October 2005

Sanford May

big in japan

Ring on Course Credit

The Ring phenomenon is a significant contemporary influence on horror cinema both stateside and in its native Japan, undoubtedly demanding some serious attention. Something more than the moody short films and director commentaries of DVD-edition special features. I’ve lately read a handful of ecstatic interviews with Ring author Koji Suzuki; magazine writers have over the last year or so given the novels and films their due. Now there is plenty of room for a full-length work diagnosing and dissecting the Ring virus in all its mutations.

The Ring Companion is a thick, densely illustrated volume from author Denis Meikle. This is far from Meikle’s first outing in horror movie analysis. He’s written several books on the genre, covering everything from the career of the legendary Vincent Price to the equally legendary if not as purely iconic Hammer Films of Great Britain. And a biography of actor Johnny Depp. I’m not sure what this says about Mr. Depp, but it’s otherwise certain that Meikle has earned his credentials chronicling popular films. He’s well suited to the task of composing the first major exploration of the Ring thing to be published in English.

I discovered in the first chapter, really on the first page, that The Ring Companion is surprisingly well written for a film book about a late-coming fad -- at least in the West -- in the movie industry. Indeed it’s a well-written book, period, without making extraneous qualifications. Meikle has done all the required research and then some. He opens with a formal and extensive survey of early Japanese horror films -- ghost stories and the signature giant monster features of the postwar period -- segueing neatly into a look at their influence on the genre in the West, and then in turn these Western films’ effect on later Japanese productions. It’s a lot of material presented with a lot of words, delaying the deep treatment of Ring for some time.

Meikle assessments of his principal subjects, the Ring films, are prefaced with synopses of Suzuki’s novels, an exercise I found tedious, having read the books more than once. But for those that have never encountered the plots and prose that kicked the whole thing off, the relatively brief book reports will help these fans of the movies get up to speed with the similarities and differences between work on film and work in print. Meikle then continues in the same vein, formally, painstakingly describing the films in all their numerous versions, placing them in the proper context in both Eastern and Western cinema.

I can, after reading The Ring Companion, not only tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Ring, I can probably pass a fairly detailed examination on Japanese and Western horror. And that’s the biggest problem with Meikle’s book. It’s an academic endeavor. I can imagine it turning up on the required reading lists of a dozen film schools. Meikle does not seem inclined to dumb down his prose for the sake of easy reading, either. The Ring Companion is overall a complicated, thoroughly packed work that demands full focus, a reading effort that cannot be accomplished with one of its namesake movies playing on a TV set in the same room. For that reason I can’t recommend it to casual fans of the movies and associated J-horror craze looking for nothing more than a pop magazine style romp full of glossy color photographs and 18-point type. I can’t escape the conclusion that this volume will prove a difficult fit with its intended audience. But it’s an outstanding book if you know what you’re getting into. Give him your undivided attention and Meikle will turn you into a J-horror maniakku without equal, the absolute authority of your horror-loving clique.

The Ring Companion by Denis Meikle,
Titan Books
ISBN: 1845760018
272 Pages