The Spiral

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The Spiral

The Spiral
1998 / Colour / 97 m. / Japan / Rasen, Ring 2: Spiral
Starring: Koichi Sato, Miki Nakatani, Hinako Saeki, Shingo Tsurumi, Hiroyuki Sanada, Yutaka Matsushige
Cinematography: Makoto Watanabe
Production Designer: Iwao Saito
Film Editor: Hirohide Abe
Original Music: La Finca
Written by: Joji Iida from the novel by Koji Suzuki
Produced by: Shinya Kawai, Taka Ichise and Takenori Sento
Directed by: Joji Iida

Reviewed by Lee Broughton

Note: This film was the first sequel to Hideo Nakata’s “J-Horror” masterpiece Ring (Ringu, Japan, 1998).

Synopsis:

Mitsuo Ando (Koichi Sato) is called upon to carry out the autopsy on his old medical school associate Ryuji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada) and Takayama is soon using his psychic powers to transmit messages to Ando from beyond the grave. Ando already has a death wish and when Takayama’s ex-wife’s journal and a copy of the cursed video tape that it refers to are given to him by her former boss (Yutaka Matsushige) he happily watches the video. However, Ando survives his subsequent encounter with the dreaded Sadako (Hinako Saeki) while others around him, who know about the video but have not yet watched it, suddenly start dying. Ando links up with Takayama’s psychic girlfriend, Mai Takano (Miki Nakatani), and the pair try to figure out why Sadako has let Ando live.


Critique:

Filmed and released into cinemas in Japan at the same time as RingThe Spiral picks up the story of the cursed video tape at the point where the psychic doctor Ryuji Takayama dies. However, those who are familiar with Hideo Nakata’s own Ring sequel, Ring 2 (Ringu 2, Japan, 1999), should not expect to find a similar narrative being played out here. In keeping with the contents of the Koji Suzuki novel that it is based on, The Spiral takes the ongoing story of Sadako off in a completely different direction.

While the supernatural Sadako is still wreaking havoc from beyond the grave, director Joji Iida chooses to tone down the horror elements that were noticeably present in Nakata’s first Ring film. Iida does turn the chill factor up a little during the sequences where he draws upon the disturbing iconography that is associated with Sadako’s tragic back-story but The Spiral’s main story arc tends to favour themes that have more in common with the apocalyptic science fiction films of the mid-1970s. A little like Jerry Cornelius in Robert Fuest’s underrated The Final Programme (UK, 1973), Mitsuo Ando is unwittingly drawn into participating in an almost alchemical scientific experiment that will have far reaching consequences for all concerned.

The general look and feel of The Spiral is quite similar to Nakata’s Ring but Iida adopts a more low-key approach here. Makoto Watanabe’s masterful camerawork is subtle but highly effective while La Finca’s soundtrack score possesses a decidedly ethereal quality. Similarly, the film’s narrative unfolds in an un-rushed way and its characters are brought to life via purposefully subdued and introspective acting styles. All of these elements seamlessly mesh together to produce a supremely understated yet suitably atmospheric viewing experience.

The noticeably calm but foreboding atmosphere that Iida’s approach generates slowly begins to intensify as the film’s finale approaches. Indeed, it feeds into an unnerving end scene that possesses an unsettling vibe that begs comparison to the final sequence from Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, USA, 1968): a potentially earth-shattering occurrence has just unfolded and those involved are acting like it’s the most natural thing in the world. Those viewers who need the security of an unambiguous and/or positive ending when watching horror films might find The Spiral’s downbeat final chapter simply too bleak for their tastes but it’s hard to imagine this particular tale ending any other way.

With the exception of Sadako, all of The Spiral’s main characters are played by the same actors who played them in Ring, which adds a good sense of continuity to the show. The selection of a different actress to play Sadako would seem to tie in with the fact that the character is pursuing a slightly different agenda here: when she emerges from her television screen transportation system in The Spiral, Sadako looks and behaves as if she is a kind of succubus-like entity. Consequently she’s nowhere near as scary as she was in Ring but the actions that she undertakes in order to ensure that more and more people feel her fear remain disturbing and unsettling.

In most regions of the world Nakata’s Ring 2 has become the de facto Ring sequel and The Spiral has been left sitting awkwardly outside of the main series of Ring films. However, curious fans of the Ring franchise should ultimately find The Spiral to be an intriguing and worthy companion piece to the main series’ better known entries.

Psychotronic Cinemas rating: Very Good

© Copyright 2003, 2015 Lee Broughton.

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