Written by: JŰji Iida (screenplay), KŰji Suzuki (novel)
Directed by: JŰji Iida
Starring: KŰichi SatŰ, Miki Nakatani, and Hinako Saeki
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďThe world will change. We're all in that spiral."
When Kadokawa Shoten decided to adapt Koji Suzukiís Ringu, the production company hedged its bets and assumed that audiences would be willing dive headlong into the authorís dense mythology, as it took the unusual step of producing a sequel right alongside the original film. The gamble didnít exactly pay off. While fans flocked to Ringu in droves, Rasen was released later in the year to very little fanfare and has since become a bit of a forgotten entry in the lore, as later sequels would ignore it and with good reason: out of the original crop of Ringu films, Rasen is the weakest (if not weirdest) entry that makes the fatal mistake of delving too far into the mythos and introducing bizarre, ill-fitting elements that clash with the first filmís elegant ghost story.
The approach is technically correct, as the film takes its cue from Suzikiís novel Spiral and immediately follows up the events of Ringu. Picking up a day or two later, the film introduces viewers to Mitsuo Ando (KŰichi SatŰ), a pathologist haunted by the tragic death of his young son. Heís shaken to learn of the death of former colleague Ryuji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada), and heís immediately charged with discerning the cause behind the mysterious demise. After performing an autopsy, Ando discovers a cryptic note in Takayamaís stomach, which leads him to investigate the rumored existence of the cursed tape that began making its rounds in the previous film.
Rasen then spends an inordinate amount of time revisiting the events of the first film and revisiting the established mythos, a task that becomes tedious for initiated viewers. Ando hooks up with Takayamaís student/girlfriend (Miki Nakatani) and Reiko Asakawaís boss (Yutaka Matsushige) to get caught up to speed before the film finally takes some semblance of shape. Since the previous film seemed to wrap everything up nicely by providing a solution to Sadakoís curse, this sequel dutifully takes it back by revealing that Reiko actually didnít save her son; instead, he succumbed to the curse and both perished in a car accident, which leads everyone to wonder just why the boy died. Thus, the central conceit from the original film is essentially repeated again, as Ando must uncover Sadakoís true intentions before the curse comes to claim him within seven days.
The second trip down this path at least gets points by not completely following in its predecessorís footsteps. Rather than completely repeat the formula, Rasen takes a different angle by introducing some hard sci-fi concepts. According to Ando's investigation, Sadakoís powers arenít just mystical but rather aided by actual, physiological science since the video seems to transmit an actual virus of some sort that results in deadly tumors and whatnot. Itís certainly at odds with what the first film introduced, but itís admirable in its own weird way, at least in theory; if nothing else, neither Rasen nor the next sequel (Ringu 2) take the easy way out by simply featuring another would-be victim racing against time. Thereís an attempt to expound upon the mythology, but both make the case that Ringu was a perfectly self-contained concept. Rasen is an especially labyrinthine ordeal that gets especially complicated once it lurches towards its climax by hitting several false starts and stops along the way.
Not a whole lot of it works, as the overly complicated sci-fi slant isnít as intriguing as the relatively tightly wound urban legend from the first film. Director Joji Iida does his best to replicate Hideo Nakataís brooding, atmospheric style, but the film is too bogged down by its expository elements. With the exception of a few horrific flourishes (the tape obviously returns, and thereís a cool bit where Ryuji seemingly returns to life on the morgue slab), Rasen plays out more like a supernatural drama film. If not for the turgid plotting, it might work since Iida does coax fine performances from the cast (Sanadaís return is especially welcome, as Ryujiís spirit hangs around sort of like Ben Kenobi), and Andoís despair over his dead son provides a logical thematic connection to Sadakoís own story. Unfortunately, whatever Sadako is up to gets a bit muddled, and the script starts to completely empty its bag of weirdness with a series of inelegant twists and turns that puff up the Ringu mythos to apocalyptic proportions. Itís vaguely unsettling and would probably be even more so if it made more sense.
Audiences were either befuddled by or simply indifferent to Rasen, so its ominous cliffhanger remains unresolved. Itís almost remarkable that this film wound up being an odd appendage to the mythology considering its production history. The two films feel so different that you might expect that Ringu and Rasen were competing productions rather than collaborative efforts that shared much of the same cast and crew. A year later, Ringu 2 would attempt to correct course, leaving Rasen as the perpetual odd entry out; thankfully, Dreamworks didnít forget about it when it imported the original series to DVD about a decade ago. Like the films in the Anthology of Terror, Rasen received a serviceable disc with a decent transfer and a lively surround track (featuring the original Japanese language track, thankfully). There are no extras, but it might be apt to consider Rasen a bonus feature in and of itself. As itís not essential to the mythology, itís one to check out as a sort of ďWhat if?Ē scenario. While it is technically more faithful to the source material than its successor, it offers a strong case that faithfulness isnít always a boon. Rent it!
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