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Blu-Ray Review: Arrow Video’s The Ring Collection (Box Set)

A Halloween Treat!!!! Arrow Video continues to set the standard for Box Set Collections with The Ring Collection. The Box Set is brimming with special features, new transfers, and even a forgotten Sequel!!!

The Film(s)

Ring

Hideo Nakata’s adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s horror novel is the same kind of serious horror that The Exorcist is.  That is to say that Nakata’s film takes the serious approach to horror giving the scares you would want but also giving you the creeping dread that stays with you well after you have seen the film.  Ring isn’t designed for shock.  This is a noose that slowly creeps around your neck until the final wringing of the rope going taut against your neck snaps it cleanly in two.  Part of the brilliance of the film is the sense of finality, like a procession march, the film is built around.  Reiko (Nanako Matsushima) a journalist and Ryūji (Hiroyuki Sanada) her ex-husband team up to solve the mystery of the Urban Legend come true of a cursed videotape.  Nakata and screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi create a narrative that cleverly mirrors a Noir where a Reporter is investigating a soon to be wrongly executed man.  The difference here is that Rieko and Ryūji are trying to stop the death of their young son.  As the mystery unfolds to them the audience understands things are going to end badly but how that plays out is one of the true joys of Ring.  So influential of a film that many an audience who have never seen the film will be familiar with its rhythms.  No matter though, Ring is still an expertly executed horror film that you will be thinking about long after the pale imitations fade from memory.  Ring is the real deal and should be respected and received accordingly. 

WRITER’S NOTE: I would suggest watching Ring 2 then Rasen (Spiral)

Rasen (Spiral)

The forgotten sequel to Ring which was released in Japan at the same time as Ring is the forgotten sequel to the Ring.  Filmed and released concurrently with Ring the film shares cast and crew but is separated by Directors (this one written and directed by Joji Iida). Even, Japanese audiences have forgotten about it as Nakata and Co. created a sequel to their film one year later after Spiral was a failure. What could be considered the real sequel to Ring is not what you expect from a horror sequel.  Once one views the film, one understands both that this is both a great and terrible sequel to the film that jump-started the J-Horror phenomenon.  Terrible because everything one would expect from a Horror Film Sequel, and what they get from the Nakata directed and scripted sequel, is not present here.  Brilliant because of that very fact, that Rasen (Spiral) refuses to be the horror sequel you expect.  Director-Writer Jojio Iida has created what amounts to psycho-sexual-end-of-days-horror.  Focusing on Dr. Mitsuo Andō (Kōichi Satō), a rival/friend of Ryūji (Sanada), and his exploration of Sadako, and the now missing ex-wife and son of Ryūji gives the film a completely different motivation than your run-of-the-mill sequel.  Iida manages to twist and turn the narrative in ways that one does not initially expect and may reject but cannot deny is wholly original by its end.  One would think that the ending which does not feature a huge horror finale like Ring 2, is boring or terrible, it is not.  The more one thinks about this ending and its meaning and what is given and given up.  Iida and his sequel have given finality to the series that lingers long after seeing this film and Ring 2.  One also sees that what Iida had done was completed a story that Producers, after the success of Ring, had no intention of ending. 

Ring 2

It’s no wonder this was a huge hit in Japan and with fans of the series.  Spiral created an entirely different mythology and curtails to a more sinister global ending.  Ring 2 gives everyone what they want in a horror franchise; more of the monster and the never-ending cycle of “they will return”.  Picking up exactly where the first Ring left off, the film at certain points feels like a retread like any sequel to an über successful horror film can be, sometimes.  Though they do expertly dive into Sadako’s life beyond the small bits we are given in the first film.  The filmmakers smartly tap into the psychic abilities story-line that played out between Sadako, Ryūji, and Yoichi (Ryūji and Reiko’s son).  It never goes overboard into a Carrie-style psych-centric operatic set piece.  Rather, they do play with some bigger themes that feel like a better version of what is done in Poltergeist 2.  Though unlike Poltergeist 2, Ring 2 is successful at creating an ending that delivers rather than revolts.  What is fascinating is watching both sequels (Rasen (Spiral) and Ring 2) back to back.  The two films though sequels to the same film approach things in almost diametrically opposing fashions.  To be more specific, how they use Hiroyuki Sanada’s Ryūji and his assistant Mai (Miki Nakatani).  One will be entertained and fascinated by watching how these two films from the very beginning are entirely different species.  Then again, Ring 2 is your run-of-the-mill Sequel to a Horror Film, albeit a damn good one, and Rasen (Spiral) is a psycho-sexual-end-of-days-horror film that completely turns all the mythos that was created with the first film upon its head. 

