Kumiko AsoThe RingNorio TsurutaYukie Nakama
Ringu 0: Birthday
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Norio Tsuruta
Writer: Koji Suzuki, Hiroshi Takahashi
Keywords: horror, ghost
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Yukie Nakama, Seiichi Tanabe, Kumiko Aso, Yoshiko Tanaka, Ryuji Mizukami, Takeshi Wakamatsu, Kaoru Okunuki, Daisuke Ban, Tsukasa Kimura, Junko Takahata, Masako
Format: 99 minutes
Series: << The Ring >>
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0235712/
Website category: J-horror
Review date: 21 May 2008
Ringu 0 is the most human film of the trilogy. It has a heart, while the other two were chilly exercises in disorientation. Admittedly at first the idea of a prequel sounded ridiculous to me, since the backstory's apparently laid out for all to see in the original film. It's a ghost story. They're as much about the past as the present. I didn't want to see a rehash of something that only had about ten minutes' worth of story in the first place.
Fortunately I was wrong. Ringu 0 is a much fresher film than Ringu 2, which tied itself in knots following up on the ideas and implications of the original. Ringu 0 however is telling an all-new story about Sadako from before she died. Well, I say "all-new". It's based on a Koji Suzuki short story, but you know what I mean. It's not just showing us stuff we knew. The final act does indeed feature the well and we know what's coming, but that's no bad thing. This film overturns everything we thought we knew, transforming Sadako from a monster into a human being without losing her murderous side. She's sweet. She gets a romance! No, I'm not kidding. It's rather good, actually. Incidentally I note that the English subtitles on the DVD chose not to translate Sadako and Toyama mouthing "I love you" to each other through the glass of a sound booth.
Sadako's being haunted by herself, believe it or not, which is one of the weirder ideas I can imagine for a ghost story and might take a little effort to get your head around. The key fact you've got to remember is that it didn't all begin with her being tipped down the well. There was a psychic experiment. People died. Sadako and her mother (who resembles a vampire) were bad news even when they were alive.
Incidentally the actress playing Sadako is Nakama Yukie, who I first saw playing Kumiko Yamaguchi in the TV adaptations of Gokusen. She's cute, although this isn't a cute role, and also good.
It takes the film a little while to reach Sadako herself and then even longer to peel open her shell and reveal the human being inside. Before that it spends a while spiralling in, setting the scene and making sure we haven't forgotten what kind of monster she'd become. Eventually we close in on the girl herself, who has joined a theatre group. They're rehearsing something that looks like but isn't Chekhov, which means dressing up in lovely period costumes which help the atmosphere to a surprising extent. I was cringing when the curtain went up for the first performance, not because of anything actually in the film itself but simply because I was watching a film. Stage shows always go wrong in movies. In the event, though, I'm happy to report that it wasn't embarrassing. Instead it was a tour de force of creepiness that ends in one hell of an Act Two denoument. A character does something terrifyingly stupid and after that things never stop getting wronger.
For Act Three's final bloodbath, even the cinematography changes. Well, I say bloodbath. It's the nearest this series will ever get to one, anyway. The Ringu franchise has always been about chills rather than gore, although it's also not afraid to rack up a body count. The significance of the altered picture quality (which I think is meant to be home cine footage) is that these films often reserved their worst horrors for VHS tapes, security cameras and things like that. I rather like the effect of inserting something like that into the movie as 'real'.
Crucially this film's style feels in tune with Hideo Nakata's work on Ringu and Ringu 2 despite having a different director, Norio Tsuruta. That's important.
In the end, you'll understand why a father does a terrible thing. Nevertheless it's no less disgusting for that and the old bastard deserves everything that's surely coming to him. Even at that late stage in proceedings though, there's still room for the odd weird touch you won't have expected. What was Sadako doing with that walk?
This is another strong story. To my surprise, the Japanese Ringu has turned out to be one of the most solid horror franchises I can remember. All three films in the trilogy are atmospheric, memorable and underneath their common house style, very different from (but faithful to) each other. What's more, they complement each other and are more enjoyable as a whole than as three films on their own. I've ordered Rasen and I'll let you know what I think when I've watched it. Ringu 0: Birthday is a fairly simple story, in that way more like Ringu than Ringu 2, but in its own way I think it's as clever as either of them. I don't know if I'd call it thought-provoking, but it's the most moving of the three while still managing to be scary. I was particularly impressed by what they did with Sadako.