” The tape had been rewound. It was an ordinary 120 minute tape, the sort you could get anywhere, and, as the manager had pointed out, the anti-erasure tabs had been broken off. Asakawa turned on the VCR and pushed the tape into the slot . . . He had high hopes that the key to unlock the riddle of four people’s deaths was hidden on this tape. He’d pushed play fully intending to be satisfied with just a clue, any clue. There can’t be any danger, he was thinking. What harm could come from just watching a videotape? ” (Part 2, Highlands, Ch.2, p.75)
This is the original novel that inspires the seminal 1998 Japanese horror film, Ringu, which obviously has outfamed the book since, at the time of the movie, Ring was yet to be translated into English. Four teenagers die in inexplicable circumstances—sudden heart failure. The news story piques journalist Asakawa, who dismisses the possibility that the deaths are coincidence. It turns out that one of the victims is his niece, Tomoko, and she and her friends all watched a certain videotape in a mountain log cabin. Whoever watches this tape will receive a mysterious, fateful phone call that announces death in a week. The tape originally contained instructions to avoid this fate, but they had been recorded over with another TV program.
This video hadn’t been recorded by a machine. A human being’s eyes, ears, nose, tongue, skin—all five senses had been used to make this video. These chills, this shivering, were from somebody’s shadow sneaking into him through his sense organs. (Part 3, Gusts, Ch.5, p.146)
Asakawa, who suspects that there is more to the world than modern science can account for the eerie aftermath of the tape, enlists the help of his friend Ryuji, a philosophy professor, as they rummage through history archives and travel to rural Japan to investigate the origin of the video.
The book is creepy, and it makes more sense reading the book before watching the film. But it’s also entertaining to delve into the novel and see the solid bedrock of the plot in place even though the outer layers are vastly different from the film. The protagonist is a male reporter rather than a female one in the film, with a spouse and a child, who also watch the tape, so that his entire family is doomed if he does not solve the riddle.
Innumerable evil spirits undulated like seaweed, hands outstretched toward the exit. He couldn’t drive away the image. A pebble fell into the ghastly shaft, barely a meter across, echoed against the sides of the well, and was swallowed into the gullets of the evil spirits. (Part 4, Ripples, Ch. 12, p.242)
The book provides a lot more details on the video’s origin, describing shot-by-shot the scenes of the video, including those that are either different or omitted in the film. The video in the book I find to be less scary, even though Suzuki builds tension brilliantly early on. The book’s presentation of the video also feels more like an intriguing puzzle than a sensuous demonstration evil, and the last two-thirds of Ring somewhat degenerates into wooden comments about the paranormal. Although the reading experience lacks the fearsome sensory assault that gives the film’s success, it still creeps me out and delivers a much more tragic story on the main antagonist’s life. It has more depth on what Sadako’s previous life was like. It makes readers sympathize with her fate and understand why she turned into a vicious, revengeful, unexorcized ghost.
This is the first of the Ring trilogy.
282 pp. Vertical, Inc. Paper. [Read|Skim|Toss] [Buy|Borrow]