The Ring film series is based on the Japanese novel written by Kôji Suzuki and was originally adapted into the J-Horror classic Ringu, 1988 directed by Hideo Nakata then later remade in America into three films.
On the topic of J-Horror, this film is considered is a classic of the western remake trend. It’s an iconic film from the early millennia that has all of the traditional elements of horror; something that is ‘other’ or ‘abject’, an analysis of parenthood, creepy children that are more powerful than the adults, unexplainable and unsolvable mysteries and…jump scares.
I first watched The Ring at University in a horror film theory class. It’s here I studied the original Japanese Ringu, 1988 and the remake The Ring, 2002. I enjoyed both films independently and also found the comparisons and differences interesting, retrospective of the times in which both films were made.
Recently having re-watched the original Ringu and The Ring back to back, I found myself focusing a lot more on the aspect of parenthood and the analysis of gender and tradition.
In both versions, the mother of the young boy is portrayed as the modern, independent career woman. She often uses babysitters to care for the child and turns a blind eye to the worrying aspects of the boys’ oddly mature and eerie behavior. The Ring shows two different aspects of parenthood. The journalist parents who had their child very young probably a ‘happy surprise’ – as they say (this notion is emphasized more in the western remake) and then the spirit girls parents who wished for a child for so long and jumped through hoops, or rings… to get her.
Patriarchal oppression is a topic that’s deep-rooted in Japanese ancient tales and is often told in film and literature in the form of a vengeful female spirit. I can’t decide if I’m completely sold on this idea being complimentary to feminism. Of course it’s better the female character be portrayed as powerful and determined, but I can’t help but feel the feminine features of the story line are saturated with destruction, obsession loss of mental control or devoid of the traditional maternal qualities.
Birth and parenthood is often exploited in horror as its a common factor that all beings share on the planet. One connecting factor that brings us all together. What horror does is break that connection and exploit it in order to represent the abjection, the way something so inherent to the order of the world can destroy itself.
There is no solution in The Ring. Only the factor of replicating the tape and sharing it will save your life, by cursing another. It’s a vicious cycle that plays oddly on the idea of reproduction.
J-Horror is special in this way, as it captures the essence of a existential existence. To die is not desired, to live is not ideal. At some point, us cinephiles may just have to accept that the evil caused by this young girl, is due to her being inherently evil and that’s that. But that would be awfully boring wouldn’t it?
Alas, we continue.
Technology is shown having a very important role in the day to day life and this is especially palpable in the remake where the devices are given more focus.
The exploitation of technology portrayed as harmful and negative is refreshing in 2020 – the age of Instagram
Watching in 2020, it’s almost sad – they didn’t have a clue what was coming if they thought VHS was the biggest of their concerns… or maybe they did?
When Yoichi/Aidan watch the tape, it’s almost a warning…it will even become a part of the children’s everyday life. Now with depression rates soaring amongst adolescents due to living online and being exposed to selling a designed version of your life from a very early age – these films can be seen as….cautionary tales? or is that a bit too dark? hmm.
Naomi Watts shrieking ‘Leave him alone’ is so earth quakingly intense, her maternal instincts finally kick in and she is desperate to save her son.
The performances of Nanako Matshushima as Reiko and Naomi Watts as Rachael are played out quite differently. Nanako is a more reserved, average young mother, whereas Rachael has a bit more depth. She walks into Aidan’s school, late saying ‘shit’ to someone on the other end of the phone. This immediately presents her as a carefree, slightly immature and less refined young mother. She also refuses to be fired when she begins investigating the events surrounding the cursed tape. Reiko is a lot more demure and elegant and this is perhaps due to the two cultures within the countries of production.
