Greetings Loved Ones! Liu Is The Name, ANd Views Are My Game.
Asakawa is an ambitious young reporter, who doesn’t give a crap about his family. Seriously. He wishes his wife and daughter would remain silent at all times, and when his niece, Tomoko, dies of mysterious, unknown causes, he barely bats an eye. Literally the only thing that gets him interested in the girl’s death is when a cab driver tells him that he saw a kid keel over the exact same date and time as she did, also of mysterious causes. This convinces Asakawa that there is a connection, and even a supernatural force responsible. (This is set during a time when Japanese society is obsessed with the occult). So he investigates, and finds that there is, indeed, a link between his niece and the boy who died on the street. Exactly one week prior to their deaths, they and two other students went to a cabin in the countryside, and watched a mysterious video. Asakawa watches this video as well, only to learn that he has seven days left to live. Terrified, Asakawa recruits his friend, Ryuji, a rapist who also happens to teach, to help him find the source of the curse, and hopefully, stop it before it’s too late.
Any horror fan worth their salt knows, and has watched, the Ring films, be it the 1998 Japanese original, or the American remake directed by Gore Verbinski. I certainly have, and yet I never knew that they were actually based off a novel by Koji Suzuki. Now, being a horror fan, and such a big admirer of the films, I decided to give the book a read, in the hopes that whatever it had might help me write a scary story of my own, something I’ve been trying to do for a while. Having read the book, however, all I can think is that we are extremely lucky to have the films in our lives, because this novel is not worth the time it took me to finish it.
Ring is a boring, sexist, and thoroughly nonthreatening piece of work that I’m honestly kind of shocked was able to spawn such influential horror films. It’s pace is sluggish, it’s prose is flat, the author spends far more time describing apartment complexes and hotel rooms than anything potentially scary, and its portrayal, and treatment, of women is appalling. What this book honestly reminded me of was the novel that Jaws was based off of. If you know anything about Jaws, you know that the film bears very little resemblance to the piece it takes its name from. Character’s ages are changed, romantic subplots are omitted, the ending is different, and there’s a whole bit with the mob that was cut out for time, and because it was really, really stupid. Basically, Steven Spielberg took the names, and the general premise of a shark eating people, and made his own movie. It appears that Hideo Nakata, who helmed the 1998 original, and Gore Verbinski, did the same with Ring. Here’s just a few differences between the book and movies. In the movies, the main character is a woman, a recently divorced mother of a young boy, whose ex-husband is a college professor. In the book, the main character is a man, who is married, and has a daughter. The movies open with two girls, one of them being the niece of the heroine, talking about the video curse, only to have an unseen force kill the niece and drive the friend insane. The book opens with the niece by herself, and features an almost pornographic description of her peeing before she gets murdered. In the movies, the heroine deduces that there’s something supernatural going on when she finds that three other people, all of whom were friends with her niece, died on the same night she did, and that their faces are now blotted out from photographs for some reason. In the book, the main character just jumps to the conclusion that there must be a curse afoot because two people, who were roughly the same age, died on the same night, and has to do a lot of investigating before he learns that the people who were killed were friends. I could go on, but you get the idea. The point I’m trying to make is that the Ring movies move much more quickly, and find ways of building up dread by getting to the scenes of horror sooner, and dwelling on those, as opposed to wasting our time with descriptions of the main character arguing with his editor, or talking to cab drivers.
But the biggest problem I have with the Ring novel is the fact that it is so unabashedly misogynistic. Now look, people have talked about how the Ring movies are, in their own way, kind of sexist, which is fair. The original film, especially, takes every possible chance to shame the heroine for having a life outside of motherhood, and portrays her as weak and emotional ,and needing to be slapped out of a stupor by her ex. But, trust me, those films are feminist manifestos compared to this book. The main character, and the novel itself, constantly complains about how women are nagging, overly sensitive, and far too concerned with their appearances. There’s that pornographic description of the niece peeing I mentioned earlier. And then there’s the not so small matter of the second most important character in the book, Ryuji, the man Asakawa enlists to help him find the source of the curse, being a rapist. And that’s not my opinion. That’s not me being an overly sensitive liberal who misinterpreted the prose. The book flat out calls him a rapist. It’s explained that the two men met when Ryuji gleefully told Asakawa that he’d raped a woman, and asked him not to tell. Asakawa didn’t, and they became best friends after that. And what makes this even more appalling is the fact that the novel takes every chance to highlight Ryuji’s positive features, such as his intelligence, charisma, and physical fitness. It literally glorifies him. Reading this book made me aware of something that I’ve been wanting to talk about on here for a while, and that’s the fact that Japanese society, particularly Japanese art, seems weirdly okay with rape. Now look, I don’t want any of my Japanese, or Japanese-American, readers to get the wrong impression. I don’t want anyone to think I’m saying that the Japanese are worse than us Americans, or that we, somehow, don’t have problems with sexism and sexual assault. We do. But one thing I can say for certain is that American artwork at least condemns rape. If you look at almost any American film, novel or TV show that includes sexual assault, you see that it is always portrayed as a horror; as something that should be reviled, and punished. In Japanese films, TV shows, particularly animes, and books, however, sexual assault is either brushed off, treated as a joke, or even glorified. Don’t believe me? Then ask yourself, why is it that so many animes, Naruto, Bleach, feature female characters getting groped, or having people look up their skirts? Why is it that so much Japanese pornography features women screaming “no” and “stop?” Why is it that, all throughout the 70s and 80s, the most popular genre of film in Japan was the pink, or sexploitation, movie, which almost exclusively featured women getting assaulted, and falling in love, with their rapists? This is not a new phenomenon. It goes all the way back to classic Japanese movies, like Rashoman, Life Of Oharu, and The Tale Of Ugetsu. Even modern, more seemingly gentle flicks, like Departures, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film, features the main character forcing himself on his wife after a hard day at work. And this isn’t even getting into all the sex crimes that were committed during World War 2 by Japanese troops, such as the Rape of hundreds of thousands in Nanking, and the kidnap, and forced conscription into brothels of millions of “comfort women” from China, Korea, Indonesia and elsewhere. Having grown up with Japanese neighbors, and a Nissei step-grandfather, I could never wrap my brain around the idea of Japanese men committing such heinous sex crimes, even during times of war. But now, having read so much japanese literature, film, and TV, especially anime, I have to wonder if the constant portrayal of rape as being no big deal taught these men that it wasn’t anything to worry about. Ring is just one in a long line of books and films from Japan that don’t treat sexual assault with the care and insight that it should, and I find it repulsive in every way imaginable.
Guys, don’t read this book. It’s boring, it’s slow, and it’s beyond sexist. If you want to see this book’s central premise done right, watch either of the films. They’re faster, scarier, and considerably better at representing women. Then again, that’s not a very high bar to clear.