The Soul of VHS in Ringu 2 (1999 Film) By Hideo Nakata

Ringu 2 1999 Film
Photo 12 / Alamy Stock Photo

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After the success of Ringu, the next novel in the series by Koji Suzuki was tapped for a sequel. It may surprise you, however, that this is not what would be Ringu 2. The sequel to the Ring novel was Spiral and this book would be adapted at the same time as Ringu. There were some similarities as both productions of Ringu and Spiral but different directors at the helm of each project. When they were both released, Ringu was a hit while Spiral was a failure, becoming perhaps the first sequel to debut the earliest and fail quickly.

Spiral has often been considered a forgotten sequel for how lackluster the response was to the picture. As a result, Ringu writer Hiroshi Takahashi and director Hideo Nakata decided to try their hand at continuing on with a new sequel. That film, Ringu 2, is considered more of a direct sequel, despite being the third Ringu film and essentially a do-over for the title of continuing the horror saga of Ringu.

A Different Sequel

Ringu 2 very much feels like a different interpretation of where Ringu would proceed. The film wasn’t based on Spiral and thus doesn’t follow the same story set out by Suzuki. Rather than starting with the examination of another victim, this film begins with the examination of Sadako Yamamura, the mysterious girl who drowned in a well and was killed through the cursed tape. Her uncle, Takashi, reclaims the body for a burial at sea and learns that she may have lived for thirty years.

More deaths via videotape pop up and the investigation is on with Detective Omuta, university assistant Mai Takano, and Okazaki, a friend of one of the victims. They look into the recent death of Ryuji Takayama and they uncover paranormal forces they struggle to decipher. Exorcism and psychic energies are tapped into as more and more of the secrets behind the tape are revealed.

Ringu 2 is more interesting for the ripple effect explored of the tape than simply continuing on with the same characters. Sadako becomes more of the central figure of these films. Her curse and the deaths she brings about with the haunted tape shape this narrative, where the audience is more interested in what will happen to the ghost and the tape as opposed to what will happen with the characters.

This type of film places Sadako more in the realm of a slasher villain, always popping up for a new batch of victims for the next film. What makes Sadako so much more interesting is that she is not fully understood, despite how much more of the mechanics are explained in this entry. With the likes of Jason Vorhees or Freddy Krueger, it always felt like there was more of a personality and logic to outsmarting and defeating the character. This is less present with Sadako, a silent soul that is only present when she can strike most and frighten you to death.

Fear of Videotape

The sequel presents an interesting scenario where the audience feels more inline with the investigating detectives who are aware of the cursed VHS tape. With the rules revealed of being marked for death in a week upon viewing the video, how would you respond? Would you watch the tape out of curiosity, just leave the tape alone, or investigate further to understand just how this curse works?

The film presents this unknown terror of forbidden media with more intrigue. Will you watch the tape? If you do, can you prevent the curse? Can you get away from all televisions to prevent Sadako from taking your soul? These questions are asked and given perhaps more concrete answers than one would expect.

There’s also some commentary in this staging about the nature of horror movies and how they tempt us so. The cursed tape frightens the victims into being haunted and presented with our own mortality. The tape is then shared or discovered and others experience the same terror. Our fears literally come off the screen and attack us, where the only way it feels not to succumb to the cold chill of death is not to watch. And yet so many people seem to be watching. Don’t you want to see for yourself or are you too scared?

Capturing Time

In the same way that photos were feared to have captured souls by preserving life in a still state, there’s a similar surreal chill that runs through the concept of videotape trapping our current state. We click the capture button or push record. In an instant, time is frozen in the form of tape or digitized data.

VHS tapes are used more like vessels for the soul in this form. The psychic energies and curses are experimented in ways where they can be transferred to tape, much akin to transferring VHS to DVD. Our fears and very existence can carry on to others in such a form.

The tape preserves the spirit of Sadako, where even a proper burial still won’t keep her away. Ghosts may not always linger because they need to be put to rest or have unfinished business in our realm. Sometimes they remain for the prospect of feeding into our fears. As long as there’s fear in our souls, there will always be those who play into that which terrifies us most.

