In America, we assign ghosts to places – cemeteries, houses, cars. Places are haunted with the energy of these ghosts, either by repeating specific moments in their tragic lives, or by relieving eternal boredom by pranking the living. Myrtle’s Plantation, a bed and breakfast in St. Francisville, LA possesses the spirit of Chloe, who wanders the grounds and sometimes “checks in” on slumbering guests like she did with the children she was accused of murdering. The Whispers Estate in Mitchell, IN is haunted by Dr. John Gibbons who likes to pinch guests while the ghost of his daughter Rachel desires for someone to play ball with her. These ghosts, and many others like them, are tethered to a single location, and the people who encounter them get to leave knowing the ghosts will not follow them home.
Although restless, “Cemetery Mary” never wandered too far from Resurrection Cemetery, and hitchhiking ghosts almost never ventured further than the edge of the wrought iron gates of their final resting place. As Westerners, we were comfortable with that idea. We were comfortable with those ghost stories.
But then Ringu (Ring (1998)) came along and all of that changed.
Ringu, adapted from the novel Ring by Koji Suzuki, tells the story of a newspaper reporter who stumbles on a story of high school suicides connected by an urban legend. Once a person watches a cursed VHS tape (a series of disconnected images), a nearby phone would ring and a voice would tell them they had 7 days to live. The person would have to complete two very specific tasks within 7 days, and if they failed, the last thing they saw was a tall woman crawling out of a well, scaring them to death.
Ringu, like its cousin, The Grudge (Ju-on (2002)), is a modern version of a spontaneous yurei, a Japanese spirit that cannot move on due to sudden rage or tragedy. In The Grudge, the house was haunted by several spirits born of fairly recent rage and murder, and anyone who entered the house was infected by Yoshi and Kayako and their rage spread from person to person inciting murder or suicide. In Ring, the psychic force of all of Sadako’s rage escaped when transferred to a video tape that happened to be recording a television program at the time. Unlike American ghost stories and even roving psychics, yurei cannot be convinced to move on. Once created, they are eternal, forever infecting anyone that comes into their sphere. The remedies are limited. In Ju-On, the house became abandoned and fell into dereliction (an absolute sin in Japanese culture). In Ringu, the end point could be avoided by the sacrifice of another person.
Bottom line – curses are eternal and no amount of prayer or appeasement can stop a vengeful spirit.
It wasn’t the first J-Horror ghost story to ripple across American shores. Americans discovered (to their horrified delight) that there were indeed spirits that would never move on, and they couldn’t stop watching. Ringu made an impact in the number of remakes from Dark Water (2002) and Dark Water (2005) to Kairo (2005) and Pulse (2006), to One Missed Call (2003) and One Missed Call (2008). The Ring Cycle spun off movies and a television series in Japan, Korea, and the United States. Gore Verbinski exploited the horror fanatics’ love for creepy vengeful spirit children by giving the American remake from 2003 a distinct flavor, without completely straying from the origins.
This past year has seen a resurgence of the so-called Ringu Cycle. Sadako vs Kayako (currently streaming exclusively on Shudder.com) pits tape versus house in a knockdown battle for the title of “Creepiest Wraith.” Rings, Verbinski’s second sequel to Ring, opens February 3, 2017. In total, 14 films have been made to tell the sad story of Sadako Yamamura/Samara Morgan.
Rings continues thirteen years after Rachel originally finds the dreaded tape which finds the urban legend spreading across the internet in search of new victims to consume. It stars Matilda Lutz, Johnny Galecki, Bonnie Morgan, and Vincent D’Onfrio.
You may not care for yurei inspirations and reboots, but as Samara says, “I’m sorry. It won’t stop.”