The story of The Ring is actually based on a real Japenese ghost story dating back to the 16th century. As with most films, “based on a true story” means a slight push in sales. Attaching that tagline to a supernatural film adds a layer of subliminal plausibility to the plot no matter how ridiculous it is.
The Ring may seem a bit tepid now surviving the J-Horror explosion, but the concept terrified audiences back in 2002 when Gore Verbinski helmed The Ring, a remake of the Japanese movie Ringu (Ring).
However, even Ringu wasn’t an original concept. For that, we have to travel back to the times of the Japanese samurai and an ill-fated servant girl; about 300 years.
Himeji Castle is Japan’s largest, and behind its walls many years ago it is written that a great crime took place, one of the heart. A samurai named Tessan Aoyama was smitten with his servant girl named Okiku and wanted her as his mistress. But she did not reciprocate Tessan’s affection which threw him into a rage.
Determined to get what he wanted, Tessan hatched a plan. The royal family tasked Okiku with protecting 10 golden plates. Tessan thought that if he could hide one and tell her she lost it, Okiku, rather than face a death penalty would love him instead. But Tessan’s extortion plan backfired.
In one version of the story, Okiku, more willing to kill herself than love the deviant samurai, threw herself down the castle’s large stone well.
Enraged even after death, Okiku began to visit Tessan at night. The distraught spirit believed that she had indeed lost one of the plates and could be heard inside the well counting them over and over again, even smashing them against the wall in anger.
Clad in her white funeral dress—her long dark hair soiled and stringy—Okiku would crawl out of the well to visit the terrified samurai in the early hours of the morning. She looked pretty much like the modern film version. In Japanese, these ghosts are called yūrei; a spirit who is not at peace in its afterlife.
Today, the well, now named after Okiku, still sits where it did when she threw herself into it. People have said they can still hear her counting to ten even after the castle is closed.
The fear of her haunting the castle is so real a large covering has been placed over the cistern to keep her from escaping.
This is just one version of the story, there are many. But the result is always the same; the ghost rises from the well to terrorize the castle and its inhabitants.
In 1998 Kôji Suzuki’s novel which tapped into the legend of Okiku became a horror movie titled Ringu. It was adapted for American audiences in 2002 and translated to The Ring.
Suzuki’s modernized story is a little different than the ancient one, but it still captures the haunting properties of Okiku and her troubled spirit who climbs out of a well to haunt the living.