Written and directed by Iida Jôji, 1998, 99 mins. starring Sanada Hiroyuki, Nakatani Miki, Koichi Sato, and Hinako Saeki.
Rasen (aka The Spiral, aka (confusingly) Ring 2), directed by Iida Jôji, is the second film in the Ring series, and the original sequel to the phenomenally successful Nakata Hideo movie. The film was released in 1998 at the same time as Ring, presumably to give the audience who loved the first movie an instant sequel and rake in the money off the back of Ring's major box-office success. However, things didn't quite work out that way: Rasen bombed at the box-office and people stayed away from the movie in droves. In fact, the film flopped so hideously that Asmik-Ace (the production company behind the series) hastily buried the movie and simply pretended it had never happened. That should give you some idea of how maligned this film is.
Of course, Asmik-Ace decided to call Nakata Hideo back in, along with all the original cast from Ring (many of whom actually refused to take part in Rasen), ditch the entire Rasen storyline outright, and eventually the "official" sequel Ring 2 appeared... and the rest, as they say, is history. My guess is that audiences reacted badly to Rasen for one major reason: it's not Ring. Nothing could have come close to the magic of the original film, and to blame that completely on Iida Jôji is at best unfair, particularly since neither Ring 2, Ring 0: Birthday and Ring Virus aren't Ring either, and none of them match up to the power of the original.
However, you cannot un-make a movie (no matter how hard Asmik-Ace tried), and to this day, Rasen remains one of the hardest movies to find with English subtitles, although Tartan Video are soon set to release a subtitled version later in the year. Yes, it's not a classic film by any stretch of the imagination. But it's not a terrible movie, either, compared to some others on the Asian horror market right now that haven't taken half the abuse and battering that Rasen has been subjected to. For the true Ring-freak, it's an essential part of the cycle, an entirely parallel film that seems to bear very little in common with the original and certainly nothing at all with Ring 2. And despite its huge shortcomings, eg not actually being at all scary - not even a little bit, not particularly beautiful on the eyes either, not to mention the fairly poor acting quality and dull-as-a-wet-weekend-in-Skegness dialogue, in my opinion it remains an essential part of the cycle.
Why, you might well ask? Well, it's a vital missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle. The story is more closely linked and true to the Suzuki Koji books than Nakata's self-invention of Ring 2. It explains an awful lot about many themes which weren't fully explored in the original, and which would remain unknown to non-Japanese speakers who couldn't read the books. However, Rasen does have the annoying habit of simply omitting things from the original Ring story which don't fit neatly into its own plotline; for instance, the creepy image of the curse victims lying dead with their faces distorted with horror is just left out, which is especially irritating in the case of Rasen's main protagonist, Professor Takayama - surely the viewers just might remember seeing him after Ring's infamous final scene with his face set in a ghastly rictus of a death-scream? Iida doesn't seem to think that might have been quite an important theme in the original, hence the glaring omissions throughout the movie.
If you take the film out of context of the series, though, it's almost completely incomprehensible, and despite its annoying rewrites of Ring history, relies heavily on having seen the original. On its own merits, however, and not even attempting to compare it with the original, it's an interestingly apocalyptic medical thriller, which has a complex and fascinating plot full of bizarre twists, that often seem a bit nonsensical and unreal, but actually quite well thought-out, in the most part.
"... the fear that Sadako experienced will spread all over the world..."
Rasen takes up the story of Ring on the same day that Professor Takayama Ryuji (Sanada Hiroyuki) is found dead in his apartment, a victim of the Yamamura Sadako curse video given to him by his ex-wife Asakawa Reiko. As we know from the end of Ring, his corpse is discovered lying on the floor of his apartment by his girlfriend and teaching assistant, Takano Mai (Nakatani Miki), a serious, shy young lady who knows the true power of Sadako's curse. She is unwilling to share her knowledge with the police, who are baffled by Takayama's death, presuming it must have been suicide or murder, due to its suddenness.
Takayama's body is removed from the crime scene to the forensic pathology lab for an autopsy, since he died in mysterious circumstances. Unfortunately, the presiding forensic doctor just happens to be Takayama's old friend from medical school, Mitsuo Ando (Koichi Sato) - Takayama had originally intended to study medicine before transferring to mathematics, and he and Ando had shared an intellectual relationship, inventing ciphers for each other to try and decipher; even though the codes were extremely hard to break, Ando eventually managed to work out that Takayama's ciphers were based on the Amider system of DNA, and the very fact of Ando's intellectual superiority to most of the other students was enough to cement their friendship.
