Written by: Hiroshi Takahashi (screenplay), Kôji Suzuki (novel)
Directed by: Hideo Nakata
Starring: Miki Nakatani, Hitomi Satô, and Kyôko Fukada
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
“I can see into the next world..."
After Rasen produced a lukewarm reception, the Ringu producers attempted to correct course in a big way just one year later by restoring Hideo Nakata and Hiroshi Takahashi to their directing and screenwriting duties. Noticeably absent is the work of original novelist Kôji Suzuki (who obviously still gets an obligatory credit here), as this sequel doesn’t adapt any of the preexisting lore (like Rasen did). Instead, it goes off in its own direction, a decision that winds up taking the film into remarkably similar territory for a film that was doing its best to distance itself from the previous attempt (they even conspicuously titled it Ringu 2 just to make sure you know that Rasen doesn’t count anymore).
Like Rasen, Ringu 2 picks up just after the events of the original Ringu, and it even starts with an autopsy. However, instead Ryuji Takayama’s corpse up on the slab, it’s Sadako’s, and a pair of forensic experts makes a baffling discovery: it turns out that she didn’t die a week after being dumped into the well but instead languished there for thirty years before expiring. Meanwhile, Mai Takano (Miki Nakatani) begins to investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding Takayama’s death (she’s referred to as simply his “assistant” here), a pursuit that leads to her pairing up with a reporter (Y&訣rei Yanagi) who has discovered the cursed videotape responsible for the sudden rash of deaths.
As you can tell, that setup is quite similar to Rasen (the only thing missing is Ryuji’s college buddy), and, together, this duo explores a bath full of diversions and digressions. The sprawling narrative stretches out into multiple subplots in a way that resembles the dense, straggly storytelling of films like Ju-on, and it has an episodic effect, particularly early on. There are several intriguing scenes, such as a visit to a mental institution (where Mai bumps into the now insane girl who witnessed her friend die at the beginning of the first film) and the return of Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima) and her son Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka), both of whom have been holed up since passing the curse on. With so many plot threads dangling, the film lacks the focus and intensity of the original, and, as was the case in Rasen, it feels like it’s being made up as it goes along.
When the film finally does begin to find its way (and it does so with a staggering, shocking moment that’s easily its most effective), it still treads into the same territory as Rasen. Once again, Sadako is attempting to will herself on the world from beyond her watery grave, as anyone who has survived an encounter with her tape has become some sort of conduit, including Yoichi, who is now sort-of possessed by her spirit (the American Ring Two repeated this device). Several ideas vaguely develop with the assistance of the characters’ newly awakened psychic powers, but it’s all in the service of retreading old ground—of course Mai and Yoichi eventually board a ferry to return to Sadako’s homeland. Ringu 2 even features some scientific elements like its fellow sequel. While it’s not as heavy on the hard sci-fi stuff (neither genetics nor cloning come into play), Ringu 2 introduces some wacky pseudo-science in an effort to rid Sadako from the world, another device that just operates on vague terms in order to shuttle the film to its conclusion.
Returning Nakata to the director’s chair is a boon; as lethargic and aimless as the script is, he brings a unifying sense of atmosphere. The same sort of dread ambiance hangs over the proceedings, only it’s asked to do a little bit more of the legwork this time around since the story isn’t nearly as tight. If nothing else, the script does afford Nakata several opportunities to construct scares, and Ringu 2 may be more of a pure jolter than the original movie. The requisite slew of creepy visuals also abound, with Sadako herself becoming more prominent, particularly during the film’s climax, which predictably returns us to her dank resting place. All in all, Ringu 2 is much more preoccupied with its scares since both the characters and the mythology take a backseat in favor of the somewhat nonsensical parade of bizarre sights and sounds.
Nothing is all that out of place with Ringu 2—its performances are fine, and Nakata is definitely a master. The only problem is that, like Rasen and The Ring Two, it offers compelling evidence that following up Ringu is an inherently difficult task. There’s a reason campfire tales and urban legends don’t have sequels, and Ringu similarly works best as a self-contained idea—this is one instance where giving up the ghost diminishes the effect (and I’m usually the last person to completely dismiss the notion of a sequel to just about anything). The worst part is that the series just never found anywhere to go moving forward; shedding light on Sadako’s backstory is a decent idea, but the franchise couldn’t conjure up a compelling way to unravel it without compromising the neatly packed conceit that made the original thrive. Maybe this is why the next film wound up being a prequel before the series lay dormant for over a decade. At any rate, Ringu 2 is a marginally stronger effort than Rasen, if only because it’s a bit more faithful and fits into the franchise a little better. It can be found on Dreamworks’s Anthology of Terror, where it received a no-frills disc with both a serviceable video transfer and a 5.1 Japanese surround track. Few franchises ever get a mulligan like this, which is perhaps noteworthy and work checking out as a pure curiosity--it's just too bad that Ringu 2 doesn't make all that much of a stronger case than Rasen. Rent it!
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