When you read a great book that ends up being adapted into a movie, there are typically two kinds of ways you will respond to the adaptation:
- You want to completely avoid the film because of how it may diminish your feelings regarding the source material.
- You are absolutely curious as to how the book at hand will be translated to the big screen.
This same kind of formula can also be applied to film remakes. But when you reverse the viewing order, you may have an entirely different opinion of the franchise. Such was the case for me when it came to The Ring film series. I originally saw the 2002 American remake back in the day and have regarded it as one of my favorite horror films of the last 15 years. Because of this, I have always had the urge to see the original Japanese film.
Based on the 1991 novel of the same name by Koji Suzuki, Ring is a horror film requiring the following ingredients: a tempted individual, a videotape, a phone call, and a death occurring exactly seven days later. In this case, our tempted individual is Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), who hunts down the eerie tape after discovering a connection between it and the recent death of her niece. But of course having possession of the supposedly cursed tape is not enough. Reiko watches the tape of disturbing imagery and then receives a phone call. The seven-day countdown begins.
What transpires thereafter is a little cross-country detective work with the help of Reiko’s ex-husband, Ryūji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada), who also watches the tape. With both of their days numbered, the two search for the source of the video and slowly uncover a dark supernatural past.
It turns out that this film and its American remake are very similar. Not until the final half do the two films diverge more noticeably from each other. In fact, the earlier parts of the two films reminded me a lot of the relationship between Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho because of how the latter is considered an almost shot-for-shot remake. And while the similarities between the Psycho and Ring franchises are plenty, I wouldn’t exactly call any of the films in The Ring series a masterpiece. But then again, that’s the thing about remakes. They already set themselves up to fail because they are forced into comparison with their predecessors.
In my vice-versa scenario, I admire the Japanese original over the American remake because of how straightforward it is with the curse. But I thought the film broke down at the halfway point when the more psychic and supernatural elements were elaborated on in more detail. One of the scariest aspects of a horror film is having a sense of mystery. Of course information has to be revealed in order for things to be interesting, but it’s much better when there are at least a couple questions left unanswered.
Ring spends the last half of its running time providing many answers and very little scares. Thus, its straightforwardness ultimately drowns the film. I suppose the heightened atmosphere of the American remake is what drove my great affection for it. But I am now left uncertain about both films. Maybe this is the result of over-branding.