Ringu – a movie to see, but not a book to read?

Good movies are a rarity these days, especially the ones which induce spine chilling horror. Good campfire supernaturalisms of Twilight Zone are long past, soon replaced by murkier, comic-esque Gorehouse roller-coasters , made to a near cult status by the adept hands of Sam Raimi and Rob Zombie to name a few ( Clive Barker, I haven’t forgotten you as well!). Cut to nineties and the early 2000’s, a new generation of movies started to evolve. As if you’re videotaping the entire thing, the screen would quiver to mimic hand movement and actual point of view. This was made hugely successful by films like Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, and the original Spanish masterpiece, Rec.

Of all the horror movies I have had the chance of watching, I feel Spanish and Japanese movies are genuinely scary, though how their scare tactics work are entirely different. Both rely heavily on folklore. The Japanese society has seen a marvelous transition from the eerily conservative Feudal ages, to the somewhere in the middle Meiji days, to Taishō and modern Western-heavy incarnations, and the difference in lifestyle between the days of the past and the current is an enthralling and often chilling subject of stories. The Spanish, however, deal with age old colonialism and the plagues of the dark ages to push out unyielding tales of horrors. But the stories vary, and are not limited to these examples.

Koji Suzuki’s ‘Ring’, or ‘Ringu’ in Japanese, is the source of two movies. One in original language in 1998, and the American remake in 2002. Both movies did fairly well, and I remember watching them and coming away with a very disturbed feeling. It came as no wonder that I wanted to read the book which inspired these movies.

It all starts with four teenagers mysteriously dying on the same day which sparks interest of a reporter. In his mid thirties, protagonist Kazuyuki Asakawa takes it upon himself to uncover the secrets of these deaths, in an investigation which he thinks would revive is stagnant career, but he himself gets into the line of fire while attempting it. Moreover, his flamboyant professor friend Ryuji Takayama gets involved too, and together they solve the puzzle bit by bit. The only catch? They have only seven days in their hand.

The seemingly uninteresting video, watching which the viewer gets killed on the seventh day, is no video at all. The reality of it all gets revealed slowly as the story progresses. Sadako Yamamura, the main antagonist is only known from her past encounters, and doesn’t show up in flesh (or in spiritual form). The plot twists are fairly consistent, but you can’t help feeling sad after finishing it all. The movies were much more scary. The novel gets the descriptions and narratives in spades, but somehow lacks the spine-chilling horror.

Not all is lost though. The novel is disturbing at places, with a couple of rapes thrown in the mix, and a bizarre truth about Yadako can be a little hard to swallow at first. But the fact that other than the mystery being really difficult to solve, the main characters hardly face any adversities. There are some nice character progression in place, but the abruptness in which the insights are given hits the smooth flow a little hard. Maybe the flow is lost in translation, but I can not comment on that.

So after reading and finishing this novel in about a week, I came away underwhelmed. Ring is a good read, but it does not provide the sinister chills the movies imprinted in our memories.

This time around, it’s the movie which wins the round.

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