Color, 1998, 91m. / Directed by Hideo Nakata / Starring Matsushima Nanako, Sanada Hiroyuki / Tartan (UK PAL R0) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD2.0, DreamWorks (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9) / DD5.1

Imagine you woke up one morning and were told you had exactly one week to live... and you even know the exact minute you would die. This eerie feeling permeates the entire running time of Ring, the most internationally successful horror export from Japan. While U.S. distributors have fumbled their chance to get in on the action (though a remake is on the way from DreamWorks), Ring has already become something of a legend in the horror community for its solid blend of psychological depth, a startling storyline, and enough chills to maintain a freezer through summertime. Completely devoid of blood, the film instead draws the viewer in slowly until the chilling, unforgettable finale.

A series of strange deaths have been cropping up around Japan. The latest victim, Tomoko, was a young teenage girl who was found dead while spending the evening with her best friend, who went insane after finding the body. No signs of violence can be found, but a reporter named Reiko (Matsushima Nanako) learns that the girl and two other friends, now dead as well, had watched a strange videotape at a remote cabin. After viewing the tape, a phone call told them they would all die in exactly one week. A little detective work leads Reiko to the mysterious tape at the cabin. Curiosity gets the better of her, so she views the tape in one of the guest rooms. The TV displays a series of grainy, surreal images and words: a group of people clawing through an erupting volcano, a hooded figure pointing offscreen, a woman brushing her hair in the mirror. Then the phone rings... and Reiko's terrifying journey begins.

To give away any more of Ring's plot would be heresy, but anyone who enjoys well-crafted ghost stories should get a solid shudder out of the believable, understated manner in which the tale unfolds. The source novel, Ringu, has been adapted and sequelized many times in Japan with varying degrees of success, such as Ring 0 and the worthy Ring 2; however, this is the one to seek out. The cast does an excellent job of gradually building hysteria without resorting to running or screaming; in particular, Sanada Hiroyuki is quietly effective as Reiko's ex-husband, a university professor with psychic abilities who aids her quest to beat the clock before her own death. The people behind the camera also perform outstanding jobs, with the subtly manipulative cinematography, jolting editing, and spooky ambient music score gradually building tension to the breaking point.

The British DVD from Tartan marked the first legitimate English subtitled version available to the general public; lifted from a festival print with visibly battered reel changes and burned-in subs, the transfer is acceptable. The anamorphic image quality is richly colorful and contains deep blacks, essential to appreciating the film, while the manipulative surround audio is boisterous, often filled with ringing telephones, exploding camera flashes, and creepy, unidentifiable noises designed to give you the feeling of someone lurking just behind your shoulder. The menu design is especially crafty, with the chilling images on the videotape manipulated to identify the various disc functions. Extra goodies include a U.K. theatrical trailer, a teaser for the British release of Ring 2, a trailer for the creepy Audition (which is better than the trailer included on that film's Hong Kong DVD release), a gallery of stills and talent bios, and an enthusiastic critical appraisal by critic Mark Kermode. A more bare bones but technically superior edition appeared in the U.S. from DreamWorks under the original Japanese title, timed to coincide with the release of their Americanized remake. The disc features a cleaner, crisper transfer, and more importantly, the optional English subtitles (also available in French or Spanish) are far more legible. The 5.1 mix is also more nerve-jangling than the standard surround version, with some nice dimensional effects which make an already uneasy viewing experience turn completely nightmarish. The only extra is a promo for the American version, which is silly considering the relatively high pricetag.

Mondo Digital ReviewsMondo Digital LinksFrequently Asked Questions