Blu-ray Review: Ringu Collection [Limited Edition] | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, May 24th, 2020  

Ringu Collection [Limited Edition]

Studio: Arrow Video

Oct 31, 2019 Web Exclusive
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Like most Americans, my first exposure to the bone-chilling, cursed video at the heart of the Ring mythos came from the franchise’s effective, 2002 Hollywood remake, The Ring. By the time that film had hit theaters, though, Ring – or Ringu, as it’s more commonly (if incorrectly) known – was already an absolute phenomenon on the other side of the Pacific. The story had already been filmed twice in the mid-to-late ‘90s, with the second (and best-known) version become one of the top-grossing Japanese films of all time, with three sequels (two canon, one ignored) of its own. There were also two television series, a pair of video games, and a South Korean remake all based on the movie and the bestselling novel series it was loosely adapted from – which itself was four books deep – all before Hollywood got around to their take on the tale.

Like the curse that spreads with each newly-dubbed copy of Sadako’s VHS tape, it didn’t stop there. This year marked the release of the franchise’s thirteenth (!) big-screen incarnation. Our long-haired bogeywoman has become such a fixture of horror pop culture that she even received her own nutty, Freddy vs. Jason-style movie, Sadayko vs Kayako, in 2016, which pitted her against her fellow ghostly antagonist from the Ju-on (or, The Grudge) series of films.

Although many Western horror fans eventually found their way to the original Japanese movies, we’ve never had such a full-scale, in-depth appreciation for Sadako and her tragic tale than what can be found in Arrow Video’s Ringu Collection. The new boxed set squeezes in four movies – the “original” trilogy of Japanese entries, as well as the ret-conned, “lost” first sequel – and more extra features that explore the series’ impact and mythos than any fan of Ring or j-horror could hope for.

Across all of the many iterations of the Ring story, the core premise seems to be the one thing that remains relatively untouched. There’s a videotape containing what appears to be a haunting, experimental short film. Moments after someone watches it, the phone rings, emitting mysterious sounds and the eventual phrase, “Seven days.” Exactly one week from that moment, they’ll die under mysterious yet undeniably awful circumstances – that is, unless they make a copy of the tape and ensure that someone else watches it, passing the curse on to the next person.

The first Ringu follows Reiko Asakawa, a television reporter working on a piece about a supposed urban legend about a haunted videotape. When her niece dies under strange circumstances – at the same time as three friends who took a secret trip with her the weekend prior – Reiko does some deep digging into the tape’s whereabouts. She finds it at a rental cabin in rural Japan and unleashes the curse upon herself. In order to save her own life – and that of her son, who is coerced by his cousin’s spirit into watching the tape – she recruits her ex-husband to help investigate its origin, and the story behind the images that appear in the video.

Ringu 2 picks up shortly after the first movie ended, and follows instead several side characters from the first movie as they examine the disappearance and deaths of the original movie’s leads. Despite their chilling reputations and no shortage of creepy imagery and set pieces, both of these follow more of a procedural framework than that of a traditional, modern scary movie. Ringu and Ringu 2 build up queasy feelings of dread fantastically as their characters frantically search for answers and ways out over their seven remaining days. While they play mostly like a mystery, both movies end with absolutely terrifying finales. The films are 95% about build-up, but their payoffs are more than worthy of that level of audience investment.

Ringu 0 is a prequel, and very different from its predecessors. Director Hideo Nakata moved on from the series (until he directed the second American remake, that is) and was replaced by Norio Tsurata, who – with the first two films’ screenwriter, Hiroshi Takahashi – is interested in fleshing out Ring’s mythos in a fascinatingly alternate way. Subtitled “Birthday,” Ringu 0 delves into Sadako’s teenage years, her romantic relationship with a boy her age, and the way in which her powers lead her to clash with the world around her. It unexpectedly paints the series’ ghastly villain as a mostly sympathetic heroine, recalling Carrie more than the other films in the trilogy. It works rather well, and ties up the original trilogy neatly before the franchise devolved into re-hashes, re-boots, and other tired territory.

Arrow Video’s Ringu Collection includes all three films of the original trilogy, as well as the intentionally-buried first sequel, Spiral, which was shot and released simultaneously to the first movie but swept under the rug after a poor reception. (Sure enough, it’s not good at all – but perhaps worth viewing to see the absolutely bonkers other direction the Sadako story could have gone.) Alongside the movies are a ton of newly-assembled documentaries, from appreciations and histories of the franchise by esteemed critics such as Rebekah McKendry, Kat Ellinger, Jasper Sharp, and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, subtitled archival features, and a 60-page booklet of essays. You’ll also find trailers, deleted scenes, and an uncut version of Sadako’s cursed video – which is even creepier to view in its entirety than it is when you're watching the characters react to it. Even the packaging is great, with newly-commissioned box art and creepy images of Sadako slowly emerging from her well along the spines of the Blu-ray cases – it’s an awesome little touch. Any fan of j-horror is going to want this collection, which pays the ultimate tribute to the series which launched the whole phenomenon.  



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