Suzuki Koji

Suzuki Koji

Courtesy of
Kyodo Photo Service

It sounds as if it could be one of the dozens of urban myths that constantly haunt Tokyo. After watching a mysterious bootleg video, a number of people die exactly one week afterwards. There is seemingly only one way to escape the curse - to copy the video and hand it to an unsuspecting recipient. Who made the video? Why are people dying? Would you copy the tape and pass it on - saving your own life, but deliberately condemning someone else to death?

This is the starting point of the Ring movies, a horror smash hit at the Japanese box office, and also a great success in Hong Kong. Whereas it' common for big successes in Japan to be adapted from the ever-popular manga comics, Ring is different in that it was taken from novels by a previously obscure writer, Suzuki Koji. It also inspired two sequels and a whole new genre of movies - "Psycho-Horror," now firmly established as a richly creative (and lucrative) niche in Japanese cinema.

Ring was released by Toho Pictures on January 31, 1998 and was an instant success, attracting one and a half million people on its first run. It proved just as big when released on video. Rasen ("Spiral") came out in the summer of the same year, and Ring 2 in January 1999. Whereas Western horror movies have a largely male following, Ring has been a success mostly among girls in their teens and twenties, for reasons still not fully understood.

Behind the unaccountable deaths in the saga is the curse of Sadako-san, a girl who was murdered and her body thrown down a well in a remote area of Japan. The source of her supernatural power, and its connection to the videotape, has resulted in an increasingly complex story that blends ancient legends and ghost stories with futuristic computer technology.

This nightmarish sequence of events is the fulfillment of a dream for Suzuki, born in 1957 in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and a graduate of Keio University. He won Japan's second annual Fantasy Novel Award with "Rakuen" ("Paradise"), in 1990, but really gained attention with "Ring," published in 1991. "Rasen" followed in 1995 and won the Yoshikawa Eiji Award in 1996. "Loop" was published in 1998, and "Birthday" came out in early 1999. The latter novel will be the basis of "Ring 3," which is currently under production by Toho and will be released in early 2000.

A writer's lot is never an easy one, however: During the process of writing the novels, Suzuki stayed at home taking care of two children while his wife, a schoolteacher, became the main breadwinner. A house-husband is still a rare phenomenon in Japan, and in fact Suzuki wrote a non-fiction book on this subject, describing the social pitfalls the family faced.

Unfortunately, no English translations of Suzuki Koji's novels exist, and there are no current plans to translate any. It's a shame that this sluggish industry lags behind public tastes, which hints that the books on offer in the fancy international bookstores often only represent foreigners' perceptions of Japan - and not what the Japanese themselves are getting excited about.

Nevertheless, Ring 3 is set to be another domestic success - and Suzuki's fans will be having their loose socks scared off them yet again.

John Paul Catton

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