“Ring 0: Birthday” review: “Carrie with an evil twin twist?”

Title: Ring 0: Birthday

Director: Norio Tsuruta

Writer: Hiroshi Takahashi (Screenplay) Koji Suzuki (Novel)

Cast: Yukie Nakama; Seiichi Tanabe; Kumiko Aso; Yoshiko Tanaka

Duration: 99 minutes

Country: Japan

Year: 2000

“Ring 0: Birthday” is the prequel film to Ring, Rasen and Ring 2 making it the prequel movie in the group of five movies that “follow the novels” along with “Ring” “Rasen” “Sadako 3D” and “Sadako 3D 2” and also the prequel in the trilogy of movies that don’t follow the novels along with “Ring” and “Ring 2”.

This movie has been mentioned by critics to be a Carrie Rip-off and while I can see where it’s coming from I must say it’s not reason enough to hate it like some critics did. The plot is as follows “Sadako Yamamura is an awkward shy girl living in Tokyo where she has become a part of an acting troupe where she is an outcast. Strange things begin happening around  when Sadako joins the troupe and people end up getting killed. Meanwhile a journalist is following the tracks of the young girl seemingly because of an article but her intentions turn out to be more sinister…”

Sadako’s story is interesting enough to keep you invested in what happen mainly to some of the characters and Yukie Nakama’s portrayal of Sadako is amazing and it is still horror something which like I said on my Rasen review not every movie in the franchise can say. I’ll be the first to say I do have my issues with the movie but I’ll go over them on the SPOILERS part of the Review. My opinion Ring Zero is a good movie and definitely worth a watch. Now…

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So let’s begin with the story thirty years before the original movies took place back in the sixties were Sadako is part of an acting troupe and is an outcast, almost everyone dislikes her as after she arrived at the troupe many of them began to have dreams about a well and she is just too weird for them. On the other hand we have a journalist who is somehow investigating what happened with the Yamamuras after a botched demonstration that aimed to prove the existence of ESP, the one  that involved Sadako’s parents and ended with a journalist dead.

As the events develop we see Sadako rises in the troupe taking the position of lead actress after the death of the girl who had the role, this prompts people at the troupe to ostracize her more due to their fear and envy, only one man a member of the crew called Toyama, who has feelings for Sadako which she reciprocates.

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Through the journalist’s investigation we learn that Sadako was involved in another incident when she was a child and that she was afraid of the sea because when she went to the beach and fourteen of her classmates drowned, she had warned them it would happen if they got into the water but they paid no heed. We also meet the doctor who has been helping Sadako as she often experiments “hallucinations” of people pointing their fingers at her.

As the two plot lines come together we discover that the journalist doesn’t want to write an article but to get revenge for her fiancée one of the journalists at the botched demonstrations who like every journalist there ended up dead. She convinces a woman at the troupe who believes Sadako is hiding something and is weird, well the one who actually has a reason for disliking her since she is jealous of her relation with Toyama to reveal her powers to the world and after she is lynched by the whole troupe and taken to her father’s house where let’s just say she takes revenge. And when we see the twist, which is actually kind of mentioned a couple of time by the journalist before the climax, there’s another Sadako, an evil Sadako, aside from the woman who joined the drama troupe, which is the good Sadako, the girl split into two after the events of the botched press conference, one good taking after her mother, the other a kind of antichrist who takes after her birth “father” who has been implied to be a supernatural being in several films on the franchise.

The good Sadako was allowed to live and was raised and nurtured by her father while the evil one was locked in the cellar and given pills that prevent growth (kind of like the Simpsons with their children). As the good Sadako is taken back to her father’s house she rejoins her evil (and more supernatural half) and well disposes of every member of the troupe, including her love interest who by the time she rejoins her other half is trying to flee with her, and the journalist prompting her step-dad to kill her to make sure she doesn’t kill anyone else (as we all know that worked out wonderfully she never killed anyone else).

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So what did I think of the story… I liked it a lot actually I believe Yukie Nakama’s Sadako was so likable that you kind of overlooked  the flaws the movie had just to follow her she did a wonderful job and that is even a thing that people who hate this movie often agree on with those who like or love it she does a wonderful job. Plus I think the story is very interesting and does its job as a prequel.

More over I’d say it builds tension really, really well especially since you care so much about what happens to Sadako and her boyfriend the threat of the “unknown” is kind of present throughout the movie, the quotes in the “unknown” part are important since you know it has something to do with Sadako which is confirmed by the end. The point is it had me worrying about what was going to happen to the MC even though I already knew what had to happen for this to be a prequel and not an AU (Alternative Universe) movie.

I do have a kind of problem with the twist in the sense that I would have preferred evil Sadako to be the normal Sadako a split personality and not being physically apart from her. I kind of thought that there were going to go with that actually but they pulled the she split into two halves, when everything the movie was hinting was that there was a split personality a more childish one but nope they decided to go with a more contrived story which didn’t make as much sense to me even if it has its own explanation.

In terms of scares and atmosphere, the scenes shot in the theatre where supernatural things were happening especially in the beginning were effective and scary however they didn’t use such setting to its fullest potential. Also in the climax when Sadako is going after the members of the troupe I would have probably have shot that at night for it to be truly terrifying. The manage to pull some good scares but too few in my opinion due to the fact like I said that it didn’t use some locations to their full potential or shot scenes at day time when in fact they would be more effective at night.

