by Mel Valentin
Directed by Hideo Nakata and scripted by Hiroshi Takahashi (from the novel by Koji Suzuki, "Ringu" quickly became the standard (and later, the paradigm) for Japanese (and Asian) supernatural horror films. With a compelling storyline centered on a cursed videotape, a deadly, supernatural deadline, a well, and an enigmatic black-haired ghost named Sadako, "Ringu" became a box-office and critical success. In addition to spawning an American remake, "Ringu" spawned an uneven franchise, including two unrelated sequels and one prequel. In an unorthodox move, one of the sequels, "Rasen" ("Spiral") based on Koji Suzukiís sequel to his novel, was filmed simultaneously with "Ringu." Audiences reacted with indifference, leading the production company to commission another sequel, reuniting "Ringuís" directing/writing team, Nakata and Takahashi. Unfortunately, the end result is a listless, meandering effort that can be recommended for only staunchest of "Ringu" fans (and even then, only with major reservations).Ringu 2ís primary problem stems from Nakata and Takahashiís inexplicable decision to shift the focus of the storyline away from Reiko Asakawa (Nanako Matsushima), the protagonist in the first film, and her son Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka). In Ringu, Reiko and her son seemingly managed to escape the deadly effects of the cursed videotape, but not before Reiko chose a path that irrevocably compromised her conscience (and, in turn, continued the curse). In Ringu 2, a barely recognizable character fleetingly glimpsed in the first, Mai Takano (Miki Nakatani), a graduate assistant to Reikoís ex-husband, Ryuji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada), becomes the principal character. Out goes the audienceís familiarity (and identification) with Reiko and her moral quandary; in comes a shallow, poorly developed, passive character. Maiís passivity can be partly traced to being traumatized by Ryujiís tragic demise at the end of Ringu, but at some point Mai should awaken from her semi-slumbering state and show more than a modicum of interest in the events unfolding around her (she barely does, and only at the behest of a reporter interested in the history of the cursed videotape).
"A lackluster, inferior sequel with scarcely a chill or thrill."
As Ringu 2 opens, Mai wanders aimlessly from the newspaper office where Reiko worked (Reiko has gone into hiding with her son to avoid instrusive questioning from the police about Sadako's rampage), and with the help of a taciturn reporter with an agenda of his own, Okazaki (YŻrei Yanagi), to a mental hospital where the near-catatonic Masami (Hitomi Sato), a survivor from the first film who partly witnessed Sadako dispatch a close friend of hers, is being held against her will. At the hospital, Mai meets Dr. Kawajiri (Fumiyo Kohinata), a psychiatrist with pseudo-scientific ideas about thought and energy transference (and energy dissipation in water). With these entirely ungrounded ideas (ideas the other characters seem to accept with nary a raised eyebrow or concerned object), how Dr. Kawajiri obtained his degree or continues to practice medicine is, however, a mystery left unsolved. Masamiís encounter with Sadako has apparently awakened dormant psychic powers, giving her the ability to disrupt television sets at a distance, transmitting portions of the cursed videotape telepathically.
Mai eventually tracks down Reiko and Yoichi. Yoichi also shows signs of awakened psychic powers (he can send out thought blasts that knock his opponents down). Given his prolonged encounter with Sadako, Yoichi has been contaminated by her malevolence (something similar to, but not quite, to demonic possession). Dr. Kawajiri is, of course, eager to continue his interrupted experiments on Yoichi. More illogical developments follow, including Mai assuming Reikoís maternal role in the third act, as she boards a ferry to Sadakoís former island home with a sullen, if complacent Yoichi in two, and into an underwritten, undermotivated poolside climax (the best scene in the entire film, but sadly too little too late). Left unresolved are Sadakoís fate and the cursed videotapeís impact on both survivors and victims (the final scene includes the suggestion that victims can somehow take on Sadakoís role, spreading the viral curse to additional victims).
On a fundamental level, supernatural horror films are expected to deliver scares or thrills, or at minimum, existential dread that builds into an emotional, visceral climax (with a plot turn or two to surprise the audience). Ringu 2 falls short in every category. In the rush to produce a sequel, Nakata and Takahashi failed to develop a premise to match the supernatural deadline and characters in imminent peril that made Ringu a compelling film. They also erred in attempting a pseudo-scientific explanation for the supernatural, instead of recognizing that the supernatural works best in creating scares when itís associated with a mystery (that, at best, is only partially solved). Visually, with the exception of the climax (which, once again, involves a slimy encounter with ghosts inside a dark, dank well) and a scene involving a seemingly sentient pool of blood, thereís nothing to approach the shivery pleasures found in Sadakoís first emergence from a static-filled television set to claim her fear-stricken, paralyzed victim. Nakata also recycles the screeches, scrapes, and howls that added to the eerie, unsettling atmosphere in the first film, but to rapidly diminishing effect.Ultimately, the lack of a compelling storyline, scares, and a passive protagonist makes "Ringu 2" an unsatisfying viewing experience. "Ringu 2" stands as an object lesson for film studios that rush seriously flawed scripts into production to wring box-office dollars (or their Japanese equivalent) from their franchise. Not surprisingly, when the production company decided to revisit the "Ringu" world, they went backward in time, and produced a prequel, "Ringu 0: Birthday," that humanized Sadako, giving her a romantic backstory and making her a tragic figure before her inevitable fall into a well and into a revenge-filled afterlife.
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originally posted: 08/25/05 08:05:44