One of the main reasons I enjoy both version retrospectively is the budget and character development. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a masterpiece in character psychology, by any means. However, it’s noticeable that the two directors put their focus on some characters more so than on others. For example, Nakata developed the back story of the curse in Ringu through flashbacks to the local psychic who’s daughter who was exploited by a doctor. Her child is Sadaku who gets some of her mother’s powers passed down to her and twisted further into destructive capabilities. I love the aesthetic of this flashback . It’s deeply saturated grain looks quite cheaply done but its effective. It’s warm tones contract from the darkness of the plot.
Verbinski’s The Ring opts for a more cool toned picture which allows for no comfort along the way. The variety of greys and blues have a distancing effect, from the viewer and the main characters as well as their surroundings.
The studio budget for the American remake allowed for a deeper more explicit exploration of the intricacies of horror. The chaotic editing is intended to get the viewers heart racing and overload their vision with images. This can be seen in the more detailed video tape. It’s not only longer but
Whereas the original is quieter and slower in pace that creates a loneliness. Both methods are effective.
The Ring is an early example of the extremities of jump-scare horror along with the Scream and Saw Franchises.
Verbinski slowly paces connections between characters in the remake. The pace plays on the mystery surrounding the relationship between the main protagonists and only reveals this a quarter of the way through the film that Rachael and Noah are the young boy’s parents. Aidan calls his mother by her first name and acts, the definition of nonchalant with his father, Noah.
When Rachael finds Aidan watching the tape and is, quite rightly freaking out Noah calls, she thinks its creepy ghost girl, she yells down the phone ‘leave him alone!’ When she hears it is in fact, Noah, she explains ‘he’s watched it’ and Noah asks ‘who has?’ to which Rachael replies, ‘…Our son’ Aha! So Rachael and Noah are the parents. The screenwriters clearly wanted this to be a revelatory moment in the plot for viewers.
The characterization in the remake is perhaps more refined and noticeable. Especially in the characters, Noah and Aidan. There are a few comical quotes sprinkled in the script that situate the characters in the real world and offer momentary relief for the viewers. This helps humanize these characters for the viewer which only accentuates the other worldliness of Samara/Sadako,
Noah is a man baby, for lack of another term. He explains into the film that he had a crappy dad and therefore does not feel capable of bringing up a child of his own. He’s lives in a ginormous loft apartment with an industrial aesthetic, cold, grey, detached…
He has lockers with all of his equipment that is covered with band stickers inside to further promote his youthful sensibility.
Noah confides in he son, who should be too young for this conversation, but somehow handles is very maturely.
Kevin Heffernan writes in the book Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold about American intrigue into demonic children,
”In the years leading up to [Ira] Levin’s novel [Rosemary’s Baby – 1967] , discourses on juvenile delinquency, the horror film, and other areas of popular culture became increasingly obsessed with the figure of the sociopathic or demonic child. The appearance of this motif was directly connected to the fear of the contamination of children by both permissive childrearing practices and products of the culture industry’.
William Paul.[..] asserts that the monstrousness of the children…[…] is a result of their precocious possession of adult traits like self-control and insight in into the behaviour of their elders.*See reference below
I think the remake builds on the foundation provided by the original. Both versions highlight the father dating a younger girl, who is in some way below him in status; a student in the original and an intern in the remake. Traditional Japanese art involved women being subordinate to their male counterparts and are incapable of solving an issue themselves. This in interweaved in the plot through the leading lady requiring the company of her leading male counterpart to perform the supposed, ‘resolution’ task at the end. Although the remake sees Rachael go to the Samara’s father’s house alone while Noah went to the hospital. The original showed Reiko and Ryuji tackling every step together.
I would say that Nakato’s original films’ focus is on the female vengeance aspect whereas Verbinski’s remake sacrifices the traditional trope for a focus on the children’s power as greater than adults.
This film franchise has developed into somewhat of a cult classic due to it’s every-growing, ancient status amongst it’s multiple remakes and instalments. It’s a sold horror with a few scary moments, but all in all a dark analysis of the nuclear family, troubled children and…oh yeah crazy unbreakable curses.
‘Kevin Heffernan ‘Ghouls, Gimmicks and Gold, pg 185