Consider how the film stages the high school student Kanae as a figure consumed by fear and returns in ghostly form. She was tempted by the tape and became a part of the urban legend because of her curiosity. When her interview is nearly deleted by Okazaki, her ghost returns to prevent Okazaki from denying her existence. Her body is gone but she remains trapped in time.

The New Flesh For Fright

Ringu 2 becomes a much different film for further exploring the concept of tying the soul to media. It’s very much akin to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, where people found themselves becoming so lost in television that it would become the new flesh. Could VHS be just as easy to be lost within?

Within the narrative of Ringu 2, consciousness seems to be transferable to tape. But if we can live on through tape, for what purpose do we continue living? Perhaps to entertain. To stir fear and embrace what it means to be alive. If we’re immortalized in a format that can be played by future generations, there’s an immortality that comes with it.

Video remains a form of the new flesh in how well it can preserve all of our experiences. It can not only take us back in time but experience all parts of the world we would otherwise not experience. Media becomes our window into the world and perhaps even a window into the supernatural. How much we see of that world and understand it is only known through how much we witness.

A Mixed Success

Worth noting about how Japan’s new style of horror was here to stay was the success the film experienced at the box office. Ringu 2 ended up being the second highest-grossing Japanese film of 1999 (the top film being Pokémon: The Movie 2000). The total box office was about $31.3 million.

That being said, the critical response was not as enthusiastic as the box office. Several critics found the film to not be as intriguing as the first for revealing more of the enigma behind the cursed tape story rather than rely on the mysteries of the unknown.

In some ways, this is understandable. Explaining all of the supernatural and paranormal elements removes a certain mystique from the horror concept. It creates a much different film that is less about deciphering the curse of the tape and trying to comprehend the effects that the media can have on our own fears.

The American Sequel and Continuation

In the same way that America developed their own remake of Ringu, they also developed their own sequel. However, the sequel arrived in 2005 as The Ring Two and took on a much different form. The film continued the investigations by the terrified Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts) who just can’t seem to get away from the cursed tape. Once again, the narrative centered around keeping the evil spirit of Samara at bay.

Despite having the original Ringu director of Hideo Nakata attached, the film failed to attract much of the same appeal as the first Ring films, both American and Japanese. The box office was low and the critical ranking was just as disappointing. Perhaps there just wasn’t a whole lot more that would make audiences want to return to the world of haunted video tapes, considering that the video format of choice was shifting to DVD as VHS became defunct for studios by 2006.

However, there was a slightly more fascinating sequel that arrived in 2017. The American film Rings (known as The Ring: Rebirth in Japan), takes a bit of everything from the previous Rings stories, including Spiral. It forms a narrative that better questions what would happen if the curse of ghosts within video made the jump to digital. This aspect seemed to become more of a joke over time as silly thoughts of Samara being on YouTube were conjured. However, this is an interesting angle worth exploring.

Online video has become such a dominant format and so many people tie their entire lives to this medium. There are people who stream for as much as 12 hours a day, effectively taking up their entire day as their presence is recorded online and stored for all to watch. Streamers seem to have an entire online presence that extends far beyond a movie star briefly gracing big screens for two hours or a TV actor you binge watch for a few days.

Sadly, Rings only touches on this aspect, more interested in repeating the Samara curse than delving into online video. It merely shifts the format to DVD and digital copies, where the highlight is how editing software is affected by trying to decipher the curse. It’s also a bit of a tease considering the climax of Samara’s cursed video going viral would present a unique story.

The Wasted Potential

Ringu 2 has some great ideas that don’t feel as fully explored, existing somewhere between deciphering mysteries of the unknown and embracing technology as a form of transhumanism. As a horror film, it still holds some fright amid its investigation of ghosts and videotape. But if Videodrome’s tagline was “long live the new flesh” for touching upon the transcendent effects of media, the success and influence of Ringu 2 seems to be more like “farewell to the format.”