Ring 0 – Birthday

The third and final in this series of Ring films goes back to the beginning as everyone’s favorite Spanish Revenge Seeking Swordsman would say.  Ring 0 – Birthday feels much like a 70’s era DePalma and Argento film mashup.  The film set thirty-years before the events of Ring is the story of Sadako (Yukie Nakama) during her time in a theater troop.  The film at 97-minutes plays out as a slow burn of a horror film with Sadako trying to not invoke her mother’s spirit and her own powers.  What is most interesting is how the dynamics shift in the film. No longer are reporters, heroes but rather the agents of chaos that prod Sadako until a reaction is made. The reaction lives up to the DePalma and Argento comparisons.  The film is much more psychological in its horror than the previous efforts.  Where Ring and Ring 2 had a ticking clock narrative drive, this prequel has an inevitability that plays like a procession march.  We understand where Sadako is going to end up, but it never stops us from caring what happens to her even as horrors she’s responsible for play out before our eyes.  Ring 0 – Birthday creates a perfect ending for this iteration of this popular horror series giving us a sympathetic portrait of a monster but never taking away from the mystery that is the girl that was thrown into a well and survived for 30-years.

The Transfer(s)

Sample of the Masterful Job done by Arrow Video on the Transfers!!!

Ring

Brand new 4K restoration of Ring from the original camera negative, approved by the director of photography Junichiro Hayashi is nothing short of miraculous.  The film’s deep contrast image here is reproduced perfectly.  The restoration gives the picture a razor-sharp image, which director Gore Verbinski and cinematographer Bojan Bazelli would later ape for the US Remake The Ring, without sacrificing any the grain detail.  Arrow has treated Ring with the same kind of respect they have with their other Asian Films like Audition

Rasen (Spiral)

Here is no different as it appears that Spiral had a bit of an upgrade.  Arrow Video’s transfer of the forgotten Sequel is a beautiful perfectly rendered version of the film in video format.  The contrast and grain structure highlight the beautiful 35mm photography. 

Ring 2

Like Ring, this transfer’s deep contrast image here is reproduced perfectly.  The specific image is perfectly rendered here.  The picture sports a razor-sharp image, without sacrificing any the grain detail and balance contrast that one would fear in a film so darkly lit.

Ring 0

I’m a broken record here.  Every single transfer, including this one, is beautifully done by Arrow Video.  The 35mm shot film has a beautifully warm image transferred to HD perfectly.  The image is a bit warmer than the first three films but still feels apart of the whole of this box set.  One of my biggest issues with Box Sets is transfers sometimes have issues with unification of quality.  Not here.  Every single transfer including this one is done with the same amount of care and effort resulting in amazing images and no single entry lacking. 

