Franchise Mayhem featuring ‘Ringu’ & Friends

Whatever happened to a simple, straight-forward film series with each film picking up where the last one left off like the passing of a baton? I’ve spoken to more than one person who is apprehensive about seeing Avengers: Infinity War because they haven’t watched all of the 18 films preceding it. At the very least, those films are contained in a single cinematic universe. The same can’t be said for other franchises. And there’s little I love more than talking about than film franchises.

Ringu (The Ring) was a kick-ass 1998 Japanese horror film by Hideo Nakata based on the 1991 novel by Koji Suzuki. The plot was fairly simple and so damn fun: Watch a haunted videotape and seven days later, you’ll die unless you copy the tape for someone else to watch. The cursed videotape and its creator, the spooky-as-hell Sadako captivated the world, spanning a global franchise that is a little difficult to keep straight over the past two decades. So I figured I’d take a crack at it.

Both Ringu and its sequel Rasen (also based on a book by Koji Suzuki) were produced and released simultaneously. While Ringu lingered in the darkness of the supernatural unknown, Rasen attempted to merge it with science. My head spins trying to make sense of plot points involving smallpox, DNA, resurrections, and seemingly immaculate conceptions. However, I loved event minute of it. Most people didn’t and immediately a reboot was put into production.

One year after the duel release of Ringu and Rasen, came Ringu 2. It completely ignored the events of Rasen, as well as the plot of the novel. At the time, the concept of such a quick reboot felt unheard of now. Now, it seems quaint. Much better aligned with what made Ringu success, audiences welcomed this Ringu 2.

Bringing it back full circle, the prequel Ringu 0: Birthday came out the following year. Once more, it was based one of Suzuki’s written works, this time a short story from an anthology. The film filled in the backstory of Sadako prior to her death and the creation of the cursed videotape. Its prequel status allows it to fit with both Rasen and Ringu 2 continuities, it’s generally considered to be the concluding entry of a trilogy with Ringu and Ringu 2.

While Japan was focused on its sequels/reboots/prequels, Ringu spread to South Korea, where the remake The Ring Virus was released in 1999. Again adapting Suzuki’s original book, this film at times much more closely adhered to the source material while at other times borrowed heavily from the first film.

And of course the United States had to get in on the fun with 2002’s The Ring starring Naomi Watts, fresh off her star-making turn in Mulholland Drive. The film captures and even elevates some of the visceral thrills of Ringu, but sacrifices much of the nuance and the cultural relevancy of the original. That didn’t stop it from being a box office hit that spawned a sequel with 2005’s The Ring Two (plus a short film Rings which bridged the gap between the two films; having trouble keeping up yet?).

You just can’t keep a spooky dead girl down, especially when it comes to a horror franchise. Twelve years after the last Japanese film (seven after the last US one), Sadako returned to Japan at the height of the 3D trend in cinema with Sadako 3D. Perhaps an even bigger surprise was the fact the film was also a return to the continuity of Rasen. That’s right, the ignored sequel now had a sequel… and then soon Sadako 3D 2.

At this point, all bets were off and Sadako could no longer be limited to her own franchise. In 2015, she faced off against Hikiko-san, the evil spirit from the Japanese film series Scream Girls, in Hikiko-san vs Sadako. And, the next year, crossed over with the Juon/The Grudge series with Sadako vs. Kayako.

The crossovers weren’t limited to Japan either. China had to get in on the fun. Following a trilogy of their Bunshinsaba films, came Bunshinsaba vs Sadako in 2016 and Bunshinsaba vs Sadako 2 in 2017.

That year also marked a return to the United States with Rings (not to be confused with the aforementioned short film). This Rings ignored Ring Two, because of course it did, and served as an alternate direct sequel to the first US film. It also happened to borrow elements of Rasen… proving once more that film was ultimately ahead of its time.

And, with that, you have the Ringu cinematic multiverse. There’s also a couple of TV miniseries, manga, and video games but there’s only so many hours in the day.

Good luck and don’t forget to pass the videotape forward.