Published in English
Ring (リング Ringu) is a Japanese horror novel by Koji Suzuki, first published in 1991, and set in modern-day Japan. It was the basis for a 1995 television film (Ring: Kanzenban),a television series (Ring: The Final Chapter), a 1998 film of the same name, and two remakes of the 1998 film: a South Korean version (The Ring Virus) and an American version (The Ring).
After four teenagers mysteriously die simultaneously in Tokyo, Kazuyuki Asakawa, a reporter and uncle to one of the deceased, decides to launch his own personal investigation. His search leads him to "Hakone Pacific Land", a holiday resort where the youths were last seen together exactly one week before their deaths. Once there he happens upon a mysterious unmarked videotape. Watching the tape, he witnesses a strange sequence of both abstract and realistic footage, including an image of an injured man, that ends with a warning revealing the viewer has a week to live. Giving a single means of avoiding death, the tape's explanation ends suddenly having been overwritten by an advertisement. The tape has a horrible mental effect on Asakawa, and he doesn't doubt for a second that its warning is true.
Returning to Tokyo with no idea how to avert his fate, Asakawa enlists the help of his curious friend Ryūji Takayama, an apparent psychopath who openly jests he engages in rape. As soon as Asakawa explains the story, Takayama believes him and insists on seeing the tape. Asakawa shows it to him and although Takayama remains cool and nonchalant, he agrees there is a powerful aura around it and asks Asakawa to make him a copy to study at home, which Asakawa does.
Racing against the deadline, both men begin investigating the tape. By following the imagery from the tape, Asakawa deduces that the rapid strobe seen during certain sequences show the recording device was "blinking." The duo then connect this, as well as the significance of certain tape images, and learn of Sadako Yamamura, a deceased young woman and self-proclaimed psychic capable of technopathic feats (such as projecting mental images onto televisions). Believing Sadako is connected to the tape, Asakawa also soon learns that, after carelessly leaving the tape in his home, his wife and infant daughter viewed the tape and now have seven days to live.
Learning of an isolated sanatorium Sadako frequented when her father contracted tuberculosis, Asakawa arranges a meeting with Nagao Jotaro, a doctor at the now-closed hospital. Recognizing him as the injured man from the tape sequences, Ryūji aggressively presses Dr. Jotaro for answers; the doctor, buckling under the pressure, explains he was infatuated with Sadako, and raped her in the woods near to the hospital. Infecting her with smallpox he unknowingly contracted, Jotaro was injured during a struggle (during which he learned Sadako was intersexed), resulting in the doctor throwing Sadako into a nearby well before crushing her with rocks.
Believing Sadako's rage and psychic powers resulted in the imaged projected onto the tape, Asakawa and Ryūji head for the well where she was killed. Figuring the well is located beneath the lodge where the tape was located, the duo locates the well and Asakawa lowers himself inside, finding Sadako's remains. Recovering and giving her remains a burial, Asakawa passes his deadline, confirming his curse has ended. When Ryūji then suddenly dies of a heart attack, however, the true nature of the tapes are revealed; Sadako's rage caused her psychic powers to combine with her smallpox virus, creating a paranormal phenomenon. Demanding the viewer replicate the tape, the curse is propagated like a virus through tape copies, sparing anyone who copies it; since Asakawa duplicated the tape at Ryūji's request, he now must make his wife and daughter do the same lest they die.
- Kazuyuki Asakawa: The book's protagonist, he is a Tokyo newspaper reporter whose reputation was somewhat tarnished in the past in connection with a fad for UFOs and ghosts. He has a wife, Shizuka (the Vertical, Inc. English translation of the novel incorrectly renders her name as Shizu), and daughter, Yoko.
- Ryuji Takayama: Asakawa's friend whom he enlists to help him solve the riddle of the tape. He was a doctor but later became a Philosophy professor of a famous university due to the time the story occurred. Being of an odd mental disposition, and is also something of a genius, Ryūji usually stated that the purpose of his life is to gaze at the end of humanity. Ryūji also claims to be a rapist, although whether these claims are true or not is unclear, as it maybe just a little hoax he used in order to befriend the quiet Asakawa. He was actually a lonely person who struggled to live peacefully within society. Ryūji will have even more significant roles in the sequels Spiral and Loop.
- Shizuka and Yoko Asakawa: Asakawa's wife and daughter respectively. When Shizuka unknowingly watches the cursed video with Yoko on her lap, they become Asakawa's primary motivation for solving the riddle of the tape.
- Sadako Yamamura: The book's unseen antagonist who vanished thirty years ago; also the person behind the incident of the cursed tape. She was, in fact, intersex with special powers similar to ESP. She was said to be extremely beautiful.
- Shizuko Yamamura: Sadako's mother, who possessed powers similar to her daughter's. She threw herself into the crater of Mt. Mihara after a demonstration of telepathy, which she failed due to the present reporters' ill wishes, and was branded a fraud.
Differences between the book and the film
There are many key differences between the Ring novel and the 1998 film adaptation. Most notably, Asakawa in the novel is a man named Kazuyuki, while in the film, Asakawa is a woman named Reiko (whose name may have been a nod to Kaoru Futami's girlfriend in Loop). Kazuyuki has a wife and daughter; Reiko is divorced (from Ryuji), and she has a son named Yoichi.
