Ringu: The most influential film of the late 1990s?
The Japanese horror did more to revitalise a genre than any other release of its era
Ringu was a smash in its native Japan, but its effect abroad secured its seminal reputation
Film Title: Ringu
Director: Hideo Nakata
Starring: Nanako Matsushima, Hiroyuki Sanada, Rikiya Otaka, Yoichi Numata
Running Time: 95 min
Here’s a notion. Hideo Nakata’s Ringu – receiving a 20th anniversary release – is the most influential film of the late 1990s. We’re not saying it’s the best. We’re not even saying it’s the best horror film. But it did more to alter and revitalise a genre than any other release of its era.
You know what happens. This was the “haunted videotape” film. The ghost-delivery system could hardly seem more antiquated now if it made use of carrier pigeons.
But the notion of a mad rumour, passed about eagerly by teenagers, makes even more sense in the social-media age. This week alone, a scare story (almost certainly a hoax) about a destructive meme has colonised media.
Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), a reporter investigating the case, soon finds a horrible personal connection to the curse. We wander here, there and everywhere and eventually, while sitting in front of the telly, encounter a moment that sits with classic horror fun such as the shower in Psycho and the bath in Les Diaboliques. (We’ll say no more in case this is the reader’s first encounter.)
The film, based on a series of successful novels, was a smash in its native Japan, but its effect abroad secured its seminal reputation. By the millennial years, the mainstream American horror film had become utterly fagged out.
The success of Wes Craven’s Scream in 1996 offered a jolt, but, almost immediately, the desire to place all shocks within inverted commas became a burden. The conventions of post-modern horror proved even more restrictive than the conventions satirised in the Craven movie.
The distribution of Ringu hipped audiences to developments in J-horror (as the Japanese tradition was now dubbed) that had been afoot for decades. Ghosts could again be ghosts. The ancient worked its way throughout the modern. Certain tropes became overused – the scary wan woman with long black hair was suddenly at every unoccupied window – but the Japanese films’ openness to narrative ambiguity proved liberating.
It was now okay to be puzzled again. Gore Verbinski’s pallid remake was a smash. Nakata’s sequel to the remake (keep up) restored some of the madness.
The original film still plays like gangbusters. The shocks are well paced. The design is as lovely as it is horrible. Welcome back.
Opens March 1st