In 1989 Japanese novelist Kôji Suzuki published Ringu, an epic ghost story due to hit American shores for the first time this month. Nine years later, screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi and director Hideo Nakate adapted the book into a film with the modest budget of 1.2 million dollars. The resulting film Ringu, created a sensation with asian language film-goers, becoming one of Japan's top grossing films ever, and doing similar blockbuster business in Korea and Hong Kong, and gaining cult classic status in Europe. The plot of The Ring concerns a reporter on the trail of a story about a videotape, which kills anyone within 7 days of watching it. Dreamworks secured the rights from producer Roy Lee, who managed to grab up licensing for a number of successful Japanese and Korean films, all virtually unreleased and unknown here in the states. Lee has at least eleven films in developement, including Chaos (Kaosu) Nakate's 1999 suspense thriller about a kidnapping gone wrong, due in 2004 from english director Jonathan Glazer (Sexy Beast) starring Benicio Del Torro.
But perhaps none of these deals would ever come to fruition were it not for Dreamworks' 45 million dollar version of The Ring directed by Gore Verbinski (Mouse Hunt, The Mexican, Pirates of the Carribean) and starring white hot Australian actress Naomi Watts, fresh from her eye popping performance in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive.
Released in January 2002, The Ring, made over 128 million at the US box office, and the march release of the DVD sold over 2 million units on it's first day. Dreamworks has also released the Tanake version on DVD.
There's a number of websites devoted to the Ring, including Ringworld, and a more general site devoted to the dynamic japanese horror/thriller market Snowblood Apple. Snowblood Apple covers a number of Japanese directors who are doing interesting work, some of which may very well end up as Hollywood remakes, if Roy Lee has his way. If you're fortunate enough to have IFC or Sundance, you can often catch originals like Ghost Actress or Cure in subtitled form. Hollywood is always chasing trends, and with the success of the Ring, I expect we'll see a rash of Japanese sourced material hitting the US markets in the coming years, which isn't a bad thing, considering the risk averse formulaic drivel that predominates Hollywood's output. However, one can only wonder at Hollywood's ignorance of the talent and creativeness of directors like Hideo Nakata and Kiyoshi Kurosawa, while at the same time falling all over themselves to remake their films.
For fun, I made a the small Flash teaser for The Ring as an exercise, which should hopefully if nothing else, give you an idea of the haunting visual tone and production design (influenced by the artwork of Andrew Wyeth purportedly) which sets the film apart. If you didn't catch it in the theaters, by all means catch it on DVD. Along with The Sixth Sense, It's easily one of the creepiest and most intriguing Horror films in the last ten years. And if you're even more adventurous, check out the influential Ringu on DVD.