1995. Japan. Dir. Chisui Takigawa
In 1998, a little film from Japan, based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, changed the face of horror forever. Ringu was a monster hit and its repercussions were felt across the globe for years to come, ushering in a new wave of J-Horror featuring spooky long-haired girl ghosts oh-so-slowly stalking their prey. Rip-offs and remakes followed with crushing inevitability, some good, some bad. But Ringu wasn’t actually the first adaptation of the novel. Three years prior, Chisui Takigawa directed his own version for Japanese television, reportedly a more faithful adaptation than any subsequent effort.
The good news is that director Takigawa has one eye on the exploitation market, and so, while adhering to the text for the most part, he also makes the crackpot decision to have his scary ghost lady swan about in the buff for the entire climax.
But more on that later. How does this low-budget TV movie compare to the creeping unease of its more famous cousin?
Better than you might think! It was hard to tell from the shonky print I watched — the movie has never been released on DVD or Blu-ray — but I think it was filmed on videotape, which is notoriously difficult to shoot cinematically. Video is too clear, too realistic to create the requisite atmosphere of dread necessary for this noirish ghost story, but Takigawa certainly tries, and Kazumi Iwata’s restless, prowling camerawork is the film’s major asset. It opens with a wild crane shot reminiscent of Argento’s Tenebre, before introducing us to the first victim. What are the odds on her being a schoolgirl in short-shorts?
Pretty high, I’d say.
In a ridiculously sleazy touch, the shower inexplicably bursts into life as she dies, giving Takigawa opportunity to ogle her wet t-shirt. You know, I’m beginning to think he might be some sort of perv, but let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for now.
Cut to –
A surprisingly graphic sex scene in a car!
I don’t remember any of this from the other film, but maybe I’m just getting old and forgetful. I do remember a newspaper reporter, and sure enough here he is, looking all crumpled and smoky like all good movie reporters do.
He works for the Toto newspaper, which I’d like to believe is named after either the dog or the band, though it’s probably neither. You know he’s a hotshot, because he asks the big questions, like ‘What couple would commit suicide with their underwear off?’
Ah, it takes all sorts, buddy.
Lest this review sound too snarky, it’s worth pointing out how atmospheric proceedings have been so far. I’m beginning to think the director is a big fan of Italian horror legend Dario Argento. Not content with borrowing shots from Tenebre, he also opens the film in a structurally similar way to Suspiria — an outrageous opening murder, followed by cab ride with twinkling proggy music obscuring the dialogue. The music throughout is pretty good, aping Mike Oldfield’s Exorcist score quite a bit, while also sounding similar to the crazy Japanese Cronenberg/giallo hybrid Evil Dead Trap.
From here-on in, events play out pretty much like the other versions of the story. Our intrepid hero does some detective work, visits a cabin where some of the deceased had partied the previous week, finds an unmarked videotape and plays it.
Unfortunately, this is where things go off-the-rails slightly. In the 1998 version, the tape is a collage of nightmarish, senseless imagery that suggests more than it shows. It’s almost otherworldly in its supernatural menace. What do we get here?
Erupting volcanos, rolling dice and nude silhouettes, like the credits to a particularly poor James Bond film, and I’m talking early 80s Roger Moore-level bad. There’s a cool twist I won’t spoil regarding the black frames that intermittently appear, but that’s about it. The rest of the film plays out pretty much exactly as you’d expect, with the exception of the delirious choice to make Sadako a naked ghost.
Reportedly, there’s an even longer edit out there that includes twenty more minutes of softcore sex scenes, but you can track that down yourself, I want no part of it, thank you very much. Much like the ’98 version, the film sags in the middle, the highlight being a trip to a video store with an unexpected cameo from Keanu Reeves.
Well, sort of. But hey, isn’t Speed a great movie?
Sorry, getting side-tracked there.
Ringu Kanzen-ban isn’t a great movie, and it definitely overstays its welcome, but for fans of J-horror and the Ring franchise, it’s an amusing diversion. At the very least it’s infinitely better than the appalling studio effort Rings from a couple years back. I enjoyed the on-the-fly camerawork, the decent synth-score and the unapologetic sleaze. Remember the chilling shot of the well from the ’98 version? Here it is with a couple having sex in front of it!
Final note — if you manage to make it through all 91 minutes, be sure to stick around for the post-credits scene. It’s the uninterrupted haunted video! Dare you sit through the whole thing? And if you do, will Roger Moore appear behind you, smirking and raising an eyebrow?
I’m not brave enough to try.
David Sodergren lives in Scotland with his wife Heather and his best friend, Boris the Pug. A lifelong devotee of horror, his first novel, The Forgotten Island, was published on October 1st 2018.
He has several more books in various stages of development.
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