Ring 0: Birthday (2000)
This story in the Ring franchise takes place thirty years earlier to the story of the first film. An adolescent Sadako has just enrolled in a theater ensemble in Tokyo. Most of the others in the troupe are either terrified of Sadako or just plain hate her. They all begin having the same dreams from the moment she arrives at the school. A reporter named Miyaji is on the track of Sadako to find out whether or not she is in fact competent of the same acts of murder that her extrasensory mother had been accused of 11 years ago. As the days go by, mysterious murders unfold at the theater, but Sadako appears to just be a troubled and innocent teen this time around.
For those who found Ring 2 to be a bit second-rate in contrast to the original, Ring 0 should be quite a refreshing treat. In many aspects it even surpasses the original. While definitely not as frightening, it does have very disturbing moments, plus the acting this time around is completely stellar. Genius director Hideo Nakata hung up his coat this time around, and Tsuruta Norio took the helm to make this the most original in the series.
In essence, Ring 0 is almost strictly a drama, which fits the atmosphere and sets of the movie perfectly. There is no videotape this time around, only talk of it at the beginning. The film concentrates on the meaning of some of the blurred images from the tape that were never discussed before in the other films. The stunning sets capture the personality of the characters intensely, above all Sadako. The now infamous wishing well of the story is where the finale tales place; and the scene is created with pure intensity. This is quite possibly the greatest ending out of the entire series.
Once again, no gore and only a tad of blood is shed in this entry of the Ring chain - and once again it is simply not necessary. Ring 0 however lives more off of a wonderful storyline, where Ring and Ring 2 survived off of fear. True, it does contain its scary moments. Just wait until you catch a glimpse at the movements of the ghost here. Its shoulders shift upward while walking almost reaching the top of its head. Hunched over, wearing a long white dress that almost totally matches the feature of the character. Plus, there are hidden shots everywhere. Images that seemingly only Sadako can see, but others can feel the attendance. Ring 0 is another one that makes it a bit difficult to easily fall asleep at night, or in the day for that matter.
For the first time, the viewer can actually feel for the character of Sadako. A much more timid soul this time around, it is hard to simply put her off as an evil spirit; which was no problem in the previous films. Nakama Yukie puts a proper effort in the role, and makes Sadako a genuine character other than a presence of dread. She has every movement right on, from the way she walks with her head down, to the way her body moves like an unconscious mechanism. Plus, she acts delicately. Her tryout for the main role in the theater group is truly dramatic, but really can only be understood if seen. Hopefully this will put Nakama Yukie in the center for more great films in the future.
Plain and simple, Ring 0 is a triumph from start to finish. From opening theme song, to the closing segments of the terror and demise that any viewer already knows about if they have seen Ring and Ring 2. While not authentically a surprise, the way it was filmed is; and it is truly amazing to see it first hand. It makes it seem much more factual. This film, like many of the Japanese horror films, is almost impossible to find in the U.S. It is well worth a hard pursuit, though. If you are a fan of the rest of the series, as well as Rasen and Ring Virus, you will want to see this.