Ringu 0 (2000)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2013-06-03 00:59

Written by: Hiroshi Takahashi (screenplay), Kôji Suzuki (novel)
Directed by: Norio Tsuruta
Starring: Yukie Nakama, Seiichi Tanabe, and Kumiko Asô

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman

“If you go in the sea, you'll all die."

The Ringu series tried its damnedest to move forward with a pair of follow-up films, but neither Rasen nor Ringu 2 advanced the mythology in any compelling way. If the latter sequel represented a course correction, then Ringu 0 was a course reversal—rather than continue to trudge through murky sequel waters, the franchise plunged headlong into Sadako’s backstory. Horror franchises have frequently trekked to such territory, as the urge to demystify monsters has often been difficult for filmmakers to resist; however, few have done it with more effectiveness than Ringu 0, the rare prequel where moving backwards doesn’t represent a regression since its “monster” has always been a tragic figure.

Ringu 0 finally fills out the exact nature of that tragedy. Whereas previous films have hinted that Sadako was essentially the victim of a witch hunt after she unwittingly killed a reporter with her psychic powers, this film fills in the space between that event and her disturbing end. Now a teenager, Sadako (Yukie Nakama) joins an acting troupe, where most of the players treat her with a cold suspicion, particularly the star actress who is convinced her spot is in jeopardy. Only one fellow member (Tanabe Seiichi) seems to be sympathetic towards Sadako, and the two begin an ill-fated romance as she tries to come to grips with her extraordinary but dangerous abilities.

Even though the ending is obviously never in doubt, Ringu 0 still works in a way the sequels didn’t. It helps that it’s a largely coherent film that’s interested in telling a complete, self-contained story with a structure that subtly borrows from the framework of the original film since it also features a reporter that’s attempting to uncover Sadako’s bizarre childhood; unlike Reiko Asakawa, this woman holds a grudge, as she was betrothed to the reporter that Sadako killed years earlier. Her investigation allows the film to hit the necessary creepy beats and repurpose the franchise’s nightmarish imagery with some grainy, overblown flashbacks and dreams. One sequence returns to Sadako’s childhood household, where her deeply disturbed mother is once again perched in front of that mirror. Like the original film, Ringu 0 wraps up its more overt, calculated scares with a brooding atmosphere that also compensates for a more plodding narrative in this case.

In fact, the film is sort of incredibly front-loaded. Sadako does accidentally kill another actress somewhat early in the film, an act that arouses suspicion, so everyone is gunning for the poor girl. About an hour lapses before the film’s inciting incident, and, until that point, Ringu 0 is essentially Carrie with a dash of Suspiria (in fact, given the investigative framework here, it feels especially influenced by King’s novel). When it isn’t concerned with unraveling creepy details surrounding Sadako’s childhood (such as her bizarre fear of the sea), it’s crafting an unexpectedly poignant portrait of a girl destined to be a monster.

You’d never know it from Nakama’s performance, which infuses Sadako with a terrific meekness; up until this point, Sadako has been a vaguely tragic figure, but this film reveals that she longs to be painfully average. Ringu 0 hinges on this performance, especially since it turns on a dime during what looks to be the film’s climax, when Sadako is forced to confront her past and has her prom moment, complete with property destruction and death. All that stuff isn’t quite at the center, though, as director Norio Tsuruta keys in on Nakama’s performance and considers its impact on Sadako herself, who becomes frantic and distraught upon realizing her own curse.

Curses and mysteries have always rested at the heart of the Ringu series, and this film is no different. As a prequel, Ringu 0 is obviously preoccupied with revealing information, and it even toys with certain expectations. Anyone familiar with the mythology knows the endpoint lies in the dank, dark well that will serve as Sadako's tomb. For much of the film, those viewers will be wondering just how in the hell they’ll get there, though, and the film has to take a hard left to put it on that track. After a disturbing lynching seems to bring the story to a close, Ringu 0 becomes dangerously close to going off the rails when it introduces some wacky supernatural concepts that explains why Sadako has appeared to be so sweet instead of the hellspawn she’s fated to become. It’s a little silly and smacks of the film trying to be more clever than its audience, but it does give way to the film’s entertaining climax, which delivers the Sadako everyone wants, in all of her long-haired, disjointed-walking glory.

Ringu 0 doesn’t connect each dot—I’m not sure what Sadako’s true origins are (the film hints that she may have been birthed by a sea god, which I think is implied from the original novels), and the film doesn’t explain how she willed her curse onto a videotape, presumably on account of videotapes having not been invented yet. One of the girls does employ audio recordings for her investigation, so the franchise’s techno-horror slant is subtly preserved (this also means the film is kind of riffing on another De Palma film in Blow Out). It’s much shaggier than the film it leads into, as, like the sequels, Ringu 0 fails to capture the tautness of the original concept. It does come the closest, and one could make the case that Ringu could have formed a fine duology rather than a bloated franchise with a few unnecessary tagalongs. All are treated equally on the Anthology of Terror collection, where the prequel brings up the rear with another decent disc that features a passable presentation and no extras. Maybe this wasn’t the most impressive collection to grace store shelves, but at least Dreamworks had the courtesy to collect each film in one convenient place, even if a double feature of Ringu and Ringu 0 would probably be more sufficient. Buy it!

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