The Ring Trilogy
Collector's Edition

Starring: Matsushima Nanako, Daisuke Ban, Yukie Nakama and Risa Goto
Tartan Asia Extreme
RRP: 39.99
TVD 3499
Certificate: 15
Available 25 October 2004

After a schoolgirl dies in a rictus of terror a female journalist called Asakawa investigates the modern legend of a video which kills the viewer after a week. She discovers that four friends stayed at a cabin, watched a video and died a week later. When she traces the cabin, she finds the video and watches a series of strange images surrounding a well, a woman in a mirror and an eruption. Immediately it is finished the phone rings and she knows she only has a week to live...

The woman in the mirror is discovered to be Shizuko. More than 30 years earlier a Dr Ikuma had arranged a demonstration of her E.S.P. for the press. The results were amazing, but one reporter started a near riot by calling the test a hoax. The reporter dropped dead, but Shizuko was as surprised as anyone and realised it was her daughter Sadako, who had been in hiding.

People called Sadako a monster as people often died around her. When Shizuko died Dr Ikuma adopted her as his illegitimate child. Now, Asakawa is searching for answers in a race against time which is made more desperate when she learns her little boy has watched the video. She guesses that Sadako was killed and sealed in the well, and thinks that if she finds the body her life will be saved. But what if that doesn't end the curse and her time runs out?

Ring made quite an impact when it first emerged in 1998. Hideo Nakata gave us something almost totally different to what we had become accustomed to. It's essentially a ghost story, but gives us both new and old legends as well as an investigation against the clock. The American remake, although pretty good, failed to recapture the pace and storytelling skills of this Japanese original.

Nakata's groundbreaking horror is creepy whilst remaining tasteful. Unlike many Hollywood directors he also knows how to command the scenario of time running out. One or two people about to die somehow carries more tension than an entire facility, or indeed the entire world, going up in flames. The suspense of being trapped on an island during a storm with little more than a day remaining is very well handled, as is the draining of the well as the sun sets outside.

Asakawa, the journalist from the first, film is missing and her ex-husband, thought saved, is dead. The body of Sadako has been recovered from the well. The pathologist explains that Sadako has only been dead for a year or two, which means she was alive for 30 years sealed inside. The father of Asakawa is found dead at his house. It is rumoured that the only way to survive the curse if you have seen the video is to make a copy and show it to somebody else within a week. It is thought that she sacrificed her father to save her son. After a number of curious sightings the boy is found. It turns out that, like all those affected by the curse, he has developed some terrifying powers from Sadako. A research scientist explains that the video is the embodiment of Sadako's fury, and that Yoichi, the boy has some of that same fury. But an experiment to drain it off goes disastrously wrong...

This film continues the story pretty much where the last one left off. Asakawa and Yoichi her son have to be found, and when they are Yoichi becomes the main focus of the story, although his powers are linked inextricably to Sadako.

Ring 2 from 1999, also by Hideo Nakata, follows a similar format of investigation interspersed with off-kilter links into the nightmare world of Sadaka. The scene at the pool when the water is used in an attempt to soak up Yoichi's fury is quite spooky. A journalist colleague of Asakawa climbs the inside of the well, with Yoichi clinging on, whilst Sadaka pursues her at an alarming rate. When she reaches the top it is to emerge from beneath the water of the pool.

In this prequel to the first film, Dr Ikuma and Sadako have disappeared after the events of the E.S.P. demonstration. Another reporter called Miyaji is trying to trace them. After complaining about seeing strange things, Sadako later tells her therapist that a drama troupe she has joined has helped her condition. However, although Sadako finds love for the first time, most people keep away from her because she is unusual and aloof. Two of the actors have a dream with a well in it, and see someone approaching Sadako from behind. One of them dies in the drama hall with a hideous expression on her face. The production continues with Sadako being given the lead part, but when Miyaji and one of the troupe try to kill her there are unforeseen consequences...

Whilst Ring 0 - Birthday from 2000 (by Norio Tsurunta) doesn't have as many set piece edge-of-the-seat moments, it does achieve much in explaining some of the unanswered questions created by the first two films. We see Sadaka in the days leading up to her death; all the troublesome moments appear to come from a third party and she herself pleads innocence without explaining why. The end sequence is quite inventive and I wonder if Nakata himself sanctioned this twist to the whole saga.

In 1954 a pregnant woman is the only survivor of a terrible plane crash. Although she later dies at hospital, the baby miraculously survives. She is healthy in every way except she won't wake up. Seven years later a little boy is in hospital with asthma. Against orders he wanders the corridors, and finds a sleeping girl in a secluded room. A nurse tells him the girl has never woken up since being born, and that she is a Sleeping Beauty. The boys looks up the fable in a book and then returns to her bedside, saying, "Wake up. I am a prince," and kissing her. This becomes a daily ritual, even after he is released from hospital. He returns regularly on the bus, bringing her wild flowers and a kiss. In 1972, as a teenage schoolboy he sees a flashback news report of the aircrash and is disgusted with himself that he could ever have forgotten. The ritual begins again. When she eventually does wake up she develops staggeringly quickly from a baby to a normal late teenager. They become very close, but then she drops the bombshell that she was told by someone in her sleep she would be awake for only five days...

What can I say about Sleeping Bride except that it's an unsung masterpiece. It isn't horror or fantasy, but it does have a thoroughly magical quality.

I thought this film from 2000 by Hideo Nakata had simply been thrown in to make the package look better, but this is without doubt the jewel in the crown of this 4-disc set. The balance and pacing couldn't be bettered; we are expertly taken though the emotions of sadness, melancholia, happiness, anger and pain with a gentle manipulation of the viewer. These are characters you really care about.

I enjoyed this one so much that I watched it again only two days later, and I can happily report that the effect was not diminished. Like Mary Poppins: "Perfect in every way."

Only the Ring 0 disc contains extras (a Making of documentary, deleted scenes, trailers and film notes), but who the devil cares? This 4-disc set from Tartan Asia Extreme is worth anybody's money. They are brand new anamorphic presentations offered in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround or DTS, which means they look and sound great. Go on, spend your money. These films are so good you'll even forget you're reading subtitles.

Ty Power

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