Genre: Japanese Horror, Dark Science
Author: Koji Suzuki (1995)
review in one breath
Spiral is the second of author Koji Suzuki's four Ring-related books. It follows a relatively brief period in the life of medical examiner Mitsuo Ando, from the day he performs the autopsy on Ryuji Takayama (from the first novel) to the full-blown unleashing of the Ring Virus into the world. This is another page turner in Suzuki's highly readable and engaging storytelling. It offers a complex and riveting unveiling of the darker powers and intent behind Sadako Yamamura's video tape curse of the original novel.
Author Koji Suzuki has written four books dedicated to the Ring horror tale. The first three novels, written over the seven year period from 1991 to 1998 are widely referred to as the "Ring Trilogy" and chronologically extend from the discovery of the cursed video tape to the meta-narrative's conclusion. The fourth book, written only a year later, is a collection of three short stories, each providing further details on specific points within the larger Ring time line.
The four novels in Suzuki's Ring series are:
(As you well know) Internationally circulated films have been based on the novels Ring and Spiral, as well as on one of the short stories from the Birthday collection. In 1998 director Nakata Hideo directed the first adaptation of Suzuki's novel to film with the genre-busting hit Ringu. Later that year Suzuki's second novel, Spiral/Rasen was adapted as a Ringu sequel, this time by director Joji Iida entitled Rasen. But the sequel fared very poorly at Japanese box offices, to the point that director Nakata determined to salvage the Ringu film franchise by directing his own different sequel which he entitled Ringu 2, thereby alleviating any doubt amongst movie goers as to which film is the "true" sequel.
But it is in fact Iida's film which is based upon Suzuki's second novel, while the storyline offered in Nakata's sequel bears no resemblance to anything appearing in any of the Suzuki's Ring novels. Thus despite the promotional hype and naming strategy employed by Nakata, audience members interested in seeing films based on the actual Ring novels should look to Iida's film for clues and may bypass the Nakata sequel altogether since it has no relation to Suzuki's narrative.
Rasen (the book) and Rasen (the film)
As with the first novel Ring and Nakata's film adaptation, significant differences exist between the original story by Suzuki and what appears on the screen. Suzuki's novels are rightly categorized as works of horror, but they are also much more than this. All of the tales in Suzuki's "Trilogy" are primarily investigative tales brimming with either technology or science. In the first novel, we literally follow the chain of discoveries by investigative journalist Kazuyuki Asakawa and his morally questionable side-kick Ryuji Takayama. In Spiral/Rasen, for the most part, the entire cast of characters changes as we follow medical examiner Matsuo Ando and his co-worker Miyashita down VERY mysterious and dark trails dealing with human genetics, viruses and pandemics. In the third novel Loop the characters once again change, this time introducing the science-minded medical student Kaoru Futami as he investigates the cause and possible cure of a global Ring-induced cancer epidemic.
The investigate nature of these tales, along with Suzuki's very satisfying writing style and his penchant for scientific detail provide for a very engaging read which you'll have a hard time putting down.
But I find very little of this truly suspenseful endeavor carried over into the films. And this is certainly the case when comparing the novel to Iida's film Rasen. True, Iida gives reference to some of the novel's central premises, but the tone and impact of the two works seem miles apart. In the FILM, the character Ando is suicidal, prone to weird visions of (dead) Ryuji Takayama, is consistently being fondled or licked by some mysterious female, and inevitably watches the cursed video tape. In the NOVEL, however, little or none of this takes place. Ando's sad emotions do not rule his mind, the dead Ryuji remains dead and does not appear to him, his brief seduction by the lovely dark maiden is not a major part of the storyline, and he lays neither hand nor eyes on any cursed video tape.
So if Iida's film purports to be based on Suzuki's novel, why the major discrepancies, you ask? Simply because the tales told in Suzuki's novels are too intricate, rely on a series of well developed facts of discovery and science, and in the end do a much better job of relating the tremendous power of the curse he has introduced you to. Iida's film likely represents only 30% of what is taking place in the novel and differs in several key places (like the conclusion). Perhaps like most films based on novels, it remains a consistent truth that the novels (which inspired the directors) are always better than the films and that the written tale opens up a much broader and textured world than any visual remake can encapsulate in 90 to 120 minutes.
I can wholly recommend this as a good read irregardless of the number of times you may have seen the film Rasen. I myself had seen the film several times prior to reading this and watched it again afterwards for good measure, and I remain thoroughly impressed with Suzuki's writing style and his ability to make the reader want to follow, page after page, through his labyrinth of scientific horror.
I'm now about halfway through the third novel, Loop and will be writing something about that soon. But in the meantime, Summer is slowly headed our way. As you give some thought to your reading list for the Beach, I suggest you keep these Suzuki books in mind. At the very least, you'll learn a lot about genetics, encryption, viruses, and how easily it is to rock the boat of human existence should a little thing like genetic mutation come along...