You know the drill: After watching a strange video tape, a mysterious phone call informs the doomed viewer that they have seven days left to live. A week goes by and a dead girl with long hair covering her face emerges from the TV and kills her victims off-screen.
This is the basic plot of the popular Japanese horror movie franchise #Ringu, or in English, #TheRing. Asian horror movies wouldn't be as popular as they are now if not for Sadako and her cursed VHS tapes. Current horror movies owe a lot to the Japanese series for introducing new takes on horror tropes in the modern age of technology.
Today The Ring returns to the big screen with #Rings, the third official American take on the Ringu mythos. Now that Samara has made her move from haunting VHS tapes to spreading her presence through e-mail, it's the perfect time to take a look back at the long and storied history of the Ringu movies.
Japanese Tradition, Sadako, And Ringu
Based on the horror-mystery novel #Ring by Koji Suzuki, the Ringu movies all followed the same basic structure set up in the source material, with a few changes and additions being added in each passing sequel.
But just because Ring is a Japanese horror movie franchise doesn't make it immune from the problems that plague most American horror movie series.
Here's a look back at one of Japan's most popular cinematic frights.
- Year Of Release: 1995
- Directed By: Chisui Takigawa
Adult video star Ayane Miura played Sadako, leading to many scenes showing the cursed girl in the nude. Despite this, Ring: Kanzenban is notable for being one of the most faithful adaptations of the book. It is also one of the few Ring adaptations to have a male protagonist, exactly as the novel had depicted.
Check out the cursed video from Ring: Kanzenban below.
- Year Of Release: 1998
- Director: Hideo Nakata
Arguably the most influential incarnation of the #Ring story, Nakata's film set the standard for future Ring adaptations. From a female protagonist to the long haired Sadako dragging herself out of a well to the grotesquely contorted bodies, Ring created the now-iconic imagery that is commonly associated with the story and the sub-genre of J-Horror.
The movie was well-received, and even sparked a debate about its themes. For some, Sadako's modus operandi was born from the filmmakers' fear of modernity, since technology was rapidly spreading across Japan as if it were a virus. Others saw the protagonist, Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), as a reflection of the growing empowerment and independence of Japan's female populace during the '90s.
Check out the trailer for Ring below.
- Year Of Release: 1998
- Director: George Iida
Hoping to maximize on the popularity of the new franchise, Toho Co. released both Ring and its sequel the same year. #Rasen (Spiral in English) is the direct sequel to Ring, occurring a few days after the events of the first film. The sequel follows the pathologist Kôichi Satô (Andō Mitsuo) as he investigates the mysterious death of his friend, Ryūji Takayama - Reiko's deceased ex-husband.
Audiences flocked to Ring, but ignored its sequel. This led to Toho's decision to drop Rasen and instead, take the story into a new a direction independent of the books.
Check out the trailer for Rasen/Ringu Duel Japanese TV Spot below.
- Year Of Release: 1999
- Director: Hideo Nakata
After the failure of Rasen at the box office, #Ring2 ignored everything that happened in the sequel and continued the story of Reiko instead of shifting perspectives. This proved to be successful with audiences, convincing Toho to take liberties with the Ring mythos.
Ring 2 takes place a few weeks after the events of Ring, and follows Reiko once again as she tries to put an end to Sadako's curse once and for all. Though a blockbuster hit in Japan, critics have criticized Ring 2 for being more conventional than its predecessor. Where Ring relied on atmosphere, Ring 2 leaned heavily towards generic scares.
Check out the trailer for Ring 2 below.
Ring 0: Birthday
- Year Of Release: 2000
- Director: Norio Tsuruta
Now that Sadako was defeated, the only logical step forward for the Ring movies was to go back to the very beginning. #Ring0Birthday is a prequel set 30 years before the events of the first Ring movie, and shows how Sadako became the feared supernatural entity audiences came to know.
Sadako is revealed to be an aspiring actress who has uncontrollable psychic powers and visions that grow stronger with each passing day. The prequel follows Sadako's tragedy and shows how she ended up in the well in the first place, but it was ultimately dismissed as a Carrie (1976) rip-off that killed the subtle mystery of the Ring movies.
Check out the trailer for Ring 0: Birthday below.
- Year Of Release: 2012
- Directed By: Tsutomu Hanabusa
With the story of Reiko and Sadako seemingly concluded, it was time for the Ring movies to take another new direction in order to stay relevant. Enter #Sadako3D, a series reboot that brought 3D technology into the fray while using the storyline of the abandoned Rasen to continue Sadako's reign terror.
Compared to the previous entries, Sadako 3D was a campy romp that completely ignored the series' signature tension in favor of jump scares and shocks. Sadako 3D was critically panned, but was successful enough to earn a sequel.
Check out the trailer for Sadako 3D below.
Sadako 3D 2
- Year Of Release: 2013
- Directed By: Tsutomu Hanabusa
Set five years after the events of Sadako 3D, the sequel #Sadako3D2 follows a girl with strange abilities and connections to the macabre who may or may not be Sadako's estranged child. Akane Ayukawa (Satomi Ishihara), the protagonist of the previous film, must fight Sadako for her child's soul as the cursed being tries to be reborn.
Gone was the slow and menacing atmosphere of the original Ring movies, with bombastic scares taking its place. Sadako 3D 2 at least tried to bring the darkness back and it also concluded Akane's story, giving some resolution to the Rasen adaptation.
