Spiral of Ambition: Rasen
Dr. Ando is a medical examiner, his hours spent peeling back necrotic flesh to reveal clues, seeking explanations for death. But the death that haunts him, anchors him to severe depression, needs no explanation. His small son drowned in the ocean, and he was unable to save him, coming away with only a lock of his hair. He is shaken out of a suicidal fugue when receives a call to perform an autopsy on a former student, Ryuji Takayama, who has died under unusual circumstances. Takayama and his ex wife were investigating a series of deaths surrounding a video tape and a girl named Sadako. Ando will be drawn into the mystery himself, in a search for answers that leads him to a frightening intersection of science and the supernatural.
In cinema, as it is elsewhere, ambition is risk. The endeavor to do something novel, to push boundaries, or challenge an audience can lead to rejection. But that rejection isn't always warranted. Rasen is the original Japanese sequel to Ringu, with which it was released simultaneously. Based on the novel Spiral by Koji Suzuki, author of the Ring cycle of books, it is a bold, daring expansion of the plot threads and fundamental concepts of its predecessor. It was regarded with commercial apathy.
Many of the film's ideas seem almost customized to attack certain cardinal rules of sequel storytelling. Important characters from the first film are virtually absent, and when they do appear, it is in a strange new capacity or as yet more corpses. Takayama is bestowed psychic powers which may not have been present before. The supernatural mystique of the video tape's curse is given a somewhat rigorous scientific explanation, and the tape itself is revealed to be more of an incidental element of what is transpiring.
The reason that these paradigm shifting discoveries work is that they are carefully, thoughtfully constructed to serve this particular story and its characters, as well as to establish a bewildering new potential for the story's future. They are not meant to undo what has come before, only deepen it. Like Ando, we are drawn in, peeling back the layers of darkness around Sadako's curse, circling ever nearer to the spiral's center. By its conclusion the film has traveled far from conventional horror, and the journey is unpredictable and fascinating.
Rasen owes perhaps as much to Cronenberg as it does J-horror tropes. A virus transmitted through language, through the passing along of Sadako's tragic story, is within the conceptual range of Videodrome's New Flesh. It's also a fairly mature movie, focusing on the drama of a man struggling with his own desire to die, to join his deceased child. One thing the film does share with Ringu is a sense of dread. Director George Iida isolates his characters in wide frames, creating a world where there are no comforts, no escape from Sadako's grip. Even when Ando seems to have found a way to conquer his most severe personal wound, it comes at immeasurable cost. The cure may be worse than the disease.
After the financial failure of Rasen, a more conventional sequel, Ringu 2 was made. Ignoring the events of Rasen, it featured the original protagonists of Ringu and became a great success. Rasen would be all but negated from canon. But not permanently. An astonishing thirteen years later in 2012, Sadako 3D would be released. Based on Suzuki's novel S, it is, in fact, a sequel to Rasen, resulting in a divergence in franchise continuity. It would be a big enough hit to inspire a sequel of its own, Sadako 3D 2. Why trouble yourself over which road is the one less traveled, when you can just take both?