My first taste of Japanese horror came in the late ’90s when films such as The Ring and The Grudge burst onto the mainstream. They were quickly adapted into American remakes and trundled around looking to milk every penny possible.
It’s looking back on this film, and Audition, that made me want to start reading J-Horror in its original format; literature.
What better place to pick-up then with Ring by Kōji Suzuki?
Published in 1991, Ring became known first for its ’95 television film, released in Japan, then worldwide upon the release of the 1998 film adaption by Japanese horror director, Hideo Nakata, who also directed Dark Water; written by Suzuki.
One significant change in the film is how the tape works to build tension, but more on that later.
Ring is the first of a book trilogy that features: Spiral (1995) and Loop (1998).
Taking on a more of a thriller genre, Ring uses the tension of an imposing deadline to add suspense to the drama.
This was not what I was expecting going into it; however, it was a welcoming surprise.
The main protagonist Kazuyuki Asakawa is a journalist with a down-trodden reputation, working for a Japanese newspaper.
After he witnesses the mysterious death of a teenager on a motorbike, and the death of his wife’s niece on the same day, he throws his investigative instincts into the ring (see what I did there?) to find a link.
Along with his best friend Ryuji Takayama, they discover a videotape in a sports centre that his niece stayed at just over a week ago. After watching the cursed tape, they must find the meaning behind it, why it involves the ghost of Sadako and how they can break the curse.
Both characters aren’t exactly likeable, Ryuji even going as far as exclaiming he once got drunk and raped a girl; however, this does lead to a good read when they are together, even if it’s mostly built on the tension between them.
The book uses the videotape as a means of transporting the Ring Virus on to those who watch it. Seven days later, they’ll suffer a heart attack if they haven’t broken the curse.
For obvious reasons, the film uses the character of Sadako Yamamura, known for her long black hair and eerie presence. She climbs out of the TV and scares the viewer to death. This approach offers a much more supernatural ghost-story which was more commonplace at the time.
Personally, I think both have their merits and mesh well with their chosen media format.
A character that kills people by climbing out of a TV set would be difficult to pull off in a book because it’s such a visceral representation; whereas the books imposing countdown on the seven-day rule adds additional drama to every aspect of the plot.
How will he survive? Will he pass it on to others? How did it come about in the first place?
These are all questions that seemingly have answers, but with little time to find them.
Lost in Translation
As is the case with a lot of Japanese books, it does suffer from a few direct translation issues. I’m not sure if this is because the Japanese language is straightforward, or whether the turns of phrases don’t really exist in the English language, but either way, it’s not a game-breaker.
Ring is an excellent suspense-horror that offers high tension, but also appropriate character development and effective plot speed. The only downside is the lead characters not being overly likeable. This slightly takes away from caring about their impending dooms.
Otherwise, this is a brilliant book for those looking to get into J-Horror, as well as those who’re already deep into the genre.