The Japanese horror film Ringu directed by Hideo Nakata was released in 1998, known as the most successful horror film in Japanese horror genre history. Four years later, Ringu’s Hollywood counterpart The Ring directed by Gore Verbinski was released, introducing the films to a massive international audience and market, as well as helping the Japanese horror genre step onto the international stage. The Ring is publicly praised as one of the most popular and successful remakes in Hollywood history.
The film tells a story that is adopted from the traditional Japanese tale about a cursed videotape in which contains random, disrupted and fragmented images. Immediately after viewing the videotape, the viewers will receive a phone call, ensuring their death within seven days. The screenplay and direction of The Ring mainly stay faithful to the ones of Ringu, however, the final scenes, the seemingly disconnected images on the murderous videotape and the stories behind the videotape differ heavily.
The television set and the videotape are apparently the crucial locus of terror in these two films, and this certain type of terror keeps echoing in the Ringu sequel. Both the original and the remake propose an overt theme of a universal anxiety generated by media technologies such as telephone, television and videotape. While the Hollywood version is a reinforcement of the Japanese one regarding the technology anxiety theme because it is imbedded with so many technological means that it seems difficult to judge whether these technologies are beneficial or threatening to our society as a whole.
The two films highlight this particular anxiety by further accusing media technology as the threatening and harmful force to not only the security of the family home, but also the ties among social groups. Chuck Tryon writes in his article “Video from the Void: Video Spectatorship, Domestic Film Cultures, and Contemporary Horror Film”: “…The Ring instead views TV and video as invasive technologies that threaten the security of the family home” (45). In The Ring, Verbinski acknowledges the technology or television phobia at the beginning by presenting the “I hate television” conversation between Katie and Rebecca.
The fact that Katie has her own television in the room suggests that she does not bond with her family very often and enjoys the privacy of her own. Although Katie’s mother seems very caring by making the phone call, in reality she is not quite bonded with Katie at all. She does not know that Katie has a boyfriend, nor did she know that Katie had spent last weekend in the cabin with her friends. The boredom of television shows and a lack of communication between parents and children forces Katie to turn to the videotape for fun, which eventually results in her death.
Tryon also explains the relationship between Rachel and Aidan as such: “Rachel’s initial inability to solve the mystery relies in part on the typical slasher-film trope of a communications gap between teenagers and their parents, through which The Ring implicitly links the danger of TV and video spectatorship to parental fears about protecting their children from dangerous or harmful images” (46). We can find evidence to support Tryon’s statement in the scene where Rachel wake up in the middle of the night, finding Aidan is sitting in front of the TV set and watching the cursed videotape.
She immediately uses her hands to cover Aidan’s eyes up, screaming and crying. Most of us must be really familiar with this particular action of Rachel’s. Yes, when we were little, our parents always use their hands to cover our eyes up to prevent us from watching something that we were not supposed to know or would have negative impact on our growth. According to Tryon, it is Rachel’s fail of fulfilling her duties as a mother that eventually puts Aidan’s life in danger. Throughout the film, Aidan only calls Rachel “mom” once.
We see Aidan going to school alone, preparing his own peanut butter sandwich, and getting dressed for his cousin’s funeral by himself. Rachel seems paying very little attention to Aidan’s life early in the film until she realizes that Aidan’s life is on the clock. This fear about protecting the children from negative and harmful images highly raises the parental anxiety of television and media technology. Furthermore, part of the horror in this film is triggered by human being’s anxiety of losing control over technologies.
As Kimberly Jackson states in her article “Techno-Human Infancy in Gore Verbinski’s The Ring”: “In The Ring, the technology that allows for images to be repeated and reproduced has somehow gained mastery over the human world” (161), both Ringu and The Ring emphasize this particular anxiety generated by media technologies by presenting the humanity of television and displaying characters’ effortless attempts and explicit inability to take control over the television and the videotape.
For instance, we see in the film that the television in Katie’s house is able to turn itself on even when it’s unplugged, same with the television in Noah’s apartment. Further, in the American version, Rachel is pushed down into the well by the television in the cabin. Television and videotape seem to gradually gain control over human beings and have their own agency in the two films.
Later in The Ring, a subsequent scene in the film explicitly delivers the idea of media technology anxiety and highlights the technophobia issue: when Rachel is standing on the balcony of her apartment while Noah is watching the videocassette, she observes the families that live in the apartments across the street through the windows, finding that every family has a television set in the living room and all of them are turned on.
No matter if they are housewives, elder people or children, it seems like that watching the television becomes part of their daily routines, again, as Tryon marks: “communications technologies fragment social relationships and generally lead to the perception of a loss of control over daily life” (47). Rachel frighteningly realizes the fact that television is gradually invading in people’s homes and lives, and society’s addiction to media technology becomes inevitable. In both the Japanese and the American version of the Ring films, the viewers can easily identify Reiko/ Rachel with Sadako/ Samara.
In Nakata’s Ringu, Sadako’s mother is also a psychic who is forced to parade around Japan to show her psychic ability of predicting things in front of the media press by his husband, a professor of the paranormal. She eventually commits suicide due to her inability to handle media press’s questioning of her psychic capacity. Different from the American version in which Samara is murdered by her mother, Sadako is thrown down the well by his father in Ringu. Hence, rather than being originally evil, Sadako is forced to become evil in order to revenge for herself and her mother.
