Face-Off: Ringu vs. Ju-on

While RINGS, the latest movie to be inspired by the Japanese horror film RINGU, plays out on theatre screens, the J-Horror icons at the head of the RINGU and JU-ON franchises are battling it out on Shudder in SADAKO VS. KAYAKO. These characters have been going strong for a couple decades now, so while they're back in the public eye for the moment this seemed like an appropriate time to look back at their roots - 1998's RINGU and the first theatrical JU-ON film from 2002. Both of these films have received a slew of sequels, remakes, and spin-offs, so let's put them against each other and have our own version of Sadako vs. Kayako right here.
When Reiko Asakawa's teenage niece and the friends she recently stayed in a remote cabin with all turn up dead around the same time, rumors begin to swirl about a cursed videotape that causes your death seven days after you watch it. Going to the cabin, Reiko finds an unlabeled tape, watches it, and now she's marked for death as well. With the clock counting down toward her demise, Reiko enlists the aid of her ex-husband Ryūji (who also watches the tape) in getting to the bottom of this mystery - and the need to find answers gets even more desperate when their young son gets his hands on the tape... Reiko is a decent heroine and easy enough to side with, and the fact that her companion in this endeavor is her ex-husband is an interesting and unique twist on the usual lead character dynamics.
While you could be unlucky enough to somehow end up with the RINGU videotape in your possession, most people are probably perfectly safe from the JU-ON curse, because to receive it you have to enter a particular house in Japan. Even though it's one specific location, several people still end up with this curse on their shoulders over the course of the film. Since it's constantly switching focus from character to character it's tough to find someone to root for, but among the cursed are a family (a man, his wife, his elderly mother, and his sister), a social worker who stops by to check on the residents, the social worker's boss, a detective who goes to the house after most of the people previously mentioned have turned up dead, and - years later - the detective's daughter.
Shizuko Yamamura was a woman who gained fame after predicting a volcanic eruption, and soon after a doctor had her doing public demonstrations of her psychic abilities. When an audience accused the pair of being frauds, Shizuko's daughter Sadako used her greater mental powers to kill the loudest skeptic. Shizuko went on to kill herself by jumping into that volcano, while Sadako was murdered by the doctor and dumped down a well. From beyond the grave, Sadako has used her powers to create the cursed videotape - but why? And who was Sadako's father? The doctor? Or a supernatural force from the sea? The story has some gaps, but what is there is intriguing, and the talk of Shizuko having some kind of connection to the sea adds an extra level of creepiness, even if it doesn't add up to much.
The ghostly shenanigans that result from it are pretty over-the-top, but the curse here has its roots in a very disturbing and realistic crime - when a man named Takeo Saeki found out his wife Kayako was cheating on him, he murdered her... and in the midst of this madness, he killed the family cat as well. Their young son Toshio was in the house at the time, but he went missing after. Five years pass and Toshio's whereabouts remain unknown, even after Kayako's body is found in the attic of their home. And after her spirit strikes Takeo dead in the street. While the back story of RINGU is more involved and has the intriguing addition of mental powers and such, JU-ON's is more troubling to me. The emotions involved with this act of real world horror were powerful enough to create a curse.
Everyone knows the image of the ghostly Sadako, the girl in a dress with long black hair hanging over her face who climbs out of the television set to attack her victims. Her look may be memorable, but she's also not a figure who should get too much screentime, and in this film the wise decision was made to hold off on showing Sadako in action until a climactic moment. It makes that moment much more effective and keeps the audience from deciding they're not so unnerved by the sight of a girl with long hair.
The spirits of JU-ON may work for some viewers - clearly they must, since there are so many entries in this franchise - but I have trouble taking them seriously. A long haired woman croaking out a death rattle and a meowing little boy who has been painted white don't put me on edge. When these characters show up on screen, and they do a bit too often, I'm closer to laughing than to screaming. Kayako isn't even helped out by the special effect that shows her getting around as a black mist.
The mystery is the driving force of RINGU, as we watch Reiko and Ryūji piece together every clue they come across while Reiko's "seven days" deadline creeps up on them. That ticking clock element makes the mystery even more involving, as you want to see the characters get the answers that will end the curse. They're not only trying to solve a mystery, they're trying to save their own lives.
JU-ON takes a non-linear approach to telling its story, with segments assembled out of order to show the experience various characters have with the spirits of the haunted house. Such an approach works for something like PULP FICTION, but here I find that it hinders my ability to connect with or care about any of the characters. They just show up to get ghost-stalked, then it moves on to someone else.
There's a darkness that hangs over RINGU for the duration of the film; a feeling of dread, of impending doom, that's enhanced by the inclement weather scenes were shot in. Things never get very bright in here, and it's frequently raining, windy, or overcast. The characters' worlds are falling apart, and that definitely comes across in the film. There's a sense that terrible things are coming.
JU-ON has quite a lot of scenes set in the daylight, and horrific things occur even in rooms that are quite brightly lit. There are darker scenes as well, but I'm left with the feeling that the movie is brighter than the average horror film. Its scares don't really work for me, but its strength lies in the fact that it is a deeply strange film. It gets by on its weirdness.
Well, it's pretty clear which of these two movies I find to be more appealing, effective, and enjoyable. In a head-to-head match-up, RINGU gives JU-ON quite a trouncing. I would rank RINGU as a true classic, but for me JU-ON is just another ghost story.

Do you agree with the outcome of this Face-Off, or do you think JU-ON should have won more categories? Let us know your thoughts on these films and the RINGU and JU-ON franchises as a whole by leaving a comment below. If there are any Face-Off pairings you would like to see in the future, you can send suggestions to me at [email protected].



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