Digital Curse: Horrors of Folklore Technologically Explored through Ringu (1998)

Ringu (1998): Poster
Ringu (1998): Poster

Adapting from Koji Suzuki’s novel, Hideo Nakata creates a legacy in the genre of horror films. ‘Ringu’ (1998) is the first production of the horror series. The film builds on Japanese folklore but also incorporates modern technologies to appeal to the masses. With a runtime of approximately 140 minutes, the film keeps the audience glued to their seats. The protagonist Reiko Asakawa researches a ‘cursed video’ that kills its viewers within a week. Asakawa learns her niece Tomoko has been a victim of the cursed video along with her friends. While investigating the case, Reiko falls victim to the curse. Accompanied by her ex-husband Ryuji, she sets out on a trail to solve the mystery and lift the curse off. Their quest comes to an end and that too with recovering Sadako’s body. However, the film offers more and completes the cycle of death.

Japanese Folklore retold in Ringu (1998): The Tale of Sadako Yamamura

Sadako Yamamura is one of the indomitable spirits of cult fiction. Mythologically, Sadako is an onryo or vengeful ghost. These spirits are usually women who faced cruel, hateful, and unnatural deaths. The myth suggests an onryo attempts to take revenge on her murderers. Sadako is a combination of two powerful onryo. They are Okiku of Bancho Sarayashiki (The dish mansion at Bancho) and Oiwa of Yotsuya Kaidan. However, the former was tossed into well, and the husband poisoned the latter.

Sadako in Ringu 1998
Sadako in Ringu 1998

Sadako Yamamura appears to her victims as a female in white robes with long hair hiding her face. She was the daughter of a psychic woman Shizuko and her lover Dr. Ikuma. If we believe the legend, she was born of the union between Shizuko and oceanic spirits (demons). As she was gifted with supernatural abilities, so her potential was more than her mother’s. The novel suggests, Sadako was raped by a doctor on her visit to her ill father. Sadako was not only raped but also thrown into a well. Although Sadako survived the fall, she wasn’t rescued and starved to death. However, the film shifts from the narrative presented in the novel. In the film, Sadako’s stepfather throws her into a well. The film, like the novel, builds up for future plots revealing very little about Sadako’s past.

Nensha: Instrumentalising The Curse Through Modern Technologies in Ringu (1998)

Nensha is also called thoughtography or psychic thermography. It is the ability to imprint images from one’s mind to surfaces. Sadako employs this power and creates the cursed videotape. At Izzu, the unnamed ‘cursed tape’ was present, which was Sadako’s creation. The viewers summoned death within a week of watching the tape. The tape records images of Shizuko, Sadako, snippets from newspapers, and other images. A phone call would often follow the movie, which served as a warning for the viewers. Some stories suggest that Sadako had accidentally created a cursed audio file as well. The audio bore witness to an intimate moment between Sadako and her lover. However, the film mentions no such detail of added horror. Media is a powerful tool of propagation. Sadako deviously exploits the media to avenge herself. Visual and auditory senses are rightly awarded horror.

Sadako climbs out of the Television screen in Ringu
Sadako climbs out of the Television screen in Ringu

The television switches on, the video starts playing. Sadako climbs out of the well and inches towards her victim. She crawls out of the screen and reveals her face. The victims are petrified to death. The television screen or monitor plays an important role in unleashing the demon. Devising vengeance through technology is innovative. Additionally, it instills fear and that too for the right reasons beyond mere superstition.

The Horrors of Modern Technology

To believe the tale or not is an individual choice. However skeptical one might be about spirits and demons – you can’t turn a blind eye to the horrors of technology. The movie comes out as a warning to be wary of the content we consume. Movies like Friend Request(2016) explores further in this genre. The film underlines the necessity of supervising content viewed by children. Children and especially teenagers, fall into the vicious trap of mindlessly consuming content. Sadako coming to life and out of the screen is a metaphor. In that sense, the film informs us about the hypnotic and devastating effects of digital consumption.

Reiko's son watching the cursed tape
Reiko’s son watching the cursed tape

Concluding the Infinite Loop of Curse: Ringu (1998)

The protagonist believes she has successfully lifted the curse when she retrieves Sadako’s corpse from the well. However, as the story unfolds, we discover that an eye for an eye is the only answer for lifting the curse. To break away from the chain, one must propagate it. Reiko replicated the curse and thereby escaped its perils. The process creates an unending cycle. At this point, people might have various thoughts. Does the cycle ever end? Probably no. What happens if I watch the video a second time? The answers to these questions lie with the creators or die with the myth. Ringu comes back full circle in propagating the virus. A gripping tale; Ringu provokes us to think beyond spirits and folklore. It pushes us to identify various such cycles of life and death in disease and health.


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