There is a long history of spooking the reader in Japan. The humid summer months are supposed to be alleviated by spine-chilling ghost stories and scary Edo Period dramas. But no particular season makes contemporary Japanese horror any less terrifying.
Koji Suzuki’s 1991 novel “Ring,” begins in a Yokohama condominium, where nobody seems aware of their neighbors existence until night, when their windows are lit up. The narrator sets the scene: “Off to the south the oily surface of the ocean reflected the glittering lights of a factory.” The fact that an industrial plant is more attractive than the sea establishes an early abnormality, a degraded physical milieu in which the grotesque can thrive.
Studying alone at home, Tomoko Oishi detects that, “The sour stench of rotting flesh melted into the air around her, enveloping her. It couldn’t be anything corporeal.” In “Ring” the sources of such emanations of evil are not rotting floorboards or sealed armoires, but TV screens, or more precisely, a videotape that warns of the viewers’ imminent death. When an investigative journalist undertakes to solve the mystery, he is drawn into rural Japan and into contact with the technopathic skills of a frightening young woman called Sadako — a character now synonymous with Japanese horror.
More than 20 years since its release “Ring” remains as unnerving as ever. People may no longer have VCRs in their homes, but they still have fear in their hearts.
Each week “Essentials” introduces a work of fiction that should be on the bookshelf of any Japanophile.