Staying in Japan, and let’s be utterly honest, a theme. Fatal curses distributed by young long-haired Japanese schoolgirls. So already no points for originality (Look at that English title, it isn’t even trying to keep its origins a secret), but I’ve already decided that shouldn’t be considered too much of a damning issue. On the other hand, this one is clearly a promotional exercise for one of those Japanese Idol groups. Things are looking bad before I have even started, however, this is directed by Mari Asato who has shown much promise in her more recent fare such as “Bilocation” and “Fatal Frame“. So time to stop stalling and let’s dive right in.
“Ring of Curse” is centered around friendly student Yuka (Airi Suzuki) by whom the story is mostly narrated. She brings to our attention fellow student Kurohane’s (Miyabi Natsuyaki), top of her class but bullied mercilessly, especially by queen bitch Sonoda (Momoko Tsugunaga). Yuka tries to get Kurohane to join her literary club (on behalf of the Teacher who is seemingly besotted by Kurohane’s writing ability), but to no avail. Long haired and surly, the rest of the close jokingly call Kurohane “Sadako”, and eventually use the upcoming summer festival to embarrass her. Their plan is to get her to write a play they are going to perform, and use the process to belittle her. Kurohane however takes to the task with a manic fervor. When those who read the play-in-progress start getting ill and eventually die, Yuka starts to question what she is seeing. Kuronhane quite openly tells her everything – she is working on a curse that can be transmitted by the words she writes. She used this some time ago to get rid of her much-loved yet manipulative sister, and whilst the curse isn’t perfect yet (it doesn’t work on everyone, especially not adults), she’s working on it. Even when Kurohane’s plan is stopped though, the curse remains, and in a much simpler and distributable form… can Yuka work out how to stop it claiming her as a victim?
So yeah. The general idea is pretty much “Ringu” or “One Missed Call”. The only real difference is that this curse is being created as the film progresses, rather than something that is already in progress when the film opens. Which actually is somewhat interesting, and once we actually get the chance to delve into Kurohane’s backstory, you can be excused for feeling a little sympathetic towards her, even if she is clearly unhinged. The way the story is looked at from a couple of different viewpoints is also interesting (although there is a lot of repetition, bloating an already fairly brisk running time).
The three main cast member are all from a Japanese idol band called “Buono!” (actually it’s way more complicated than that, “Buono!” seems to be a mash up between two other idol bands called “C-ute” and “Berryz Koubou”), and with a framing sequence that has the girls addressing us in their civilian forms, it’s pretty clear this is really a promotional vehicle. On the other hand, they only give us a song over the closing credits, and none of their characters end the film as sympathetic characters, so it isn’t as calculating as it might sound.
Acting is fine all round for this sort of thing. Airi Suzuki makes for a fairly enjoyable but unremarkable lead. Momoko Tsugunaga is the one who gets the least screen time, and is therefore hard to form an opinion on. Miyabi Natsuyaki is however great. Yes, she’s playing a well worn trope, but she’s both menacing and sympathetic, and with just a dash of unhinged. Her performance raises the film up rather significantly.
Clearly filmed on a micro budget, it won’t ever win awards for cinematography, although there are a couple of pretty good moments. And on the whole is eschews any gore or utter ridiculousness, preferring to work instead on story and atmosphere. Natsuyaki does get the one moment of shock, which nicely separates the film into almost two stories of horror.
The framing sequence does eventually unfold as something a little gimmicky, but I was OK with it. The film is derivative whatever way you look at it, so having this aspect as well isn’t too concerning. Actually I found it somewhat cute. I also liked the way it built on the idea of how to avoid the curse – rather than just pass it on, you could minimise the chances of you being next to die by playing the odds. It added a bit of randomness to proceedings, even if it was just like one of those silly chain letters of old (yes my younger friends – even before Nigerian Princes started using the internet to get their millions out of the country, scammers used to send real letters that you were meant to forward on to 5 people before bad luck befell you). Oh and the Japanese title of “Gomennasai” translates as “I’m Sorry”, which works well if you see the film through to the end.
Derivative. Cynical marketing exercise. Cheap and cheerful. Yet somehow I really rather enjoyed this. It did just enough with the format to make it interesting, and Kurohone is an interesting villain before and after her demise. It also packs two films worth of story into a single film that doesn’t even tip the 90 minute mark. I liked it. Enough to give it a shocking grade of Recommended.