Audiences stayed away in droves. Ringu and Rasen were made back-to-back, released in 1998 and together made 1,870 million yen (a smidgen over $15.5 million) from the Japanese box office alone. Rasen's contribution to that was three cents and a lollipop. Ringu has since gone on to worldwide fame as the inspiration of a golden age of Asian horror, while Rasen vanished without trace if you don't count a 13-part Fuji TV remake that's almost certainly just another adaptation of the same original novel.
Nevertheless it's not bad. It's perfectly watchable, the kind of thing that the Japanese film industry can turn out in its sleep. It just suffers in comparison with Ringu. It's well made, it has a story worth telling and its script is acceptable, although there's a certain "too cool for school" air about its disinterest in its audience. They have an ending. It's even quite interesting. Unfortunately I couldn't tell you what it involves without scouring some websites in the hope of finding someone out there who's worked it out. It involves folks coming back to life, which might involve cloning, hallucinations, ghosts, dream sequences or just plain old "I'm better than Hollywood and I'm being symbolic, okay?" Note: on later looking up the answer to these questions, I discovered that I'd missed an option. Wow. That interpretation of events had never even occurred to me.
Admittedly it was clear even on first viewing that there had to be an explanation. This film's too sure-footed not to have everything clear in its own head, which is presumably because it's based on a novel, Koji Suzuki's first sequel to his original Ringu. It feels like it, too. It has the same backstory, at one point even showing us a photo taken during Sadako's time at that Tokyo theatre company we saw in Ringu 0. Unfortunately it's missing pretty much everything that made the original Ringu so special. It's not technophobic. It has no urban legends. It doesn't have the ticking clock factor of having one week to live, which gave Ringu a sense of urgency even when our heroes weren't making much progress. Hell, it barely even has the killer video. Sadako's acquired a whole new agenda in this film, which I can't discuss for fear of spoilers but it's weird and to me didn't feel Sadako-like. Apparently Koji's novels take this even further, but I'm talking about the films here.
Visually it has odd points of both faithfulness and unfaithfulness with the main trilogy. It uses all the same cast as Ringu, which is nice, although there's a new Sadako. She got recast in almost every film, depending on who was the director. She's played by Rie Inou in 1 & 2, Yukie Nakama in 0 and here Hinako Saeki. However the biggest difference is that writer-director Joji Iida isn't trying to copy Hideo Nakata's style. This film feels more Hollywood, if you know what I mean. It has pretty music and more conventional cinematography with the camera following our heroes in a way that tells you they're the heroes.
We also see Sadako's face! What happened to her hair? Also Sadako's victims don't die with their mouths open any more. All this adds up to a film that isn't particularly scary, unless you're phobic about scalpels. Our hero is a pathologist, you see.
This film is fine, but missing a lot of the things that made Ringu special. It has a simple, clean narrative, as indeed do they all except Ringu 2. I didn't understand the ending, but that's because they'd been careless with their exposition rather than because of any fundamental problem with the plot. It's also still a ghost story, even if it's ditched almost everything else you might think you know, so that gives rise to some mildly spooky moments. You'll enjoy this film more if you put from your mind all comparisons with Ringu, but unfortunately that connection is the only reason anyone's going to seek it out these days.
Viewed as an entry in the Ringu series, it has points of interest. For starters it's unique in being focused on a male protagonist. This makes more of a difference than you'd think. Mitsuo Andou is an old friend of Ryuji Takayama's with suicidal tendencies, who finds himself called upon to perform Ryuji's autopsy. There's rougher language than in the rest of this rather rarefied series, not to mention even sex! Sadako is seductive. No, I wouldn't have believed it either. This film is incompatible with Ringu 2, but fine with both of the others and it would be possible to construct an alternate Ringu trilogy with 0, 1 and Rasen. Wow. That would feel almost unrecognisable.
It's become noticeable here that this fictional universe is full of psychics and psychic powers. They're in all the other films as well, but this was where I started rolling my eyes at the coincidences. However having said that, ironically it's also much more faithful to the original novels. Hideo Nakata's Ringu toned down the science, concentrated on supernatural creeps and made it more character-based. Apparently the most faithful of all the Ringu adaptations is the poorly-regarded 1995 Fuji Television movie, which says it all, really.
Thinking about this movie a few weeks after watching it, all I could remember about its story was that I'd had to go looking on the internet to understand the ending. Ringu is a franchise that's struggled with its sequels. Ranking the series:
- 1st = Ringu, although I don't find it as terrifying as many people seem to.
- 2nd = Ringu 0: Birthday, which tells a proper story with a strong ending and is even romantic.
- 3rd = Ringu 2, despite being the best thing out there with both "Ring" and "2" in the title. Personally I enjoyed it. However I was watching as if it were hard SF, except with supernatural instead of scientific speculation.
- 4th = Rasen. Not bad, but I wouldn't call it good either.
It's slow. It assumes we haven't seen Ringu and takes 10000000000 years even to introduce the video, let alone allow Mitsuo Andou to entertain the possibility that the danger might be real. You'll be way ahead of him. The acting isn't very interesting, but some of it's quite good in its own low-key way. It doesn't feel very Ringu-ish, but arguably it's the other movies that got it wrong. If we'd never had Ringu for comparison, Rasen would be better regarded but even more completely forgotten. Nevertheless it doesn't really get anything wrong as such. In its own undistinguished way, it's quite a solid little film.