Ringu waits an agonising seven days to uncover a frightening mystery. Nakata's ominous J-horror that commenced a franchise both in its native country and picked up by Hollywood, has been recycled, parodied and analysed countless times in the past two decades. Having never seen the original, I was concerned that the unusually excellent American remake and hilariously defiant 'Scary Movie 3' would taint my judgement. "Cindy, the TV's leaking!". Fortunately, Nakata's gloriously astute direction unravels this mysterious phenomenon with a layer of timelessness and genuine fear, that fully held my attention. After watching a tape that grants her seven days to live, a mother and her ex-husband attempt to uncover the mystery of the tape before she meets her abrupt demise.
Continuing the trend with most hybrid horrors in Japanese cinema that were introduced in the 90s, the terrifying elements were handled through technically profound execution. Jump scares were non-existent. An absent score ramped up the suppressed tension. And lingering static shots with background changes, such as a ghostly figure lurking in the shadows, haunt the imagination. Yet despite the ominous aura that shrouded the cursed video tape, the central narrative itself was what truly enchanted.
Dabbling into themes of technological repression, motherhood and modernity, the supernaturally mentalistic aesthetic that plagued Ringu made for an interesting directorial choice by Nakata. Takahashi's script often exploring avenues on mentalism and traditional yūrei archetypes found in several ghostly J-horrors. It made for a refreshing, slowly paced mystery that was able to relish in Suzuki's original source material. Bolstering two fantastic central performances by Matsushima and Sanada, Nakata never loses focus on the chemistry between these two divorcees, as they travel to Izu Ōshima captured in Hayashi's absolute gorgeous cinematography. It's incredibly rare for a horror to intently concentrate on the characters whilst moving effortlessly along with the plot. And by the third act when a certain well is discovered, well, you'll be watching through your fingers.
Unfortunately, Nakata does not conclude the film there. Instead, a minuscule plot twist is realised and unsurprisingly didn't suit the authentic mystery that preceded it. It purposefully opened up to a sequel, which was ironically released and rapidly forgotten about at the same time (entitled 'Rasen'), and failed to round off the mystery of the video tape adequately. Did it leave me wanting to watch the "new" sequel? Of course, but the final ten minutes were not a result of that. Due to the reasonably short runtime, Takahashi forces a substantial amount of exposition during the second act that briskly moved the mystery along without much depth. Characters like Shizuko and Takashi become mere plot devices as opposed to genuine humans.
Still, Ringu's influence on the horror genre must be noted, for it started a new wave of ghostly tales. Nakata's technical involvement, accompanied by sterling performances and an uneasy central mystery, elevated the scares and ensured the horror comes crawling out of the television. Oh, and adored the ominous sound effects that complimented the onscreen countdown. Reminded me of 'Clocktower 3'...