The Many Faces of Sadako: ‘Ringu 2’ and ‘Spiral’

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One of the perennial questions of cinema is which is better the movie or the book? Depending on the author, director, and story, the debate over which form is most satisfying—text or moving image—is the stuff of late night conversations and elaborate essays. Be it the Harry Potter series, Stephen King’s The Shining, or classics like Anna Karenina, The Great Gatsby, and Dracula, opinions abound as to which produced the superior story. Then, there are those who think that one should not even engage in such matters in the first place, pointing out the fundamental differences and, hence, the incomparable attributes of book and film. Each format is a unique experience unto itself—as different as admiring a still life painting of breads and fruits in a gallery is from indulging in a hearty meal of apples, pears, and a freshly baked loaf.

However, what happens when, in the case of a sequel, the book and the movie bare very little resemblance to one another? For Ringu, which Koji Suzuki published in 1991 and Hideo Nakata turned into a 1998 movie, the respective sequels are even more divergent than their originals. In 1995 Suzuki renewed Sadako Yamamura’s curse in Spiral, which is about Ando Mitsuo, a coroner, and his effort at solving the mystery behind his old college friend’s death, Ryūji Takayama, a logician of great repute. Ando’s investigation soon leads him to Mai Takano, Ryūji’s student and paramour, who inexplicably disappears when she and Ando were to meet for dinner. Ando, aside from feeling drawn to Mai, wanted her help with understanding how Ryūji died. In particular, he wanted to comprehend his friend’s sudden heart attack, the evidence of smallpox found during his autopsy, and the coded message uncovered in a suture, which had been deciphered as “mutation.” Because of Mai’s disappearance, Ando is compelled into the world created by Sadako and the curse recorded on the infamous videotape.

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When Nakata released Ringu 2 in 1999, he took the story of Sadako’s legacy in a completely different direction. While some characters are retained from the book series, others, most importantly Ando, are nowhere to be seen. In fact, whereas Mai Takano vanishes early in the story told in Spiral, she is the main character in the movie sequel. Played by Miki Nakatani, “Mai Takano” is the one searching for answers about Ryūji’s death, which leads her to a reporter, “Okazaki” (Yûrei Yanagi), who is looking for someone who has seen the now legendary tape. Okazaki’s own quest connects him with a young girl, “Kanae Sawaguchi” (Kyoko Fukuda), who knows others who have seen the tape. Okazaki asks Kanae if she can get him a copy of the tape, which she agrees to do. Upon delivering the copy to Okazaki, Kanae tells him that she has now viewed its content and is visibly shaken. Kanae wants Okazaki to promise her that he will watch the video for fear for her life. Okazaki promises, only be seen depositing the tape in his desk draw, clearly with no immediate intention of viewing it.

As for Sadako, she manifests herself in very different ways in each version of her story. In Spiral she makes a subtle yet effective appearance into Ando’s life, leading him into a dilemma that may mean either the recovery of someone irreplaceably dear to him or humanity’s extinction. The curse embodied in the video is acting like virus, like smallpox, and it is up to Ando to find a way of eradicating this menace to human existence. However, what will he do when given the opportunity to atone for an incredible guilt that destroyed his heart and family? In Ringu 2, Sadako’s presence is felt throughout the movie, as a wandering ghost and as a paranormal psychotic whose anger extends from the well in which she perished to the mental hospital, where “Dr Kawajiri” (Fumio Kohinato) will attempt to purge her from the minds she has afflicted with her curse using an experiment he has devised based on his theory of energy transference.

In both stories, Spiral and Ringu 2, Suzuki and Nakata demonstrate the narrative richness of Sadako’s story of abnormal psychic ability and the consequences of her tragic rape and murder. With the latter in mind, Sadako is a literary icon of abused and missing girls and women. She is more than a ghost story, she is the face of anger at a patriarchal society that saw her psychic abilities as abnormal, calling her a “freak,” while her beauty exposed her to the insipid yearnings of men who only sought to exploit her vulnerability. The real terror, then, is not Sadako but the predatory nature of the male psyche, when it is allowed to objectify women without fear of condemnation.

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