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The Ring trilogy
casts: Matsushima Nanako, Sanada Hiroyuki, Daisuke Ban, Yukie Nakama, and Kumiko Aso

directors: Hideo Nakata, Norio Tsuruta

285 minutes (15) 1998-2000
widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan Asia Extreme DVD Region 0 retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Peter Schilling
A deliciously chilling Halloween-season treat for the more adventurous enthusiasts of genre movies, this superbly re-mastered collector's edition boxset of the highly acclaimed Japanese trilogy of supernatural mystery horrors should be a welcome gift for anyone interested in spooky cinema. Based upon the 1989 novel by Kôji Suzuki, Ring (aka: Ringu, 1998), Ring 2 (1999), and imaginative prequel Ring O: Birthday (2000) have the cumulative power of a techno-pagan mythology. The ultimately terrifying yet wholly sympathetic figure of Sadako is undoubtedly a distaff match for any number of Michael Myers, Pinheads, Freddy Kruegers, poltergeists or djiins in the pan-cultural genre pantheon of human monsters and occult powers.

Effortlessly fusing Videodrome (1982) with Black Sunday (aka: La Maschera Del Demonio, 1960) by way of The Blair Witch Project, Hideo Nakata's mesmerising Ring launches the trilogy's multipart narrative as TV reporter Reiko investigates a spate of bizarre deaths, curiously linked to the illicit distribution of an allegedly 'weird' videotape. The evidence leads her to a place where a copy of original video was first viewed by some doomed teens, and then a race against the clock to save her son from unwitting exposure to the VHS-rune that's spreading a death curse. Worthwhile US remake, The Ring, capably directed with tremendous respect for its oriental source material by Gore Verbinski, was quite well received and it has certainly boosted the profile of the original Japanese movies.

Ring 2 (also from Nakata) offers a complication of its predecessor's themes, while also fielding more subtly enhanced technical brilliance, daylight scares, and some science fictional 'explanations' for apparent occultist, supernatural, or just weird, mystifying events. Its uncanny twists develop the original film's elegant simplicity to new levels, opening out the Ring milieu with references to other paranormal or simply inexplicable pseudoscience concepts, owing a significant debt to non-UFO lore of American cult-TV series, The X-Files. However derivative this may seem, I found Ring 2 one of the most satisfying movie sequels of recent years.

Norio Tsuruta's bizarrely imaginative Ring 0: Birthday shifts both emphasis and content to postmodernist degrees, for a prequel that examines the origins of well-witch Sadako, while cementing further backstory elements (cunningly depicted in docudrama scenes) to contrast with a peculiar take on Japanese cultural heritage, in the production of a traditional ghost-story as a stage-play. Tsuruta's approach is sometimes radically different to Nakata's, with an experimentalist fervour that certainly brings a refreshing variation of directorial authority to this remarkable trilogy, yet without compromising its aesthetical currency for the US-standard of movie-franchising which, sadly, often make too many concessions to Hollywood product-marketing requirements.

The international success with Ring led Nakata to the inspired Dark Water, and alongside the Pang brothers' Bangkok Haunted and masterly The Eye seems like heralding a renaissance in eastern supernatural movies, which deserves to find a wider audience than oriental cinema usually reaches. Indeed, perhaps we are on the verge of another subgenre wave comparable to Hong Kong's cycle of comedy ghost and vampire movies of the 1980s and early 1990s.

In addition to the Ring trilogy, this four-disc boxset includes Nakata's rarely seen film Sleeping Bride (2000) as a very welcome extra. As it's title suggests, this is a variation on the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, and tells of air-crash survivor Yumi's awakening (both to full-consciousness, and sexual awareness) after spending her whole life asleep, from birth to age 17, in a hospital bed. Pursued by a worryingly obsessed little boy, Yuichi, who grows up into besotted student (Hiroki Kohara), Yumi is eventually roused from her scientifically baffling slumber by a genuinely passionate kiss, and astounds doctors with her fantastically prodigious learning ability - walking and talking and reading in less than 48 hours. As the engagingly child-like Yumi, Risa Goto, in her first screen role is frankly amazing in so many scenes you'd think she was a teenage prodigy from a famous multi-generational acting dynasty. Of course, there's a wholly tragic plot twist in store for the young couple in this largely platonic romance, and yet the denouement has a closure of poetic melancholy that alleviates its acute sorrow.

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