The main character in this movie Sadako is extremely likable, like I already said and like I already said it’s because the actress who plays her Yukie Nakama. You feel awful as you see what she has to go through, mostly she is tormented by a past she doesn’t quite remember, in a pretty clever way, you also feel awful by how the troupe actors and staff in general treat her and consider her a freak blaming for what happens and speaking ill of her behind her back. Also after rejoining the evil Sadako her good part takes over for a few moment and she is extremely distraught over what she has done (granted she has killed everyone even Toyama) she feels terrible over what she is and you feel also terrible because (and I know I’m repeating myself) Nakama does such a good job. I must add I’d say she and to a lesser degree her love interest are the most developed characters out of all of them.

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Toyama is her love interest and fellow members of the troupe and the only other fully decent person in this whole movie, he is the only one that refuses to treat Sadako bad and blame her for what happens around the troupe, and even physically defend her when she is in trouble and getting injured for her, I personally believe that perhaps the relationship should have been developed a little more but I liked it a lot, both characters had in my opinion a lot of on-screen chemistry. The actor who played it did a good job in my opinion.

There are also, the members of the troupe and the journalist… well the journalist you kind of understand why she would want revenge but her actions made me dislike her a lot although she is not the most unlikable of the antagonist of the movie despite being the kind of leader by the end. Then there is the Drama troupe that mostly serves as a group of people with almost no one standing out from the others, except maybe Etsuko Tachihara who is the only member who seems to have a conscience other than Toyama, other than that she plays a part in what the bad things that happen in the third part, the producer also has his moment but also to show he is an asshole in his own especial way. The others just serve as a theatre troupe who are scared and pretty quick to form a mob when they have proof of Sadako’s supernatural powers. As for the acting of the actors portraying each and every one of this characters I must say it’s not bad at all.

And finally the two last characters worth mentioning, Sadako’s doctor who seems like a good man who tries to help her deal with some “visions” he has, he actually is a nice characters who worries about Sadako and tries to calm her down and protect her. He even help her when Toyama is injured at one point in the movie. And the Step-dad, now we only meet him in the last act when we learn the story of how there are two Sadakos, he doesn’t do much but he does try to go and stop his daughter when she goes on a rampage, and comforts her and later decides to dispose of her because he thinks he will prevent more deaths and you see he is torn about it. And what you see of the step-dad well I think the character is fine although he only appears at the end and we don’t see much of him you kind of feel sad for him after he “kills” Sadako since he is devastated by his decision, this actor does a better job than the one portraying the doctor in my opinion but both do a good job, well the father a great job

Now Sadako or to be more specific Sadako we’ll talk more about her power and as a creature. As you would expect from this kind of story there’s the contrast between the two Sadakos the two are the polar opposites from each other, one is good and one is evil, one is a shy awkward adult and the other one a creepy little girl, one is human and the other one is a demon. And it only adds to the pity you feel for Sadako as a character as she suffers for the actions of her evil counterpart especially when she is blamed and feared for something that’s clearly her evil counterpart’s fault. Also to add to the contrast we have that while both Sadako’s have powers in common good Sadako has a power not seen before in a ring movie, the power to heal people, which I thought was really interesting and adds to the character, makes you wonder what she could have done if she hadn’t met such tragic end. As for the evil younger version of Sadako she seems to be able to use her powers through her sister or when her sister is nearby, the movie doesn’t really explain that so I suppose it’s because she is her other half and they are connected even if they are apart.

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That’s mainly my problem with the two body’s theory, other than the explanations the movie makes it look like the evil Sadako is a split personality from Sadako but then tells you it’s a split body who is imprisoned at her house and has its own physical body yet when Sadako it’s nearby she magically appears near her and they rejoin?? That part is confusing although I imagine it’s part of the whole supernatural being I guess just like the she survived in that well for 30 years from part 2.

Anyway that was the Ring 0: Birthday and to answer the question I posed at the beginning of the movie, I can see how people who say this would see it that way but I don’t agree. It has definitely been inspired by Carrie there’s not denying that but it’s still different enough not to be called a rip-off of the Stephen King’s novel and its movie adaptations. Like I said I do have my issues with the twist and I wish they would have added more scares and shot some scenes differently but the story was great the mystery wasn’t bad I still felt scared not only because of the scary scenes, that were scary even if few, but because the two main characters are really likable especially Sadako, she is probably the most likable MC in all the Ring Franchise’s movies. Now to give it a score I will say that I liked it a little more than I liked 2, much more than I liked Rasen but it’s still far from how the original Ring made me feel. For these reasons I give “Ring 0: Birthday” Four out of Five Stars.

PS: I know I Said two was one of the better products in the ring franchise but for now it’s still only it’s score it’s the third out of the  four “Ring” movies I reviewed but that’s because we haven arrived to the Rasen Sequel reviews… which will have to wait because I kind of want to post more things about anime (Anime ops, reviews and articles) Spain Facts and other movie reviews before I review those movies I kind of don’t want to hurt my eyes with so much CGI by watching it again and reviewing it yet.

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