The Extras

They include the following:

  • Bonus feature: Spiral, George Iida’s 1998 sequel to Ring
  • New audio commentary on Ring by film historian David Kalat
  • New audio commentary on Ring 0 by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
  • The Ring Legacy, a series of new interviews from critics and filmmakers on their memories of the Ring series and its enduring legacy
  • A Vicious Circle, anew video interview with author and critic Kat Ellinger on the career of Hideo Nakata
  • Circumnavigating ring, a new video essay by critic Jasper Sharp on the J-horror phenomenon
  • The Psychology of Fear, a newly edited archival interview with author Koji Suzuki
  • Archival behind-the-scenes featurette on Ring 0
  • Ring 0 deleted scenes
  • Sadako’s video
  • Multiple theatrical trailers for the Ring series
  • Bonus feature: Spiral, George Iida’s 1998 sequel to Ring
  • New audio commentary on Ring by film historian David Kalat
  • New audio commentary on Ring 0 by author and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas
  • The Ring Legacy, a series of new interviews from critics and filmmakers on their memories of the Ring series and ints enduring legacy
  • A Vicious Circle, anew video interview with author and critic Kat Ellinger on the career of Hideo Nakata
  • Circumnavigating ring, a new video essay by critic Jasper Sharp on the J-horror phenomenon
  • The Psychology of Fear, a newly edited archival interview with author Koji Suzuki
  • Archival behind-the-scenes featurette on Ring 0
  • Ring 0 deleted scenes
  • Sadako’s video
  • Multiple theatrical trailers for the Ring series

Ring

Audio Commentary by David Kalat critic and historian gives an informative commentary track.  Beginning with a discussion of why it should be called “Ring” instead of “Ring” because the author of the original novel wanted to use the English word but there was no Japanese equivalent of the word and having to add a vowel because of Japanese Characters.  Kalat discusses the history of Japanese Horror, how it evolved the Japanese Horror genre, the production of the film, the novel, and just about everything and anything you’d really want to know about Ring and the Ring series.  You even get a bit of insight about Ju-on aka The Grudge.  Interesting insights include that Kalat’s assertion that Ring is NOT the apex of J-Horror.  It’s a great fascinating track. 

The Ring Legacy is an all-new 27-minute featurette about the history and impact of The Ring Series.  Andrew Kasch (filmmaker, Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy), Rebekah McKendry (Ph.D., Professor, Filmmaker, and Podcaster extraordinaire), and Alyse Wax (author and journalist) contribute comments to the proceedings.  The group discusses the Novels, the historical context for the story, the non-supernatural nature of the book, the huge differences between the film and the book (which is very different), the really bad first iterations of the book (one that was a softcore porno), and they dissect how Ring and Japanese horror influence not only US filmmaking but filmmaking the world over. Note that they do discuss both the original and the sequels including Rasen/Spiral. They also discuss in detail what happened with the implosion of Rasen/Spiral but how Ring was a monster hit.   The group really does a great job of truly discusses the legacy and what specifically makes the series so powerful. Stay for beyond the credits as there’s a postscript with Kasch that mirrors some of the sentiments said by Kalat on the commentary.

Vicious Circle is an all-new 21-minute interview with critic Kat Ellinger on the director Hideo Nakata and the Ring Series.  Ellinger’s video essay discusses the director and his origins to moving into horror filmmaking (something he was very hesitant in doing) to the various movies in his career and how much Ring and the series impacted his career as a whole. 

Circumnavigating Ring is an all-new 25-minute interview with critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas.  The video essay charts the origins and ongoing series that is Ring.  Heller-Nicholas begins with the plot, the critic moves to how the plot and story were copied over and over again in all media remakes.  She goes into the TV Series, TV Movies, Movies, Mangas, Novels, and Videogames are covered.  The critic doesn’t just discuss the history, she gives context to the themes, cultural relevance, and storytelling that has been produced so many times in so many countries and so many media.  It’s a fascinating critique that gives more heft to this series. Note one will want to see this just for the clips of the various other versions of the Ring that show up.

Sadako’s Video is just that.  The infamous Ring video.  Are you brave enough to watch all 50-seconds of it?  In the dark.  By yourself.

Rounding out the first disc is 4 trailers and an Image Gallery. The Image Gallery is 6 behind-the-scenes photos of Nakata and actress Matsushima doing press for the film.