However, Ando has been battling his own demons for a long time, trying to cope with severe psychological trauma after failing to save his little son Takanori from drowning two years ago, a terrible tragedy for which he blames himself and which frequently drives him to the point of making suicide attempts. He is understandably extremely upset to find out his old friend is dead, but still proceeds to do the post-mortem because it's his job. However, after having removed all of Takayama's internal organs, Ando has a horrible vision: he sees Takayama opening his eyes, sitting up on the slab, and not merely speaking to him but teasing him. Ando is shocked and shrieks out loud, but when he looks back at the slab again, Takayama of course is still lying there, silent and dead.
However, during the rest of the autopsy, Ando's assistant Miyashita discovers some rather odd things: not only is there a small tumour in Takayama's throat which is believed to be the cause of his death, but it's not like any ordinary cancerous tumour the two doctors have ever seen. In fact, it bears a very close resemblance to tumours caused by smallpox, back in the days when the disease was prevalent. Not only that, but Miyashita also finds something strange in Takayama's stomach - a small piece of paper, on which is handwritten a message... in cipher. Ando knows that the message was clearly intended for him: knowing of Takayama's strong psychic powers, he wonders to himself if Takayama actually knew this was going to happen before he died... and exactly what the message holds in store.
After the autopsy, the detective assigned to the case, Maekawa, talks to Ando about the mysteries surrounding Takayama's death; Takayama had made a phone call to Reiko just before he died, and she had disappeared and fled to her parents' house with their son Yoichi. Maekawa had already investigated Asakawa's parents, who lied to him and told him that they had never been there...
Maekawa takes Ando along with him to talk to Takano Mai, who is sitting in the hospital lobby, waiting to be interviewed about her witness report of Takayama's death; but she won't tell the detective anything, despite all his bullying tactics. On the other hand, the only person she will talk to is Ando, as he was after all an old friend of her boyfriend's. She tells him all about the cursed videotape that kills people a week after they watch it, including the original four victims of the curse. And at first, Ando laughs off this story, refusing to believe such an incredible tale...
... but the weird vision of Takayama that Ando had in the mortuary is not a one-off. Ando is now having all kinds of weird visions, with Takayama popping up all over the place, and scenes from his own son's death, whereas Mai sees scenes from the professor's death, over and over again.
In the meanwhile, Miyashita has been analysing the results of the post-mortem, and tells Ando that Takayama's death was definitely from a massive heart attack, caused by the strange throat tumour; but the tumour appears to be puzzlingly benign. Miyashita, completely baffled, had asked his old university doctor to examine the tumour, and when he receives the results, he is even more baffled: it was indeed caused by a kind of smallpox virus... but how can that be, when that disease died out a good thirty years or so ago? He discusses the results with Ando, who now has two theories about Takayama's death to think about: Miyashita's viral infection, or Mai's crazy idea about a curse video...
However, just as the pair are laughing at the very idea of a curse video, a call for Ando comes in from Detective Maekawa: Asakawa Reiko and Yoichi have been killed outright in a car accident, after leaving her parents' house. Not only that, but Reiko's father had hanged himself, leaving a cryptic final message telling Reiko "... don't worry about the videotape, I've taken care of it". And when Ando arrives at the scene just as the paramedics are removing the two corpses from the wreck, he meets one of Reiko's newspaper colleagues, Yoshino, who was also called to the scene. They look inside the car... and find a videotape on the front seat, smashed in half.
The next day, Ando goes to find Mai and tell her about the death of Reiko and Yoichi, and mentions to her that the police think that Yoichi was already dead before the accident happened, of yet another fatal heart attack caused by a tumour; at which point, Mai tells him that Yoichi (as we saw in Ring) had also watched Sadako's curse video. Ando still refuses to listen, despite having seen the smashed video in the car-wreck...
... until later, when Yoshino turns up at the hospital to talk to Ando, and gives him a filofax containing all the information that Asakawa Reiko had noted down regarding the curse video... including all the details of the story of Yamamura Sadako (Hinako Saeki), who had transferred her curse to a videotape by means of nensha (psychokinesis), as a kind of revenge attack for her short life's terrible suffering which culminated in her tragic murder, thirty years beforehand.
