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Ringu Anthology of Terror

For those interested in owning the complete set of Japanese Ringu films, DreamWorks has released a four-disc set. Included are all of the titles in the series:

Ringu – The one that started it all — the highest-grossing film in Japanese history, Hideo Nakata's 1998 horror film was adapted from the novel The Ring by Koji Suzuki and then remade as The Ring for American audiences. Spawning a couple of equally successful sequels and garnering a reputation as a mind-numbingly terrifying piece of horror cinema, Ringu is, indeed, a very creepy and unsettling film — though it's unlikely to turn your hair white and leave you sleepless. Two high school girls discuss an urban legend about a mysterious tape that causes viewers to die exactly one week after they watch it. One of the girls admits that she saw the tape seven days previous — soon she's toast, and her friend is in the loony bin. Reiko Asakawa (Matsushima Nanako), the girl's aunt, is a journalist who just happens to be investigating the very same urban legend, and now she's also seeking the reason for her niece's death. After she watches the tape herself, she discovers that the curse is indeed real — and after her ex-husband, Ryuji (Hiroyuki Sanada) and young son Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka) also watch the video, she becomes even more determined to find out what's behind the cursed tape so she can save herself and her child. Neither overly violent nor blatantly scary, Ringu is a ripping good mystery, efficiently told and deliciously disturbing. Compared to its American remake, it's a leaner, simpler film, with a much darker, even more unexpected ending — one element of Ringu that was omitted from The Ring is the gift of ESP that's shared by Ryugi and Asakawa, which not only allows them to "see" the past events that led to their curse, but also offers an unsettling parallel in their own life together.

Ringu: Rasen – With the phenomenal success of Ringu, this sequel was made as quickly as possible and shoved into theaters the same year. It continues the story, but with a bizarre explanation for the events of the previous film — a virus causes people to hallucinate before they die, and that's really what's been going on. (No, it doesn't pay to ask about the fact that showing the videotape to someone else saves your life… really.) After the death of Ryuji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada), Reiko's psychic mathematician husband, his buddy Dr. Ando Mitsuo (Kuichi Sato) has to perform an autopsy. Ando is still grieving the death of his son whose drowning he was unable to prevent (for reasons entirely unclear from the muddled flashbacks). The police think Ryugi's death is a little fishy, given Reiko's and Yoichi's disappearance… especially when his mistress, Mai (Miki Nakatani), tells them it was all because of a haunted videotape. Things get even weirder and more confusing when bodies turn up and Ando has bizarre visions and we flash back yet again to Ando and Ryugi's happy college days and Ando figures out something about DNA and a virus like smallpox and… well, it all makes very little sense. Basically, Rasen is a medical thriller, with much of the film involving discussions of medical things and people looking into microscopes. Only with hallucinations and flashbacks. Not a terrible film, but the explaining away of Ringu's genuine chills with pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo is annoying. Japanese audiences thought so, too, and the picture bombed.

Ringu 2 – The truly awful 1999 followup, released after audiences shunned the silly Rasen, is best skipped entirely. Sure, its inclusion in the anthology makes for a complete set — but this one's so bad it's painful to watch. Starting where Ringu left off (and pretending Rasen never existed), we get to see an autopsy on the rage-filled, supernaturally damp Sadako, whose spooky powers are still affecting Yoichi, who is acting as a sort of conduit for the angry tart. The lover of Reiko's dead husband, Mai (played by pop star Miki Nakatani) is also somehow being manipulated by Sadako, as is young Masami Kurahashi (Hitomi Sato), a classmate of one of Sadako's first victims. A psychologist (Fumiyo Kohinata) and a police detective (Kenjiro Ishimaru) both try to figure out what's going on while Mai tries to free Reiko and Yoichi from Sadako's clutches — but where Hideo favored suggestion and mood in his first film, he chooses lame, by-the-numbers manifestations and second-rate scare for his second outing, and the results are simply dull.

Ringu 0 – Also called Ringu: Bâsudei (or "birthday"), this 2000 return to the story takes place 30 years before the events of the first Ringu and shares the origins of Sadako's (Yukie Nakama) rage. In Tokyo in the 1960s, Sadako is a troubled college student studying acting at the suggestion of her shrink as a way of channeling, and perhaps curing, her twisted mental state. She joins and acting troupe and becomes close to sound tech Toyama (Seiichi Tanabe). Unfortunately, all the other actors start to have weird dreams, strange things start happening, and darned if they don't blame Sadako — and, well, they beat her to death. Ringu 0 is a surprisingly effective psychological drama, but those looking for a truly scary follow-on to Ringu will once again be disappointed — as will those hoping that this third sequel will answer all of their questions in a tidy little package — it doesn't. Still, it's a sad, tragic story that does offer a couple of moments of real creepiness, and it's the best of the three sequels.

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DreamWorks has done a fine job with the transfers of these titles, offered in anamorphic widescreen (all 1.85:1, except for Ringu 2, which is 1.78:1). The transfers are all very impressive — clean, crisp, with excellent contrast and terrific color saturation. The audio, in Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 (with optional English, Spanish, or French subtitles) is equally superb, complex with a lot of depth and full use of all the channels. Where DreamWorks fell down on the job is with the extras — there aren't any. No featurettes, commentaries, bonus goodies… zip. Four discs in a bi-fold case with slipcover.
—Dawn Taylor

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