It’s time to cover a selection of films from the Asian Extreme Cinema genre of film. Now, there are a lot of films that come under the Asian Extreme Cinema banner, so I’ll be cutting my series into short sections. To begin with, I’ll be covering a trilogy of Japanese Supernatural Horror films: Ring, Ju-On: The Grudge and Noroi: The Curse.
Ring (AKA The Ring) (AKA Ringu) is a Supernatural Horror movie based on the wildly successful novel by Koji Suzuki. The film was directed by Hideo Nakata, a prolific name in the Japanese Horror film market who has also directed Dark Water, Don’t Look Up, and Kaidan. Upon it’s original release, Ring was one of the most successful Horror films to come from Japan, it became the highest grossing Horror film in Japan, it garnered a huge amount of success in Hong Kong as well, and its success also reached Western markets. In fact, thanks to it’s success and cultural impact, Ring may just be one of the most important Asian films ever released because it’s roaring success caused the film to be remade by Western film-makers in 2002, and that started a parallel movie franchise to be made, to which the most recent entry was released in 2017 (Rings). This remake of Ring caused a vast interest in Asian movies in the West, Horror movie remakes, and it’s probably the main reason why Asian Extreme Cinema is a recognized genre today as Ring popularized Asian Horror and created a whole new market for Horror movies in Western territories.
As for the film itself, The Ring is a very traditional ‘ghost story’ film that is, in itself, a portrayal of a very traditional ghost story. The original story was heavily inspired by the Japanese tale of Bancho Sarayashiki, a tale about a woman who was thrown into a well and became a vengeful spirit as result. Ring is, in some retrospects, an updated version of that particular ghost story for a 1990’s viewing audience; updated through the incorporation of currently existing technology into the story such as Video Cassettes, Television Sets and Photography Cameras. However, whereas ghost stories, especially ones from Japan, tend to have a very bizarre, very exaggerated sensibility, Ring is quite reserved in it’s story-telling. The main focus of the film is on family drama and desperation, instead of being about ghosts and death, and aside from a plot-line involving psychic abilities( a plot line that was inspired by real life psyhics), the film is surprisingly pragmatic. There’s no silliness in Ring, it’s all very grounded in reality and very sensible towards its subject matter of curses, hauntings and psychic abilities.
However, what makes Ring stand out in horror cinema is the film’s intense visual impact. I take my hat off in respect to Hideo Nakata because Ring is unlike any other film that makes an attempt at having ‘creepy’ visuals. In Ring, intense sequences such as the viewing of the video-tape, and the psychic flashbacks are thoroughly uncomfortable, thoroughly unnerving and downright disturbing because of the bizarre framing, quiet intensity and extraordinary editing from the film’s editor, Nobuyuki Takahashi, who was also the Editor for Dark Water and The Grudge and Noroi: The Curse. With Ring, Nobuyuki Takahashi demonstrates his creative ability and understanding of Horror cinema by creating a memorable visual style from the first frame of Ring to the last. However, Nobuyuki Takahashi’s greatest achievement with Ring is definitely the film’s horrifying climax. Through a mixture of Hideo Nakata’s creativity with actors and movement, and Nobuyuki Takahashi’s slick editing, the final sequence of Ring is absolutely horrifying. It’s one of the most frightening scenes in cinematic history and I’ve never seen a frightening scene in a horror movie that’s more accomplished, more intense than this one. Even though though I’ve seen scarier films than Ring, there’s no moment more terrifying than the finale of Ring as the whole film builds up to this moment and the payoff is absolutely jaw-dropping.
In fact, I cannot fault Ring as an effective Horror movie. There is a very odd and out of place sequence in the middle of the film, and a few unanswered questions by the end of the film, but the fantastic acting, the uncomfortable cinematography, the intense music the stunning visual aspects and the easy to understand plot more than make up for any of the film’s flaws. Ring is a tense, atmospheric horror film that’s more mysterious and uncomfortable than any traditional ‘scary’ film. It’s more subtle than most of the Horror movies that came out in 1990, especially the ones to come from America, where subtlety was thrown out of the window during that decade of cinema with films like Scream, Army Of Darkness and Tremors. However, I believe that Ring is more powerful today than it was back in 1998. The technology that the film’s story revolves around is now outdated, but that just gives the film a whole new level of depth. There are many popular ghost stories that fly around the internet today about haunted outdated technology, and Ring feels more relatable to those stories now than it has ever been. In many ways, it still feels fresh, effective and innovative to this very day despite the original intent.
In conclusion, I love Ring. I love its slow paced story-telling, its creative editing, its haunting visuals and its unforgettable climax. Ring was a cultural phenomenon, and rightly so. It’s one of the greatest supernatural films to emerge from Asia and without it, I don’t believe that Asian cinema and Asian culture would be so popular with Western individuals today. Ring, along side the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Akira, helped open up a new market in cinema, and it caused people in the West to take Asian cinema and Japanese culture seriously after so many years of disassociation. Ring is one of the most important films of the 1990’s, and, in my opinion, it’s also one of the best films of the 1990’s. I thoroughly recommend that one watches Ring for themselves if they have not already. It’s a film that deserves all the praise thrown towards it.