You may recall, that during the early 2000’s, there was a surge in horror films based on films that were made in Japan. For this week’s clash, we will focus on the film that started that trend.
Representing the old, we have the 1998 film “Ring,” colloquially referred to as ‘Ringu’ in the U.S. to differentiate it from it’s opponent, the 2002 remake titled “The Ring.”
Round 1: Story
Both films are based on a novel by Koji Suzuki; however, both films have similar discrepancies, such as the main character being a woman in both films when the novel’s protagonist was a man. That is not the only discrepancy between the films and the original novel, so we’ll narrow our focus onto the two films.
In the case of the 1998 version, the story feels like equal parts horror, paranormal murder mystery, and drama, albeit in a fairly subdued form. Our protagonist, Reiko Asakawa, is a reporter, who hears of the tape when researching the rumor and about it’s prevalence amongst teenagers, learning that her niece was one of the victims.
Much of the film is focused on her investigation as she looks into what led up to her niece’s death, eventually having to call upon her ex-husband, who’s a professor at an unnamed university. Later in the film, it’s revealed that he’s also a telepath, but this is mostly used to convey expositional information that probably would’ve been impossible for the main characters to learn otherwise. As such, it feels more like a deus ex machina more than anything, given how late we learn about it.
This leads to the supernatural elements of the film, as both the film and the novel rely a great deal on Japanese folklore. As there are many folk tales recounting vengeful spirits and the like, the film doesn’t devote as much time into really “explaining” what’s going on, allowing Japanese audiences to suspend their disbelief much more quickly.
I mention this, because this is something the remake no doubt struggles with when attempting to tailor the story for American audiences. The story is identical beat for beat, but a few plot points are shifted around and elements are taken out, such as many of the supernatural elements present in the original.
The film also goes into more detail explaining the origins of the tape and the characters seen in the tape. However, this is done almost to the point of spelling everything out for the audience in an almost condescending way. The film does have some creatively creepy moments; there were a few times where I felt they got a little over-indulgent.
Looking at both films, they appear to be on a fairly level playing field. While the original kept things fairly simple, some plot points were revealed in a very rushed and clumsy way. The remake added some details that made the alterations work, but it also got over-emphasized. A few things as well have a few “out-of-nowhere” elements itself. As such, this round ends in a draw.
Round 2: Atmosphere
Since both films come from a modern aesthetic, there’s not much to be said about the atmosphere of both films. Much of this has to do with the stylistic choices that are common in both Japanese and American cinema.
On top of that, nothing really stood out in the horror department when it comes to the atmosphere of both films. There are some creative shots in both that are oddly “mirrored” from one another, but nothing that really stood out better than the other.
As such, this round also ends in a draw. Neither film really out-“atmospheres” the other.
Tie-Breaker: Best “Tape”
To decide this battle, it’s best for us to tempt fate and look at the very object the films focus on: the cursed tape. For this round, we’ll take a look at the visuals on both tapes as well as how the “curse” plays out in both films.
For those unfamiliar, the story of both films centers around an urban legend regarding a cursed video tape that a group of teenagers watched while on vacation. Much like many of the chain letters and spam e-mails floating around in your mailboxes, those who view the tape die exactly seven days after viewing, down to the exact minute after receiving a mysterious phone call, regardless whether they pick up or not.
Both tapes feature moderately identical imagery, again mirrored from one another, but also feature a few key differences, mainly pertaining to information surrounding the tape as explained in both films.
In the case of the 1998 version, the tape features the mirrors and the well, but also inadvertently features clues about it’s origin within the tape itself, such as the newspaper clipping, a distorted folk saying, footage of people dying in relation to the events in the clipping and the kanji for the child’s name.
The 2002 version contains the mirrors and the well, but also contains footage of bugs, floating chairs, a ladder and the footage of dying people being swapped for dying horses. It also boasts some slightly faster editing in a few places as well as containing slightly different clues.
Finally, we have the curse itself. Both films showed the tape viewing being followed by a phone call. While the remake has the memorable line, “seven days,” come over the phone, we never actually hear anything in the original.
After the seven days pass for both main characters, we see the girl exact her curse onto the ex-husband, crawling out of the television playing the tape and basically cause the ex to die from fright.
Here’s the one thing I liked in the original that I didn’t really like in the remake: when Sadako, the girl in the well, appears, you never really see her face. You saw her hands and iconic black hair, but there were no shots of her face in plain view, adding an almost Lovecraftian element of mystery at the very end of the film.
This was where I thought the remake was overindulgent. While the actual effect of Samara coming out of the television was impressive, I felt that they were a little too proud of their make up work and really wanted to show it off. While it was fine to have Samara resemble a water-logged corpse, having that appearance transition to the victims was unnecessary.
The lack of decomposition of the victims made the deaths in the original appear mysterious. As such, it makes sense that police and morticians would be baffled. If they were to find a body that was suddenly decomposed, yes it would be baffling, but it wouldn’t be as easy to dismiss as simple heart failure, as the script would have us believe.
It is for this reason that I give this round to the 1998 version. It just carries a little more subtlety in its presentation, which in turn makes the experience even more eerie.
Winner: 1998 version
This was a pretty close battle, but I can’t in good conscience outright say that one film is ultimately superior, which does go against the very purpose of Monster Clash.
Both films are well-produced in their own right and also have their fair share of flaws. While I did have problems with the remake, I can’t say that the original is absolutely perfect either.
Take a look at both films and decide for yourself which one is better, because it really comes down to whether or not the viewer is familiar with the filmmaking styles of both American and Japanese films, as well as what inspired both version. It also helps if you grew up in a time where VHS was the viable home entertainment medium.
For now, this battle comes to a close in favor of the 1998 version of “Ring.”
1998 Version: 3
2002 Version: 2
Winner: 1998 version
Join me next week, where we shall bring this year’s Monster Clash to a groovy end as we visit a cabin in the woods.