You’re likely familiar with the RING
movies (from the Japanese
RINGU to the ‘02 Hollywood remake), but you may not know
that, as with many successful films, they were books first. Five of
them, to be exact, written by the shrewdly talented KOJI SUZUKI.
All are works of unexpected and even brilliant invention and ingenuity.
Taken as a whole, the RING cycle is undoubtedly one of the key horror
sagas of our time.
The publisher in all five cases was Vertical,
who specializes in English translations of quality Japanese genre
fiction (including Taichi Yamada’s STRANGERS and Keigo Higashino’s
NAOKO)--and yes, as far as I know, all the books outlined below are
still in print.
Koji Suzuki commenced his saga with RING,
originally published in Japanese in 1991. It was made into a 1996
Japanese TV movie and the 1998 feature RINGU, which in turn inspired two
sequels, a prequel, a Korean remake, a 1999 manga, and of course the
mega-successful ‘02 Hollywood flick before the overdue English
translation of the novel finally appeared in 2003.
Much about the story was changed by the movies. The
book is about a guy reporter (as opposed to RINGU’S female protagonist)
investigating some mysterious deaths. He discovers that all the deaths
are connected to a mysterious videotape containing freaky, hypnotic
imagery. This leads him and a freewheeling buddy to investigate the life
of a dead psychic woman who made the tape.
If you’ve seen any of the RING films you know the
story, although it’s fleshed out far more deeply and satisfyingly here.
It turns out that the psychic woman’s unsettled spirit imprinted itself
upon the videotape, which brings death to its viewers, having been
tinged with not only the hag’s disturbed psyche but also the smallpox
The novel’s prose is simple and straightforward to the
point of annoyance, and takes some getting used to. Once the reader has
adjusted, though (which I admittedly found a bit of a chore), the
experience of reading this book is a compelling one.
SPIRAL was Suzuki’s 1995 follow-up, which appeared
in English in 2004. It’s even better than its predecessor.
In SPIRAL Suzuki cleverly deconstructs RING’S premise
by having the guy who performs autopsies on a number of the virus’
victims commencing a new investigation into the nature of the deadly
videotape. It seems the otherworldly virus has more in store for the
human race than simply the spread of disease: it means to reproduce
itself via the publication of a book written by the possessed
protagonist of RING and a subsequent movie adaptation, not to mention an
This may all sound a mite outrageous, certainly, but a
large portion of SPIRAL’S charm is the unwavering conviction of Suzuki’s
prose, and the way he carefully and methodically constructs his
narrative. The novel is marred only by what I’m assuming is a stodgy
translation that, as in RING, renders Suzuki’s prose in kiddie-book
vernacular, complete with quite a few distracting cliches.
LOOP followed in 1998, and it’s
easily the looniest book of the lot. The author, you’ll recall,
destroyed the world in SPIRAL, leaving himself with nowhere to go.
Suzuki solves the problem by positing that the events of the preceding
books took place inside the Loop, a computer program that simulates
evolution complete with life forms designed to evolve into human beings
bearing all the trials and tribulations of the “real” world.
Now it seems that one of the denizens of the Loop, the
hero of the first RING, somehow got loose in the real world, where the
Ring virus has taken the form of a deadly cancer. It’s up to Kaoru, a
wise-beyond-his-years youth, to put things right by traveling to the
Arizona desert and entering into the Loop.
This novel is irredeemably nutty, but Koji Suzuki’s
plotting is, as always, precise and curiously logical. The horror
elements of the earlier books are absent this time around, as LOOP
exists fully in science fiction territory.
It suffers, as usual, from a crummy translation. In
addition, the narrative has far too many loose ends and dangling plot
strands for comfort (such as the protagonists’ obsessive tryst with a
grief-stricken young woman, a relationship that would seem to promise
all sorts of perverse possibilities but delivers none). Fascinating
BIRTHDAY, from 1999, was the fourth entry. It’s a
short book consisting of three interrelated stories, all centered on
women characters from the earlier books and all revolving around themes
The book commences with “Coffin in the Sky.” It’s
headlined by Mai Takano, the distraught lover of RING’S hapless
protagonist. While searching for clues about the latter’s untimely
disappearance, Mai falls into a confined space and unexpectedly gives
“Lemon Heart” follows, about the early years of Sadako
Yamamura, the villainess of the RING universe. We follow Yamamura as a
young actress in a theatrical production, where she learns how to
psychically imprint her voice on an audiotape…which, as anyone familiar
with the RING mythos well knows, has profoundly horrific implications.
“Happy Birthday” is told from the point of view of
Reiko Segiura, the wife of Kaoru Futami, the hero of LOOP. Kaoru has
disappeared into the Loop, leaving Reiko alone to birth their baby.
However, she finds a way of entering the Loop so she can communicate
with her beloved one last time.
BIRTHDAY is ultimately more of an addendum to the RING
series than a legitimate addition. It is worth perusing, though, if only
to once again experience Suzuki’s far-out yet methodical imagination,
which renders truly crazed flights of fancy with the logic and precision
of a good mystery writer. Just make sure you read the previous three
PROMENADE OF THE GODS (2003) is
something of a departure from the earlier books, being a
non-supernatural mystery. Still, it does contain many RING-esque themes,
including an average joe turned amateur detective to solve a bizarre
mystery and a villainous personage who figured in the preceding RING
That personage is a guru called Kageyama, who runs a
shadowy religious cult. It seems that Matsuoka, a seemingly
mild-mannered suburbanite, has joined the cult after abruptly vanishing
one day. But that’s only a surmise on the part of his buddy Shirow, who
does his best to puzzle out the possible details of his friend’s
disappearance, and romances Matsuoka’s wife in the process.
Being the extremely meticulous writer he is, Suzuki
gives us far more information on that romance than is probably
necessary, making for a somewhat lopsided account. But for the most part
the book is a grabber, with an ingeniously worked-out narrative that
never takes an expected turn, and boasts a stunner of a climax.
My biggest complaint is with (surprise!) the
translation, which is once again done in drawn-out kid book fashion.
I’ll acknowledge that much of the problem is clearly with the Japanese
original, as is evident in the way Suzuki is constantly rehashing the
details of his story as one might for a slow or inattentive readership.
Perhaps this is part and parcel for Eastern literature, but this Western
reader found the paint-by-numbers prose tiresome.
The above aren’t the only English-language
books by Koji Suzuki. The fantasy romance PARADISE and the macabre
anthology DARK WATER are also available courtesy of Vertigo, and both
come highly recommended. However, it’s my contention that the RING saga
will be what Suzuki is ultimately remembered for, it being a series no
true horror fan can afford to pass up.