THE RING TWO
DVD release 29 th August 2005
Hideo Nakata is at the very forefront of the Japanese school of horror directors who have influenced Hollywood with their groundbreaking use of story telling within the genre.
Arguably, Nakata has had more influence on the horror genre than any other filmmaker in recent years. In 1998 he directed Ringu after he was approached by author Suzuki Koji who asked him to bring his best selling book to the big screen.
Along with screenwriter Hiroshi Takahashi, Nakata produced a film that was to be hailed as a masterpiece not only in his native Japan , but also around the world. Filled with an ever-present sense of dread, Ringu told the story of a mysterious tape which claimed the lives of anyone within a week of viewing it.
Nakata directed the follow-up, Ringu 2, and producers Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald brought the rights to the original and it's Hollywood cousin, directed by Gore Verbinski and starring Naomi Watts as journalist and single mum Rachel Keller, was simply called The Ring and was a worldwide hit in 2002.
When plans for a sequel were discussed, Parkes and MacDonald initially approached Nakata to direct but he was committed to another project, True Believers, and reluctantly turned it down.
Several months later, the producers discovered that True Believers had been put on hold and again approached Nakata and sent him a script for The Ring Two. "I really liked the script," he says. "And I had some ideas for it, too, which they seemed very open too. And so I was absolutely delighted to get the chance to direct it."
Nakata, 43, was born in Okayama , Japan , and after studying journalism at the University of Tokyo - during which time he indulged his passion for cinema by watching some 300 films a year - he started at the famous Nikkatsu Studios where he worked as an assistant and then became an assistant director, eventually staying for some seven years.
After making his directorial debut on Japanese television with a series called God's Hand - his first collaboration with writer Hiroshi Takahashi - he made his feature film debut with Ghost Actress in 1996.
He is single and now divides his times between Los Angeles , where he has been editing The Ring Two, and Tokyo .
In The Ring Two, Rachel (Watts) and her son Aiden are trying to rebuild their lives after the traumatic events of six months earlier and have moved to the small coastal town of Astoria , Oregon . But then Rachel, working as a reporter once again, discovers some disturbingly familiar and grisly clues at a local crime scene which lead her to believe that not all of the tapes were destroyed and that the evil Samara might well be back.
This interview was conducted in Los Angeles in early February as Nakata neared completion of his film. He admits that at times the experience was 'overwhelming' but says that he has thoroughly enjoyed working in Hollywood .
Q How is the film coming along?
A: We are doing the final work, the final mix and colour correction, so we are nearly there.
Q Have you enjoyed working in America ?
A: Yes. The budget was very big compared to my other films so sometimes it was overwhelming especially during the shoot. But as a whole, I am enjoying it, especially the post production I have enjoyed a lot.
Q: Has it felt very different to working in Japan ?
A: Yes and no. For example in terms of the speed and the essence of the filmmaking itself, I believe it's completely universal. And the passion I got from the crew and the cast to create a good movie was wonderful and I would expect that kind of passion wherever I worked. What was different was the number of people involved - in Japan I would work with maybe 40, 50 people on set. Here I worked with let's say, 200 people, 300 people. So there was a difference there. But I hope that the essence of filmmaking is the same and that's the important thing.
Q: How did you approach the material this time?
A: Well I was approached by the studio about a year ago and when I read the script I was intrigued because I found it very different from my other Japanese version of Ringu 2, it's a completely original story. I was very excited and I made some comments about script revision and they accepted it so it was quite a new and interesting experience for me.
Q: Did you like Gore Verbinski's film, The Ring ? The first western version.
A: Oh yes, I liked it a lot and especially let's say my favourite scene is the ferry boat scene where a horse goes crazy and mad and commits suicide just by looking at Naomi's character. I thought that scene was fantastic and not only very different from my version but I thought it was very effective to let the audience feel what was going to happen on the island. I really liked Gore's movie and I anticipated that it was going to be very successful because I saw it before the release of the movie here.
Q What do you think are the themes that make The Ring series so compelling?
A: When I made the first one it was at a time when every kid in Japan, or almost all of them, were getting VCRs and television sets in their own rooms, not just in their houses. One person has their own TV sets and VCRs and that's the most common item for them. And then their came the movie which is about a killer video and watching a tape which can kill. And that sounds pretty absurd but at the same time if it really happened in our life it would be really chilling. If the television screen would be the threshold to hell it would be really scary and because it is so common it is kind of realistically scary if you know what I mean. And I think that is the key element in why it became so successful I think.
