Did you know Ring 2 was not the first sequel to Ring?
In 1998 Ring (also known as Ringu) was released, a Japanese horror film directed by Hideo Nakata adapted from Koji Suzuki’s novel of the same name. It not only was a truly frightening film, it spawned a number of sequels, remakes, and spin offs. The American remake The Ring directed by Gore Verbinski is well revered, but is not the only one; a Korean remake called The Ring Virus actually came first in 1999. Then you have the bonkers crossover with the Ju-On franchise Sadako v Kayako as the vengeful spirits of both series face off against one another. With these developments all stemming from the success of the first theatrical film, it is safe to say its popularity has had a definitive impression on popular culture and the horror genre. As well as being a preeminent Japanese horror that kicked off a slew of American remakes. But before Ring 2 or Ring-O, or the international renditions, there came Rasen.
Despite being the first sequel to Ring you’d be forgiven if you hadn’t even heard of Rasen, it hasn’t entered popular culture like its predecessor nor was it that successful when it released. This is despite the fact that Rasen was actually produced alongside Ring, and released in the same year. It turns out the reason behind the move was that the studio behind both films banked on the preexisting success of the novels, and TV adaptation Ring: Kanzenban, to yield more profits. Despite Ring being an enormous success, Rasen failed to deliver. But why?
Rasen was directed and written by Jôji Iida, and adapted from the novel Spiral; Koji Suzuki’s second novel in his Ring series. Much like the novel, the film follows on from the first entry but with a different group of characters, though there are some recurring characters from Ring. Following the death of Ryūji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada) at the end of the first film, his body is examined by pathologist and friend Mitsuo Andō. During the examination a strange note is found within his body, leaving Mitsuo to unravel the circumstances surrounding his friends death and the discovery of the cursed video tape.
Rasen most certainly takes a different direction to Ring and the subsequent prolific iterations that have ensued. It’s denser, and not focused on scares, more thriller than horror. The reception to the film upon release was not kind and it currently holds a 5.3 rating on IMDB from 2,000 votes. As a result the original director/writer team from Ring (Hideo Nakata and Hiroshi Takahashi) were commissioned to do a different sequel which would replace Rasen. This resulted in the new follow up and ‘official’ sequel Ring 2 which diverted its story from the novels thus forging a path of its own. A decision that makes Rasen a canonical sequel to Ring as adaptations of Suzuki’s novels, but Ring 2 a part of a new mythology.
Despite the lack of success Rasen had, both the prequel film Ring-0: Birthday and sequel Sadako 3D are based on Suzuki’s works Lemonheart (a short story) and S respectively. Which if anything makes both films linked to forgotten sequel Rasen, and leaves Ring 2 as a standalone sequel separate to everything; where that leaves Sadako vs Kayako is anybodies guess. Clearly the issue was not so much with the stories the films were based on, but just a poorly made film. That being said, to completely rewrite a narrative based on the poor success of a film seems excessive. It’s not like it was as bad as Rings.