel confident that you've caught everything. I wasn't sure at first who'd died under that car, for instance, although I worked it out.
This isn't the kind of film that can be easily spoiled. It doesn't have a plot so much as a series of ideas, presented almost like a graduate thesis as the characters discover them, usually the hard way. The film's final shot is a particularly nasty one. Now that's vicious. I liked that. It also has multiple protagonists, each with their own stories, which is another contrast with the original's simplicity. Overall this is a commendably faithful and serious-minded film, intelligent and for me perhaps even spookier than the original. The only thing it lacks is that "lightning in a bottle" purity. There's something almost beautiful about the clarity of the concept and construction of the original Ringu. This sequel is merely admirable.