And more than this: Yoshino even hands Ando an old, damaged photograph of Sadako while she was still alive and studying drama in a troupe in Tokyo (as seen in Ring 0: Baasudei)... not to mention Reiko's spare copy of the curse video. And when Ando takes the videotape from Yoshino's hand, he sees another vision of Takayama, standing in the distance, watching them. But Yoshino swears blind that he hasn't watched the video himself, out of fear...
So Ando, being a scientist and therefore a non-believer in all things paranormal (despite his visions of ghosts), decides to watch the video; and the moment the tape runs out, he has a terrifying experience. He sees a vision, through Sadako's own eyes, of the brutal attack by her father, Doctor Ikuma, and her unconscious body consequently being dumped in the well... and a few moments afterwards, Ando receives a very.... personal visit from the great lady herself, although this time, she does not come to kill him as she does with her usual victims, but instead to have sex with him. (Sorry to disappoint all you titillation fans, but this is actually fairly important to the plot, and you only get to see Hinako-san nekkid for a couple of seconds ;-D)
And following on from this rather... unusual experience which has completely converted him to belief in the terrible power of the curse video, and having finally worked out what he thinks the meaning of the professor's odd encoded message to him is, Ando decides that Takayama's last wish was for him to hunt out and destroy all the remaining copies of the video on the planet... and to sacrifice his own life, to atone for the death of his son.
But if that's correct, why doesn't Ando die a week after watching the video, like all the other victims? Why is Takano Mai suddenly acting very out-of-character? And was that truly Takayama's last wish, or did he have an entirely different purpose for Ando other than smashing up videotapes?
I feel very strongly that Rasen was severely mishandled, and that's the point at which I lay the blame firmly at Iida's feet. The cinematography is as flat as a pancake, Hinako Saeki seriously sucks ass as Sadako (I'm sorry, but no matter how non-gratuitous and important to the plot it is, I will never be able to accept a pretty, young, stark-naked Sadako drooling all over someone and attempting to lick them to death), which I don't really think is entirely her fault, given the bizarre rewrite of the character; and even the great Sanada Hiroyuki can't make anything of his reprised Takayama Ryuji role as it stands. Nakatani Miki looks as if she'd rather be anywhere else but in this film. Matsushima Nanako didn't even bother to turn up, and so her role is replaced with intercut bits of old scenes from Ring instead.
And it's a great shame: with a more deft director, with a more visual cinematographer, and with an entirely different script-writer, Rasen could have been equally beautiful as Ring; its story is certainly more coherent and satisfying than the slightly-lame, inconsequential and rather stupid 'mad science' of Ring 2. I would certainly have loved to see what the genius Kurosawa Kiyoshi could have made of this film... or indeed, Nakata Hideo, had he been allowed to handle the original sequel with its infinitely richer storyline. And yet it must be said that the plotholes are so enormous that it would have taken a far better director than Iida to try and find ways around them.
In short, I have to agree though that Rasen simply isn't a good film. It's certainly no classic, but it's not outrageously crappy either. It's just dull, visually unappealing, unscary and poorly executed. Having said all that, it is one you should definitely buy if you're a Ring fan. Sounds like weird advice? Well, that's because it is - I don't usually recommend buying poor movies (unless I thought they were excellent and everyone else disagrees, that is ;-D). From an entirely completist standpoint, it truly is an essential part of the collection, and a fascinating look at just how the rest of the series might have gone if Nakata hadn't been called back in to create Ring 2. And don't get me wrong: I enjoyed the purity and the profundity of the storyline a lot better than the daffy plot of Ring 2.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 6/10
Sex: too much, thank you/10
Nasty Little Rashes Caused By Sexy Sadako: at least three
Shock Factor: zzzzzz/10
Matsushima Nanako: on holiday
Hinako Saeki In The Nude: Blink and you'll miss it
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: one economy-sized bottle Heinz, for the autopsy scene
***Recommended, but for rabid fans of the series only***
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Snowblood Apple Filmographies
The absolute very best site dedicated to Ring and all its sequels, prequels, stage productions and TV spinoffs is of course Ringworld where you can find out everything there is to know about this wonderful series. There are more links featured on the intro page.