Check out the trailer for Sadako 3D 2 below.
Sadako vs. Kayako
- Year Of Release: 2016
- Directed By: Kōji Shiraishi
Originally teased as an April Fools' joke, #SadakoVsKayako was later announced in December 2015 to be a real crossover event for two of Japan's most popular horror franchises: Ring and #JuOn (#TheGrudge in English). Similar to Freddy vs. Jason, Sadako vs. Kayako was seen as fun, but desperate, gasp of air for a pair of aging horror icons who ran out of ideas.
When students are cursed by both Sadako and Kayako, a medium recommends that they let the two supernatural entities fight each other. Sadako vs. Kayako came under fire for being too one-sided in Sadako's favor, as she made quick work of the cursed family from the Ju-On films. Fans still enjoyed the campy crossover even if the film's tone was a far cry from each respective movies' beginnings.
Check out the trailer for Sadako vs. Kayako below.
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American Gothic, Samara, and The Ring
There was a time when America had a fascination with Asian horror movies, leading to a nearly endless stream of #remakes based on those films. This fad only came to be because of Ring, which spawned some of the best American remakes based on Asian films.
Here's a look at the short but decent American take on Samara's curse and those who were affected by it.
- Year Of Release: 2002
- Directed By: Gore Verbinski
#TheRing is oftentimes credited as the pioneer of the Asian remake craze that swept the horror scene of the early 2000's. Based on the second Ring movie, the remake replaced Japanese traditionalism with modern-day Gothic American trappings and it added new elements such as deeper backstories for its cast. But unlike other remakes, these changes actually improved the story.
With the tense direction of #PiratesOfTheCarribbean director Gore Verbinski and an unsettling score composed by #HansZimmer, The Ring still stands to this day as one of the strongest American adaptations of a foreign film, and simply put, one of the best American horror remakes ever made.
See Samara's curse in action from The Ring below.
Scary Movie 3
- Year Of Release: 2003
- Directed By: David Zucker
The Ring was so popular that it was mocked in the third entry of the horror movie parody series #ScaryMovie. Not only was The Ring made fun of, but its plot became a central part of the parody's narrative that included references to M. Night Shyamlan's #Signs and Pootie Tang. The plot is as bonkers as one could expect.
The Samara-copy Tabitha (Marny Eng) kills people through a cursed video tape, and it's up to Cindy (Anna Faris) to stop Tabitha before more hapless victims accidentally show the cursed tape to their friends and everyone on the planet through cable TV. Thankfully, the aliens from Signs aid humanity because they too watched the cursed video, believing it to be a copy of #PootieTang.
See Brenda (Regina Hall) fight Tabitha in Scary Movie 3 below.
The Ring Two
- Year Of Release: 2005
- Directed By: Hideo Nakata
Six months after the events of The Ring, The Ring Two sees a new evil girl come to power now that Samara has been taken out of the equation. With the cast of The Ring returning and with the original director #HideoNakata coming on board to helm the sequel, #TheRingTwo looked like it was destined for success.
Sadly, this was not the case and film was dismissed as an unforgiving bore and a bad follow-up to what is considered to be an otherwise strong horror movie franchise. Critics agreed that the scares in The Ring Two lacked the foreboding nature of the better Ring films, and that the sequel's pacing proved detrimental to its overall quality.
Check out the trailer for The Ring Two below.
- Year Of Release: 2017
- Directed By: F. Javier Gutiérrez
Almost a decade after she was last seen, #Samara returns to the big screen in a modern take on the Ring mythology. Now possessing the ability to surf the internet, Samara sets out to make her reign of terror go global in #Rings.
Originally planned for a late 2016 release, Rings was delayed to a February 2017 opening to avoid competing with Ouija: Origin Of Evil. Rings takes place 13 years after the events of The Ring, and follows a new set of characters who must stop Samara's rebirth. The third American Ring movie bears distinct similarities to Sadako 3D, especially the plot about Samara's return to power through the use of modern technology.
This could be seen as the movie's attempt to make an aged horror icon feel more relevant, and audiences will soon find out if this upgrade will either spell success or failure for Samara.
Check out the trailer for Rings below.
The Lone Korean Ring
The Ring Virus
- Year Of Release: 1999
- Directed By: Dong-bin Kim
Ring proved to be so popular that not only was it remade in Hollywood, but also in Korea. Though the movie's director claimed that #TheRingVirus was a direct adaptation of the book, his movie still bore many shot-for-shot similarities to the Japanese original. Similarities include the gender of the protagonist and some of the scenes used in the cursed video tape.
The Ring Virus was far from bad and is comparatively better than some of the Japanese Ring sequels, but it failed to stand out in the growing crowd of J-Horror movies of the time period. The Korean remake has since gained a cult following, with some fans putting it on par or even above the Japanese original and the American remake.
Check out the trailer for The Ring Virus below.
Some fear that Rings will be yet another generic and disposable horror movie. But whatever the final quality of Rings will eventually be, nothing can take away from the fact the Ring movies are incredibly influential in today's modern horror movie scene.
Not only did the story of a cursed girl thrown down a well start the J-Horror explosion that introduced many viewers to the world of Asian cinema, but it pioneered many of the tropes and imagery seen in today's modern horror movies.
With Rings now playing in cinemas, there's no better time than now to revisit Sadako's evolution from being a softcore porn entity to becoming an iconic supernatural presence who has gone by many names.