- Ryuji from the book was a snarky wiseguy who enjoyed black humour, and even claimed to have raped three girls. Ryuji from the film was a stoical, somber grouch, and there was never anything in the movie about rape.
- In the book, when someone who had watched the cursed tape reached day 7 (without having copied the tape and showed it to someone else), they die from a myocardial infarction (a heart attack). At the time of death, they will experience intense anxiety, and should they glance into a reflective surface, they'll hallucinate themselves as hideously deformed and aged. The cursed tape in the book is a psychically engineered instrument that transmits a virus (the Ring Virus) to those that watch it.
- In the film, Sadako emerges from the television to claim her victims. She apparently 'scares' them to death, or they die from exposure to her otherworldly shade. Obviously, the film takes a supernatural ghost-story approach, while the book works on a pseudo-science-fictitious medical-mystery approach.
- The character of Okazaki does not exist in the book.
- Sadako's powers and abilities differ between book and film. In the book, Sadako did possess nensha (psychic photography), and it was hinted that she had prenatural senses, clairvoyance, and mind control abilities. This is nothing compared to the Sadako in the films, who is tremendously powerful beyond all limits. Aside from nensha and clairvoyance, the Sadako from the movies possesses ultra-psychokinetic powers, teleportation, remote vision and travel, regenerative powers, healing abilities (used by the Good Sadako only; see the article on Ring 0 for more info), and even the ability to cheat death, in a way. Incidentally, Sadako from the books cannot kill people by simply willing it like film-Sadako can. Book-Sadako can evidently manipulate the Ring Virus at will, and psychically infect anyone she chooses.
- The true villain of the books is not Sadako herself, it is the Ring Virus, which was created when Sadako's dying will and psychic powers were fused with the smallpox virus. The smallpox virus mutated into a conscious virus capable of spreading via psychic means. In the film, it is Sadako's vengeful shade that is wreaking havoc although it is worth noting that in the book the virus was born from a fusion of Sadako's hate towards society, her psychic abilities and the smallpox virus, despite it not being Sadako herself who causes people to die.
- The cursed videotape remains a constant fixture in the Ring film franchise, while in the books, the curse evolves into other formats: from the tape, to the Ring Report, to the Sadako clones, to the Ring novel published by Asakawa's brother, and ends with the Metastatic Human Cancer Virus.
- Ryuji did not have a hint of ESP intuition in the book, although it is hinted that Asakawa gains a minor form of psychic awakening after raising Sadako from the well. In the final section of the book as Asakawa bids farewell to Ryuji at a train station, Asakawa notices a pain in his chest and the faint smell of citrus (the same symptoms Shizuko was said to experience during a premonition). Also, Ryuji was never attributed with ESP but was said to have very sharp intuitive skills naturally and Shizuko herself states that all humans are endowed with a small amount of power.
- Ryuji's genius and cognitive talents were never really emphasized in the film.
- The cursed tape in the novel is far different from the one in the movie. The book-version was much longer and more complicated. Also, the tape in the book has a message at the beginning and the end. The message at the beginning is something along the lines of, "Watch until the end, you will be eaten by the lost...", of which Asakawa thinks to mean, "Watch until the end, or you will be eaten by the lost...." He was probably wrong. The message at the end: "Those that have viewed this tape are fated to die at this exact time seven days from now. In order to survive, you must...", the rest of the end message is taped over, and it isn't until the end that Asakawa realized that the rest of the message was about copying the tape and showing it to someone else. These messages were not in the tape in the movie.
- In the film, it is Sadako's father, Heihachiro, that kills Sadako by braining her with a machete and pushing her in the well (though it is later revealed that Sadako didn't die right away, and was actually alive for about 33 years in the well, dying only a year before the events of the first film). In the book, Sadako is assaulted and raped by a doctor working at the facility her father is being treated at (for tuberculosis), who then tosses her into the infamous well. In the book she starved to death in the well full with hatred (although this was not revealed in the book 'Ring').
- Sadako is intersex in the book. She has Complete Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, meaning she has testes, rather than ovaries, but her body does not respond to testosterone. No mention of CAIS is made in any of the films, and presumably she is not intersex in the film.
- Sadako in the book also had a younger brother that died during infancy.
- In the book, an incident is mentioned where Shizuko (Sadako's mother) recovers a statue of En no Ozunu (an ancient ascetic rumoured to possess supernatural power) that had been tossed into the sea during the American occupation period. After she recovers the statue, her psychic powers are awakened. Incidentally, it is rumoured that En no Ozunu might be Sadako's actual father. Furthermore, in the films, it is hinted that Heihachiro might not be Sadako's true father, but that her real father was something inhuman. One scene in Ring 0 subliminally suggests that Sadako's father is the sea (or something from it).
- The American edition cover design was made by Chip Kidd
- According the Chip Kidd, in the American edition cover design, the bookcover was inspired on a Japanese 'rising sun' flag and manipulates it to a more complex extreme. At the center of the 'sun' is a death's head, in a stark black and white contrast to the vibrant color of the sunburst. The title is presented in an endless loop, which mimics the predicament of the characters.
- The Poltergeist was Koji Suzuki's inspiration to write his novel Ring.
- He decided to entitled his novel Ring because of the never ending curse of Sadako Yamamura.
- Koji Suzuki confirmed that the baby in the video was Sadako's young brother.