And her mother’s cause of death gives an interpretation to Sadako’s choice of the television and videotape as the media to wreak her vengeance on the characters in the film. It also explains the reason why there’s a special parallel and interrelated relationship between Sadako and Reiko. In The Ring, it is not difficult to observe the same kind of parallel and connected relationship shared between Samara and Rachel as it does in Ringu. We initially notice the parallel between the two from Richard Morgan’s accusation about media and news reporters nowadays. He says:“ What’s wrong with today’s reporters?
You take someone’s tragedy and force the entire world to experience it, spreading it like a sickness. ” True, they are both spreading the “death virus”, yet through different means: one through physically copying and passing the videotape to someone else, the other through curse and psychic capabilities. Though possessing the same supernatural powers of imprinting images onto other people’s mind, Samara in The Ring seems more evil than Sadako in Ringu. Sadako does not intentionally hurt innocent people when she was alive, whereas Samara first gets all the horses infected by a certain virus, and then makes her adopted mother to go insane.
Samara is spreading her “death virus” by using her psychic powers to manipulate technologies. On the other hand, Rachel parallels Samara in spreading the virus by copying and passing the videotape to someone else to watch. Rachel does not understand Noah’s cause of death until she saw the copy of the tape she made under the couch in her house. She suddenly comes to the realization that the only thing she did differently from Noah was to make a cope of the videotape and pass it to someone else to watch—her ex-husband.
Part of the horror of this film is that the murderous curse of the videotape, as Samara keeps repeating, “would never stop”, but can only be displaced by making a copy of it and passing it onto someone else to watch. As soon as Rachel learns this fact, she brings her son Aiden to a broadcasting station, told him to make a copy of the tape, and later distribute the killer videotape to someone else, leaving Aiden’s question “what about the person we show it to” and “what happens to them” unanswered. Right after Aiden finishes his question, the film ends followed by static snow, just like how the videotape created by Samara ends.
The creative ending of the film makes its viewers to think “what should I do to get salvation after watching this cursed tape” because they, too, like the characters in the film, are exposed to Sadako/ Samara’s videotape while watching the film—they are exposed to the exact same technological virus or contagion. Whereas in Ringu, Reiko does not bring her son to make a copy at the end, rather, she calls her father and asks him if he would like to sacrifice his life for her son by watching the videotape. This ending requires its viewers to take a moral perspective to see the decision made by Reiko.
It is fascinating to note that the endings of the two films are very different from each other, yet both convey the similar idea of the reproduction of information and message through media technologies, highlighting the technological contamination that is portrayed in the films. If the television set and the videotape are the media technologies Sadako/ Samara uses to wreak her vengeance, then Reiko/ Rachel is the living or physical medium she uses to transmit her vengeful message to the physical world.
Reiko and Rachel are both journalists in the two versions. Their particular professional status or occupational property makes it possible for them to get close contact with an array of media technologies while investigating the origins of the cursed videotape and the story behind it. The media technologies they use to help them with the investigation range from telephone to camera, from computer to television, from photocopier to electronic media labs, and from library books to newsroom archival volumes.
By doing the investigation using these technologies, along with Reiko/ Rachel’s misunderstanding of recognizing Sadako/ Samara as a victim and her misinterpretation of Sadako/ Samara’s unstable death, she becomes the helper of Sadako/ Samara in spreading her deadly vengeful virus. Like Jackson explains, “…in using the Internet, the VCT, the cell phone, and so on, she [Rachel] has long been an agent of Samara’s violence—not the violence of a disturbed spirit (dead man), but that of the distributed image” (165).
The scene when Samara’s psychiatrist says to Rachel, “When one person catches a cold, it’s everybody’s cold. ” Like the contamination of sickness, virus-like spread of media technology is proved to be an extremely dangerous threat. Finally, Sadako/ Samara’s crawling up out of the well and the television toward the end not only pushes the films to a climax, but also intensifies the television phobia and the anxiety generated by media technologies.
In his article “Of Horse Blood and TV Snow: Abhuman Reproduction in The Ring,” Niles Tomlinson argues that “the infection of Samara [is] a specific kind of haunting narrative” that makes The Ring a horror film that “deploys what might be termed the viral Gothic” (177). Tomlinson further suggests that Samara functions as an abhuman and abject threat who induces an alarming ambivalence among the viewers while watching the film. As Sakudo/ Samara blends intrinsically and merges smoothly with the television, she flickers between the tangible and the intangible, crawling from the imaginary to the reality.
This is the scariest moment of the film that makes its viewers want to unplug the television as the boundary that separates the imaginary from the real, the virtual from the actual slowly dissolved. This particular disruption of viewers’ sense of distance and safety gives them chills and makes them think that Sadako/ Samara as well as the contagious virus she carries might extend beyond the television frame to the world it is being viewed. In conclusion, Nakata and Verbinski vividly encourage the viewers to get involved and experience the horror in the film by paring the characters with us viewers.
Later films such as Blair Witch Project and the Paranormal Activity series have also adapted this technique for people to experience the realism and the terror caused by technologies. Although aesthetically, Ringu and The Ring portray the story differently in terms of directions and details, both of them reflect the fact that the increasing penetration of media technologies into our daily lives becomes inevitable, and the anxiety generated by media technology will stay with us for quite a while because technology have permeated the modern life so vigorously.