By Koji Suzuki
The image of a filthy, saturated dead woman climbing out of a well and sloughing her murderous way into reality has become iconic for horror fans. As a stock image, it is firmly ingrained in the horror movie genre and appeared on more screens than the original ghost ever climbed out of – as inspiration, allusion, parody, and homage. It also never existed.
The plot of Ring did not include a ghost. Sadako – renamed Samara in the American remake – was a psychic woman who was ultimately outlived by her intense ESP abilities. Her power lived on, spurred by the rage she felt at her death, but her spirit did not. The only thing to come out of a TV screen in the original novel quartet was death itself.
The American remake took Sadako as a person and reduced her to the Hollywood popular evil psychic ghost child trope; the Sadako found in the novels is a young adult woman who dreamed of being an actress. She had all the prerequisites to make it big; she was beautiful, talented, a wonderful actress, kind to her fellow theater hopefuls, and willing to work for it – except that the presence of her power physically disgusted others.
Her intensely powerful ESP could be sensed as energy by even the most mundane non-ESPer, which they were instinctively repulsed by. As a result, Sadako was unintentionally shunned, even by those who cared for her as friends. This led to her eventual suicide.
Ring follows the events during and after the release of the video into the world from the point of view of a pessimistic reporter who initially wants nothing to do with the supernatural, let alone the sudden deaths that have begun to plague his city. Things are quickly taken out of his hands when a family member becomes the next victim and the supernatural forces behind her death will not allow him to escape the fate it has decided that the world deserves.
Suzuki has a very clear, minimalist writing style that exposes every aspect of the protagonist’s motivation and desperation to the reader; every character is interviewed and forced to reveal everything they know; every sordid detail of Sadako’s death is examined in triplicate: no stone surrounding the dirty well of humanity is left unturned.