(hb; 1999, 2006: story anthology; fourth book in the Ring Cycle; translated by Glynne Walley)
From the inside flap:
"Thirty years before the tragic events of Ring, Sadako Yamamura was an aspiring stage actress on the verge of her theatrical debut. The beautiful and ravishing Sadako was the object of desire of every male at the company including the director. There was one thespian she was interested in, but. . .
"Fast forward past the events of Ring. Ryuji Takayama's distraught lover, Mai Takano, is struggling in the wake of the professor's mysterious demise. Mai visits Ryuji's parents' house to find the missing pages of his soon-to-be-published article. There she is drawn to a curious videotape and a fate more terrifying than Ryuji or Kazuyuki Asakawa's.
"Reiko Sugiura questioned the purpose of bringing a child into a world where there was only death. She had already lost one son, and the father of her unborn child, Kaoru Futami, had disappeared in search of a cure to the deadly disease that threatened all life. Despite Kaoru's promise to meet again in two months, he has not returned. Despondent but driven for answers, Reiko is led to the Loop project, where she will discover the final truths of the Ring virus."
This emotionally-resonant, genre-transmutative anthology of linked stories satisfactorily expands on, and ties up, loose narrative ends relating to the Ring Cycle.
Birthday, like all the Ring Cycle books -- Ring, Spiral and Loop -- is crisply- and gracefully-written, and worth owning.
Review, story by story:
"Coffin in the Sky": Mai Takano, a virgin, wakes up trapped on top of a roof, about to give birth to something not completely human, after viewing Sadako Yamamura's death-virus videotape.
"Lemon Heart": Daily News reporter Kenzo Yoshino, friend/co-worker of Kazuyki Asakawa, contacts Hiroshi Toyama (ex-lover of Sadako Yamamura) about Yamamura's disappearance twenty-four years earlier. In doing so, Yoshino revives a vivid past for the haunted Toyama.
"Happy Birthday": Five months after the conclusion of Loop, Kaoru Futami's Metastatic Human Cancer-infected, pregnant lover (Reiko Sugiura) discovers the heartbreaking, ultimately hopeful, truth about the Loop project and Futami's disappearance.
This is one of the best horror/science fiction series I've read in a long while -- possibly one of my All-Time Favorites (we'll see how I feel a few years, before I make that judgment).
Birthday is the basis for the anthology movie Ring 0: Birthday. Directed by Norio Tsuruta, from a script by Hiroshi Takahashi, it was released in Japan on January 22, 2000. (Hiroshi Takahashi also scripted Ringu and co-scripted Ringu 2.)
Yukie Nakama played Sadako Yamamura. Seiichi Tanabe played Hiroshi Tôyama. Takeshi Yakamatsu played Yûsaku Shigemori. Masako, who played Shizuko Yamamura in Ringu and Ringu 2, reprised this role again.