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Years ago, I watched Hideo Nakata’s ‘Ringu,’ the Japanese horror film that kicked off a successful series of terrifying ghost stories both in Japan and here in the US. But it was only recently that I had the opportunity to read the novel that started it all—Ring by Koji Suzuki. When I first saw the movie, I was unnerved by the image of that strange girl Sadako, her hair exposing one hideous eye, crawling out of the television set from a well into the living room. There was something demonic about her, and though the film lacks gore, her victims’ deaths from sudden cardiac arrest are frightening.
In reading the novel, I learned that, unlike ‘Ringu,’ the protagonist is the dogged investigative reporter Asakawa, who plays only a minor role in the film. The reporter is around thirty, with a wife and child he barely has time for. Courtesy of a cab driver, he stumbles into a mystery involving four teenagers, one of whom was his niece. They all died suddenly of cardiac arrest—on the same day and at the same time.
I enjoyed this novel immensely. Here are three things in particular I noticed.
Family Comes Second
Though Asakawa continually berates himself for not spending more time with his son, he nevertheless continues to work, coming home at all hours. He smokes and drinks too much and is an emotional wreck. There’s something in him that drives him to pursue stories of the occult. Despite the efforts of his hapless editor to reign him in after a previous fiasco, he takes on a new mystery—one that hits closer to home because of the reporter’s dead niece.
As Asakawa tracks down the whereabouts of the four teenagers before they died to uncover the truth, he frequently spends time away from home. It isn’t until the end of the movie that he realizes how much his family means to him. And that feeling leads him to one last terrible, desperate act.
Science and Superstition but Not Faith
Science plays a significant role in this story. Asakawa’s friend Ryuji has lots of great scientific explanations for the phenomena he and the reporter discover. But for all his theories, there seems to be an underlying current of superstition that lies deep in the Japanese character. You could imagine children being warned nightly about spooky ghosts and vengeful spirits—and demons.
But for all the talk about science and superstition, rarely is God ever mentioned. Ryuji comes close when he suggests that at the beginning of time, good and evil were the same—they were equal. But I don’t recall anyone in this story saying they needed to go to the local Buddhist temple to pray for help.
We Kill What We Don’t Understand
If you know anything about ‘Ringu,’ then you know Sadako is responsible for all the mayhem. In the movie, she was a girl; but in the novel, she is an adult and startlingly beautiful. And she has a deep hatred that takes the form of a video cassette from hell. If you watch it, you die a week later. But why should anyone want to visit this kind of evil on people they don’t even know? Because Sadako was abused, then murdered for who—and what—she was.
If Sadako and her mother had been treated well, then none of this horror would have happened. But her mother’s death, followed by Sadako’s, creates the equivalent of a deadly virus whose only purpose is to infect and spread. Perhaps the final lesson in this breathtaking novel is, treat others as you would yourself. Maybe then, you’ll live to a ripe old age.
You can find this review at Goodreads.
The Inspiration for the New Major Motion Picture RINGS
A mysterious videotape warns that the viewer will die in one week unless a certain, unspecified act is performed. Exactly one week after watching the tape, four teenagers die one after another of heart failure.
Asakawa, a hardworking journalist, is intrigued by his niece’s inexplicable death. His investigation leads him from a metropolitan Tokyo teeming with modern society’s fears to a rural Japan—a mountain resort, a volcanic island, and a countryside clinic—haunted by the past. His attempt to solve the tape’s mystery before it’s too late—for everyone—assumes an increasingly deadly urgency. Ring is a chillingly told horror story, a masterfully suspenseful mystery, and post-modern trip.
The success of Koji Suzuki’s novel Ring has led to manga, television and film adaptations in Japan, Korea, and the U.S.
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