  1. Ring/Spiral double bill trailer 1 – is a 1-minute teaser more than it is a full-on trailer.  Footage is there but is only shown glimpses.  The teaser is very late-90s with its Techno soundtrack.
  2. Ring/Spiral double bill trailer 2 – is a 2-minute trailer giving more of a better idea of what people were in for.  The style is still in that late-90s Techno soundtrack.
  3. UK Trailer – is less than a minute but does an effective job of being artfully obtuse about the specifics of what the film is actually about. 

Ring 2

Writer’s Note: Rasen (Spiral) is included on Ring 2 disc as a Bonus Option through the Main Menu

The Psychology of Fear is a 25-minute archival interview with Ring Author Koji Suzuki that has been newly edited by Arrow Video.  The editing includes question prompts similar to what Scream Factory has done with their recent release The Blob.  Filmed during the Press Tour for Ring 2.  The interview discusses everything from working with Nakata to the other novels in the series (up until that point), a very interesting answer to where he felt the evolution of technology, and other talking points.  Suzuki is articulate and informative with his answers and discusses even name dropping the best Nic Roeg film (Don’t Look Now).

Rounding out the special features on the second disc are 3 trailers;

  1. Ring 2 UK Trailer is an effective 43-second teaser trailer that uses the original soundtrack effectively to build a mini-nightmare.
  2. Ring 2/Shikoku double bill trailer is a 90-second double bill trailer that still like the original trailers discussed on the first disc with the 90s-era techno music. But the second half of the trailer that features Shikoku is vastly different using classical music.
  3. Ring/Spiral double bill trailer is the same 1-minute teaser from the first disc.

Ring 0 – Birthday

Audio Commentary by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas who showed up in the Ring 2 special features gets her own very informative commentary track.  Heller-Nicholas discusses her credentials that are very important because of her focus on the Women of the Ring series and how important Ring 0 is to the series as a whole and for J-Horror.  The critic discusses with humor and a keen wit the film series as a whole, Ring 0 specifically and how it has jumped genres and it’s specifically built and works.  Nothing isn’t covered in the commentary you wouldn’t know.  It’s an enlightening track, that Heller-Nicholas drops film recommendations one will want to write down.

Spooks, Sighs, and Videotape is an all-new 37-minute video essay by Jaspar Sharp where he dives into the J-Horror phenomenon.  Beginning with the troupes of Japanese Ghost Stories of a certain ilk.  Sharp gets into the various cultural touchstones in Japan.  The essay goes through the release of Ring but also going back and looking at the Kakidain films during the 50s – 90s, going into Kabuki and the Yurei, the amazing film Kwadian (by an English Greek author of all people), Cat Women and so much more.  Anyone that has a passing interest in not just J-Horror but Japanese Cinema as a whole will want to check this out.  He even discusses Haus!!!

Behind the scenes featurette is a 21-minutes of b-roll footage.  This isn’t an EPK style behind the scenes featurette.  Rather this is raw footage from the cast and crew making the film.  There appears to be not just footage of them making the film but of rehearsal footage, SFX creation, Camera Setup, and anything one could want to see. All of the footage is presented with Subtitles when people are speaking.  Anyone wondering how camera setups are done should definitely watch this featurette as the footage is compiled from the biggest set pieces in the film.

Deleted Scenes consist of six scenes, which can be accessed by clicking the Next Chapter button but not by the menu.  The 7-minutes of deleted footage is primarily character building and includes some bit that would have helped to explain some of the relationships a little clearer. 

Rounding out the special features on the third disc are two trailers;

  1. Theatrical Trailer is a 90-second teaser more than it’s a full theatrical trailer.
  2. Ring 0/Isola double bill trailer is a 90-second trailer that shortens the original theatrical trailer to add space for Isola which is a psychic serial killer obsessive horror film (writer’s note: definitely worth checking out for those that haven’t seen it).

The Final Thought

The Ringu Collection box set is in contention for Box Set of the year.  With near perfect Transfers, a wealth of extras, and a beautiful package even non-Horror Fans can agree that this is a must-own set.  HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATIONS!!!

Arrow Video’s Blu-Ray Box Set The Ringu Collection is out now!

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