Q: You and other Japanese directors have almost created your own genre of horror movie now. How is the approach different between Japanese and western filmmakers?
A: I can't analyse it critically. We are also influenced by lots of excellent Hollywood and European and British horror movies, I have watched a lot of them but I have to say I'm not a horror expert. I have not been a very big horror fan but of course I researched horror movies and I would say there is a different approach in how to show ghosts. This may sound too simple but Asian ghosts can stand just behind you and can stare at you and doesn't say anything, just stands and stares at the main character. And that could be scary from our point of view.
Q And western films have been rather more explicit with the scenes of violence?
A Yes. Whereas western movies, in general, westerns ghosts are an evil existence and are meant to do something to the victims, they attack the victims. So that is a difference that active feeling, the aggressiveness of the apparition in the western horror movies whereas in the Asian ones it's not. But of course there are exceptions like the Robert Wise film The Haunting or The Turn of the Screw, those movies the ghosts were just there. In fact with The Haunting there was no ghost whatsoever in the movie, so there are some exceptions.
Q Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald, the producers, were saying that you had some troubles on the set. They said you called in a Shinto priest after a few incidents to perform a purification ritual. What happened?
A: You mean, the purification? This movie deals with the scary or evil water, cursed water and the production office was flooded completely because of the malfunction of the air conditioning unit. And the production manager decided that we should do the purification and because I'm from Japan and my assistant is too, so we asked a Japanese Shinto priest to come and do the purification ceremony on the set. At the hospital location and he came and did a purification ceremony, it was in Los Angeles .
Q And hopefully it did some good?
Q What other films do you like in the horror genre?
A: As a teenager I was really scared by watching The Exorcist and The Omen. When I became a movie director and somehow I had been directing horror movies and when I make a horror movies I feel like I need to be inspired by other masterpieces so let's say I will watch something like The Haunting, Robert Wise's film. Or Japanese ghost story movies. I need to be inspired when I make horror movies and these kind of films inspire me.
Q How was working with Naomi Watts?
A She is excellent and she understood my English instinctively and instantly. And he was very focused on her performance and in this movie she needed to give a very intense performance and I think she did a marvellous job.
Q And how was working with the youngster David Dorfman?
A He is very smart and very sensitive and understood what I was trying to achieve and his role is very difficult because the possession happens very gradually and he did it very well.
Q And you have Sissy Spacek in the film. What was it like working with such an iconic actress?
A: There is a scene where Sissy and Naomi are together and it took us two days and it turned out great. I felt like I was dreaming when I was watching their performance. We did a few takes and Naomi wanted to see it played back and the three of us were watching the video monitor and I felt like I was dreaming - one Academy Award winner and one Academy Award nominee! I really enjoyed it. And that scene is probably one of the most effective scenes in the whole movie.
Q Why does an audience like to be scared by horror films?
A I think that is probably the nature of the movie itself. The audience wants to be scared and wants to be surprised by movies, I think they enjoy it. And when you think about early movies, I remember there was one film about the arrival of a train. It sounds so ordinary but it was the first time an audience had seen the arrival of a train on film and they really freaked out because they felt the train was coming through the screen. That kind of pure visual surprise is not a horror movie but it is visually surprising and I think that it's in the nature of movie audiences to want to be scared because it's a different experience than reality.
Q Almost like a release?
A Yes, exactly.
Q What will you do next? I read a while ago that you said you wanted to take a break from this genre and do something different. Is that still the case?
A Well, it's not decided yet. I have two or three potential projects here and two of them are actually horror and one is a crime suspense movie and back in Japan I have two potential projects, one is a ghost story and the other is let's say half drama, half ghost story. And I want to try another genre of course, but maybe now I have become known as a horror filmmaker. But I don't know yet, I don't know which project will happen next.
Q But you want to work again in America ?
A Oh yes I want to work here again but at the same time I would like to work in Japan as well.
Q Do you have family back in Japan ?
A I have a mother and brother but I am single, so not my own family.
Q Thank you for your time and good luck with your film.
A Thank you. It's been nice talking to you.