Ghosts of the Future

Hideo Nakata’s Ring (Nakata, 1998) wasn’t quite what I was expecting, in a good way. It’s not as overtly frightening as its American remake, but distinctly unsettling and creepy. Perhaps this is a reflection of American vs. Japanese culture, of the cinematic traditions of embodiment vs. empathy?

Nakata’s film muses on the idea that analogue technology is where the ghosts of the 20th Century live, indexical imprints of lives lived. The theme of analogue technology runs deeply through Ring; digital technology rarely makes an appearance.


Nakata’s digital prohibition is interesting, because Japan is one of the most technologically advanced societies in the world (and a forerunner in the development of digital technology). I wonder if he’s making a point about the conflict inherent in a society which prizes technology so highly, but remains firmly attached to its strongly traditional (conservative and patriarchal) values; the conflict between the old and the new.

Nakata also drops many hints at parental responsibility into Ring, especially paternity. Sadako’s father is unknown, perhaps he was the doctor or maybe some oceanic demon, but her parent’s ‘immorality’ and her ‘unnatural’ conception are blamed for creating a monster. And her possible father’s inability to control her, to provide proper parenting, leads him to murder her and bring forth her vengeful ghost.

Similarly Yoichi is a product of parents who don’t conform to Japanese standards of propriety. His mother is unmarried, and his father absent. Both treat him as older than his years, placing a lot of responsibility on his small shoulders. Nakata draws this out in a couple of small moments: when his mother, Reiko, is dressing for the funeral, she has him zip up her dress, a strangely grown up action for such a small child; when she tells him that she’ll be late, but that he can heat up his dinner in the microwave; and most poignantly, when he meets his father outside the apartment and they stand silently in the rain appraising one another, before parting without saying a word.

Like Sadako, Yoichi’s paternity is uncertain (at least initially). Ryuji is only confirmed as his father late in the film when Reiko exclaims to him that they should never have had a child. Even then, he never interacts with Yoichi directly, their only encounter is that silent meeting in the rain. It’s yet another example of the damage wrought by an absent father and an ‘unfit’ mother; the implied statement being that if Reiko and Ryuji has been better parents, maybe Yoichi would never have seen the tape.

The relationship (or lack of one) between Ryuji and Yoichi also seems to mimic the conflict between the old and the new. Ryuji, the parent, appears to have psychic or spiritual powers, a representation of the traditional, spiritual history of Japan. But he cannot connect with his modern child (or his child’s modern mother).

By fusing Japanese folklore with video technology, Nakata’s film seems to be an attempt to merge spiritualism with modernity. Or maybe it’s a reminder that they aren’t mutually exclusive? The method of telling the story changes, but the story itself remains unchanged (and is as relevant as ever).


Nakata, H., (1998) Ring, Omega Project


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