Date aired: Jan 31, 1998
A blockbuster in Japan, this restrained horror film crosses urban legend conventions with Asian ghost story traditions, and the results are truly spooky. It opens as high schooler Masami tells another girl the story of a cursed videotape. If you watch it, Masami says, you'll get a phone call shortly after; no one will be on the line, and you'll die exactly one week later. Having suitably scared her friend, Masami admits that she and three friends actually saw the tape while away for the weekend at a country inn in Yitou. She pulls out a photo of the group: All the faces are mysteriously blurred. Moments later, Masami is dead of fright and her friend has gone mad. Masami's aunt, Reiko Asakawa, a TV reporter and the single mother of little Yoichi (Rikiya Otaka), investigates the tale of the tape and finds it widespread among local teenagers. She pursues the story to Yitou and sees the tape for herself: Its grainy images include a woman combing her hair in front of a mirror, a well in the woods and a newspaper article about a volcanic explosion 40 years earlier. The tape finishes, the phone rings, there's no-one on the line. Frightened, Reiko enlists the help of her ex-husband Ryuji, a math professor, and together they discover that 40 years earlier, there was a psychic woman who could predict volcanic eruptions. She had an affair with a married researcher and bore him a daughter, Sadako (Orie Izuno); Ryuji and Reiko deduce that Sadako is responsible for the killing curse. Finding a way to circumvent it acquires new urgency when both Ryuji and Yoichi watch the tape. Subtle and atmospheric, this eerie chiller builds to a truly disturbing climax that owes nothing to squishy special effects and much to carefully contrived atmosphere. The film was adapted from a 1991 novel by young-adult novelist Koji Suzuki, Japan's answer to Stephen King; the book was the first in a hugely popular series, and the film spawned both a sequel and a prequel.
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