Ring, by Suzuki Koji

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Author’s Wikipedia entry | Publisher’s website
Publication date – May 1, 2003

Summary: (Taken from GoodReads) A mysterious videotape warns that the viewer will die in one week unless a certain, unspecified act is performed. Exactly one week after watching the tape, four teenagers die one after another of heart failure.

Asakawa, a hardworking journalist, is intrigued by his niece’s inexplicable death. His investigation leads him from a metropolitan Tokyo teeming with modern society’s fears to a rural Japan–a mountain resort, a volcanic island, and a countryside clinic–haunted by the past. His attempt to solve the tape’s mystery before it’s too late–for everyone–assumes an increasingly deadly urgency. Ring is a chillingly told horror story, a masterfully suspenseful mystery, and post-modern trip.

The success of Koji Suzuki’s novel the Ring has lead to manga, television and film adaptations in Japan, Korea, and the U.S.

Thoughts: Suzuki Koji’s Ring is pretty well known in North America, even by people who haven’t read the book, due to the North American remake of the Japanese movie adaptation of the story. (Still following the links in that chain?) The horror story about a dead girl who come back from her watery grave to take brutal vengeance upon those who watch her cursed video tape. If you enjoyed the movie, either the original or any of the remakes, then taking a look at the source material might interest you.

Unlike just about every version of the movie that I’ve seen (and I think I’ve seen every one that currently exists, to be truthful), the protagonist of the book is a man, Asakawa, a journalist whose niece recently died under mysterious circumstances. A chance encounter leads him to believe there was more to her death, and the death of 3 other teens, than meets the eye, and he begins a personal investigation that uncovers a darker and more complex truth than he could have ever thought possible. If you haven’t seen the movie before, then you’re in for an evocative and detailed ghost story with plenty of speculation. If you have seen the movie, you can expect elaborations on issues that the adaptations didn’t have time to cover.

I won’t lie, this book is far from perfect. It largely stands the test of time, if you ignore the use of outdated technologies such as video cassette tapes and mentions of shows that haven’t been on TV for a while, or the twists of pseudoscience that blend with the supernatural to create the whole plot in the first place. But I would say that the biggest mark against it is the sexism, the commentary about the place of women, casual mentions of violence and degradation, things that may have flown by without notice when and where it was first written, but that come across considerably more negatively here and now. Some of the discussions certain characters had about rape were downright uncomfortable to read, even if they weren’t graphic, due to the bragging tone of the conversation. So even aside from horror elements that might make one edgy, there are definitely potentially triggering things within Ring.

It also does a lot of hand-holding where the plot is concerned, rehashing current events and theories during character discussion as they try to figure out what’s happening and what to do next. You get a lot of stuff drilled into your head over and over, which is fine enough if this is your first exposure to the series, but if you’ve seen or read any of this before, it gets dull pretty quickly, reading about people talking it all over and speculating on the whys and wherefores without actually doing anything.

The story is a real head-trip, looking like a creative but fairly bog-standard ghost story for most of the novel but getting twisted toward the end, with dual themes of dark self-sacrifice and viral behavior. Even those who haven’t been exposed to the book or the movies know, on some level, the story behind the cursed video tape, the way you’ll die within 7 days unless you make a copy and show it to someone else. Let that sink in for a moment. You’ve got a ghost who kills by fear and sheer mortality, stopping your heart, and the only way to make sure that you survive after seeing that video is to, through honesty or trickery, convince someone else to copy the video and put themselves at risk. Repeat ad infinitum. Saying that the video would go viral is also quite literal, and there are multiple comparisons drawn to the way we gain immunity against a virus. Get infected, survive, and move on, infecting others as we go so that the virus survives too. Not the most novel concept these days, given the number of biohorror stories that are floating around, but back in the 90s when this novel was originally published in Japan, that plot device hadn’t been done quite so often, and even now you’re hard-pressed to find this in a ghost story instead of a vampire or zombie story. It thus still retains a good amount of its originality.

This isn’t a book to read when you’re all alone. It will get you thinking. It will get you contemplating chains of coincidence, of action and reaction, and the effects of the spread of information. It’s a credit to both the author and the translator that the imagery is so creepily clear, the characters not entirely sympathetic but still real (much to my regret, in the case of Ryuji), and the attempted combination of science and the supernatural may not pass muster to those who dabble in hard science, but on the surface the theory is sound enough to keep the novel going without requiring too much suspension of disbelief. It’s become a J-horror classic for a reason, and it’s a must-read for fans of the genre, or even just fans of the movies.

8 comments on “Ring, by Suzuki Koji

  1. Nope. Not going to do it. One of the few movies that actually scared me. Its funny, I knew the movie I saw was a remake, but I had no idea there as a book to start it all off. should have known.

    • The movie still scares me, as much as I think it’s a good movie. The Japanese version does some things a bit better than the American version, and the Korean version stays weirdly more true to the novel than either of the other versions, and they’re all pretty good, I think.

      When I saw The Ring in theatres, I was living alone at the time, and every time I closed my eyes to try and sleep that night, I kept seeing creepy dead girls in my mind. I told my mother about it the next day, and she said, “You should have turned the TV on in the living room for background noise, so you wouldn’t feel so lonely.” AHAHAHAHAno. Just no.

  2. I’ve been wanting to read some of Suzuki Koji’s books for quite a while – he’s definitely somewhat of an iconic figure in horror literature, at least in Japan. Sounds like despite The Ring’s roughness, its worth a read.

  3. Nice review! I read this one a few years ago. I keep telling myself I’ll read the sequels, but I never seem to pick one up. I’ve heard they become more sci-fi horror and less ghost story as they progress, which both intrigues me and gives me pause that the author might lose his thread along the way. Reviewers I trust insist they just get better and better, though, and that Suzuki’s writing style is really perfected as the series progresses.

    I liked this book so much better than either of the movies. The movies were well-done horror, yes, but the book was subtler, quieter, more thoughtful. It relied less on horrifying or shocking visuals (or rather visual impressions and descriptions, being print) than on insidious thought-worms and a stew of uncomfortable emotions. (And it didn’t need the crutch of a pretty woman and a child in peril to make the reader feel empathy and investment.) I didn’t find the book scary in a conventional way, although it was horrifying in an existential sense. I found it profoundly sad. It made me feel deeplyl for characters alive and dead.

    In general, I cared about the protagonist (although I couldn’t stand his friend or the protagonist’s support of said friend despite his terrible “habit,”) and I appreciated that he was not only concerned with solving the mystery but genuinely wanted to do right by the dead girl and her relatives. I really felt sorry for Sadako and the things she went through to make her so vengeful, so twisted. It was particularly horrific to me that to save yourself, you are made to show the tape to another, thus endangering them and potentially getting them killed. You have to continue the cycle of pain or die to end it. That’s scarier to me than all the creepy visuals a film or more lurid book could produce!

    /ramble

    Thanks for making me recall this universe! I really, really should nab those sequels.

  4. I enjoy both the American and Japanese versions of the movie–the Japanese version gave my roommate nightmares for MONTHS, ahahahaha–but somehow I’ve never had a chance to read the book. Your review reminded me just how much I need to change that!

  5. Pingback: February in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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