Fair Warning: a reasonable amount of spoilers are contained within the pictures - beware!
Directed by Tsuruta Norio, 2000, 95 min. starring Nakama Yukie, Seiichi Tanabe, Kumiko Aso, Daisuke Ban, Masako, Tanaka Yoshiko (I) Miyaji, Wakamatsu Takeshi Shigemori,Takahata Junko and Okunuki Kaoru.
In all great movie series, there should always be a prequel featured somewhere along the line. And in 2000, the Ring series got its own Phantom Menace, in the form of Ring 0: Birthday. This film was not directed by Nakata Hideo, but by Tsuruta Norio instead, and most of the previous stars (all except Masako reprising Yamamura Shizuko, and Daisuke Ban playing Ikuma Heihachiro) are absent from this movie, mainly because it is set in Sadako's lifetime, 30 years before Ring.
Ring 0 is an odd film: neither true horror or costume drama, it comprises elements from both genres with ease and style. Tsuruta has held pretty closely to Nakata's style of film-making, which gives the movie some nice atmospheres and cinematography; the story really is more of a tragedy, though, with a few spooky bits thrown in along the way.
Lacking the chilling edge of Ring, Ring 0 excels instead in melancholy and drama, and sticks closely to the original story by Suzuki Kôji. All the questions raised by the two previous movies are answered here, and whilst in some ways that provides enlightenment, in others it's a little bit like a magician explaining a complicated trick - all illusions are shattered. But it's a lovely film, nonetheless, and in many ways, a better one than Ring 2, IMHO.
(This is going to be difficult, in light of the fact that virtually every scene contains some revelatory spoiler, but I'll try not to post too many :-/)
As previously noted, most of the film is set in the 1960's, when Yamamura Sadako (Nakama Yukie) is roughly in her late teens. After the suicide of her mother Shizuko (played by Masako), Sadako was raised by Ikuma Heihachiro (Daisuke Ban), but by this time, she has left her home and moved to Tokyo in order to join a professional drama troupe as an apprentice. This was a move partly encouraged by the doctor provided for her by Ikuma, who has been treating her for "psychogenic disorders" and "hallucinations" - he believes that acting can help Sadako to forget about her mental trauma caused by her mother's horrible ruination by the press and subsequent death.
However, after Sadako has been working with the troupe for a little while, many of the other actresses begin to experience disturbing dreams of empty houses and wells, and two in particular - Kaoru (Takahata Junko) and Aiko (Okunuki Kaoru) - are also troubled by strange shadows and shapes they see around Sadako whenever she walks by. From these odd occurrences, a new tension forms in the theatre company, and most of the members grow to fear and distrust Sadako right from the outset, even though none of them know her ghastly background.
During an ill-fated rehearsal of the company's latest play, written by the director Shigemori (Wakamatsu Takeshi), Aiko, who is playing the lead female role, sees a vision of a little girl in white walking towards her, which no-one else can see. At the same time, a horrible, inexplicable squealing noise comes through the reel-to-reel tape recorder of the company's soundman, Tôyama (Seiichi Tanabe). This is an early version of the video curse, long before videotapes were ever invented. Just a few minutes after this strange event, Aiko is found dead in her chair from unknown causes, her face contorted in a silent scream.
Of course, this makes the troupe even more uneasy about Sadako's presence in the company, which isn't really helped when Shigemori decides to cast Sadako in the lead female role in Aiko's place. This annoys Etsuko (Kumiko Aso), Tôyama's girlfriend, who was the next in line to play the part; but she's already pretty annoyed about the fact that Tôyama and Sadako seem to be getting romantically involved.
Later that evening, whilst sitting backstage and altering the white Victorian costume Sadako will wear in her role, Etsuko also experiences a frightening vision of a small girl walking past her, and fears for her life. When she comes round, she discovers Sadako hiding in the wings, holding the dress she had just been repairing. She accuses her of killing Aiko and threatening her as well; Sadako denies, and tells both Etsuko and Tôyama that she sometimes doesn't remember doing things. She also says that she is constantly followed by evil spirits, a factor that will reveal a great deal later on
In the meantime, unbeknownst to Sadako, a journalist called Miyaji (Tanako Yoshika) whose fiancé was the reporter killed by Sadako at Shizuko's public ESP demonstration, is investigating her, supposedly in order to write an article about her, but in reality, seeking vengeance for her lover's murder.
As a result, things can only get worse for Sadako: Miyaji is not far behind, and now Etsuko is also beginning to search for clues about her, stealing her file from the company records and visiting her doctor. Miyaji eventually tracks Sadako down to the troupe, and joins forces with Etsuko and Kaoru to destroy Sadako
and everything really kicks off at the opening night of the play, with some surprise guest appearances onstage, due to a tape recording
Ring 0 sheds new light on many of the characters from the previous films, which, although changing many of them beyond recognition, is a positive move, humanising Sadako, explaining her tragic life ruined by circumstances, and showing the shy, sweet, improbable side of her character. Another fine example of this is how Ikuma is portrayed: not as a evil child-murderer, but rather as a broken and ruined man, at the end of his tether, who can see no other way to break the awful chain of events he unwittingly began with his public exposure of Shizuko and their doomed romance. In many respects, Ring 0 gives the characters extra depth and a more three-dimensional aspect than in the previous two films. Nakama Yukie gives a stunning performance, and the acting quality is good throughout.
More of a Shakespearian-style tragedy than a horror film, it nevertheless still manages to maintain tension, uneasiness and some creepy moments occasionally; but the overall emotional reaction you might experience during Ring 0 is not to hide behind your sofa with a cushion over your head, but to rush and find something to blow your nose and wipe your eyes on.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 8/10
Supernatural Death Rate: everyone
Hankie Moments: countless
Scare Factor: 1/10
Ring 0 / Ringu 0 Wallpaper
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2002
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.