Friday, March 28, 2008

Spiral, by Koji Suzuki

(hb; 1995, 2004: second book in the Ring Cycle; translated by Glynne Walley)

Review:

Spiral picks up twelve hours after Ring. Medical examiner Mitsuo Ando, grieving the accidental drowning of his son a year before (as well as his impending divorce from the boy’s mother), performs an autopsy on Ryuji Takayama, one of Sadako Yamamura’s videotape-curse victims from Ring, and an old medical school rival of Ando’s.

Almost immediately strange things happen: a code, seemingly sent from Ryuji from “beyond the grave”, compels Ando, and later Ando’s friend, Miyashita (an “Assistant Researcher in Pathology”), to investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the odd rash of Sadako-spawned deaths, past and present, that reveal the presence of an evolving strain of a smallpox-like disease.

Spiral is a sly sequel that uses the style and structure of the first book, while reworking its characters and elements to create something that is new. Spiral, on several levels, is an appropriate title for this exemplary follow-up to Ring.

Spiral is not without its faults – or, more precisely, its faulty characterizations. Ando, who initially seems competent and above-average smart, suffers plot-convenient bouts of inconsistent stupidity at key moments. While this is a small nit, it’s certainly a relevant one, because a writer of Suzuki’s caliber needn’t have included that unbelievable defect in Ando – all Suzuki would’ve needed to do was acknowledge, right away, the twist-facts, and then cleverly flip the Obvious Horror Moment script on its head, like he did in the best parts of the two books.

Another possible fault is how far Suzuki stretches the readers’ suspension of disbelief. He talks about genetics, spirituality, and human will – all thematic hallmarks of Ring – and almost seems to take it for granted that the reader will follow his sometimes incredibly-abstract logic to the ends necessary for Spiral to work. Maybe it’s a cultural thing – Japan is more ghost-oriented than America, judging by its horror stylings, and honoring of the past – but at times I found myself thinking: um, okay, that’s really pushing it.

Despite these nits, I was impressed by Spiral. It reminded me of the same feeling that I had when I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street creator Wes Craven’s New Nightmare – while the material wasn’t exactly fresh, its creator (now, in this case, Koji Suzuki) had revamped it, put it in a more expansive frame, and in doing so, had changed the reader/viewer’s sense of the work.

The ending, theme- and tone-wise, is similar to that of Ring, but it isn't a tired rehash – more an evolution. There are a sufficient number of twists and spine-tingling moments to be had in this first sequel to Ring to justify its existence (and a second sequel), and it stays true to the spirit of its initial book with its character-centric brand of fear.

Followed by Loop.

Two movies resulted from Spiral.

Rasen, bearing its source novel's name, was released in Japan on January 31, 1998 - the same release date as Ringu. Koichi Sato played Mitsuo Ando. Miki Nakatani played Mai Takano (reprising her role from Ringu, and later, Ringu 2, which pretended like Rasen never happened). Hinako Saeti played Sadako Yamamura. Shingo Tsurumi played Miyashita. Nanako Matsushima played Reiko Asakawa, seen in Ringu archive footage. Hiroyuki Sanada resumed his role of Ryuji Takayama, first seen in Ringu. Yutaka Mastushige resumed his role of Yoshino, from Ringu. Jojo Iida scripted and directed.

A TV series remake, bearing the same name, aired in Japan on July 1, 1999. It was a sequel to Ringu: Saishuso. Goro Kishitani played Mistuo Ando. Akiko Yada played Mai Takano. Takami Yoshimoto played Natsumi Aihara. Takao Kinoshita and Hiroshi Nishitani co-directed.

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