Like the Grudge series, the American and Japanese versions of the Ring start off similar but later are dramatically different from each other. In this case, the American version had two movies, and the Japanese had three movies and a television series. Today however I will just be looking at the movies themselves.
This is the plot to the Ring 1: Several people see a videotape of a well and other disturbing images which kills them exactly seven days after viewing it. A young woman Rachel (Reiko in the Japanese version), her son Aiden (Yoichi), and her ex-husband Noah (Ryuji) see the video and discover that the videotape was created by Samara (or Sadako in the Japanese version), a girl that was murdered in the well. After the ex-husband dies, the mother realizes that the only way to escape the curse is to copy the videotape and show it to other people.
Both the Japanese and American versions are almost exactly the same, although I have to say that Samara is a great deal more creepier and interesting in the American version. There is also a sub-plot in the Japanese version where the ex-husband is psychic, which is pointless in the first film but does become relevant in the sequels.
The American version of the Ring 2 revolves around Samara wishing to possess Rachel's son Aiden so she could be reborn in the real world. This film mostly received negative reviews, mostly due to the plot holes, and some parts being pretty obvious. It also failed to capture the fear that was created from the first film.
But the sad thing is, this is a far, far better sequel to the Ring series when compared to the Japanese versions. Say what you want about the sequel, but at least it respected the first movie and it was for the most part logical. This really surprised and disappointed me, because I was really expecting the Japanese versions to triumph. But, let's have a look.
The first sequel to the Ring in Japan was called Rasen (or Spiral) and was released at the same time as the Ring 1, a marketing ploy that spectacularly backfired. The plot is (sigh) this: The curse of the Ring is actually a scientific virus that passes from the tape and causes tumors to grow in the throats of victims. The only way this can be cured is by having the tape copied. All the main characters from the first film are killed in a convenient car crash, and it's up to Ryuji's former girlfriend Mai and a suicidal doctor to destroy the curse once and for all. And I haven't even gotten to the cloning yet and the fact that Sadako is in her mid-twenties so she can....
....yeah. Anyone who's played F.E.A.R 2 knows where this is going.
Suffice to say, this movie was a disaster and was later dubbed 'the Forgotten Sequel.' As the name implies, people tried very hard to forget this movie and created another sequel called the Ring 2. Which is better....slightly.
This time Mei, Reiko, and Yoichi are back in the Ring 2 (which is nice of them seeing how they all kind of died in Rasen). This one very slightly follows the American version with the respect that Yoichi is now possessed by Sadako, who wants to be reborn. The main problem is that half the time I can't understand the motivations of most of the characters! For example, in this film, Reiko and Yoichi spend the first half hiding from the authorities because um....and there's a scene when a guy refuses to watch the cursed video tape he asked for even though it would save someone else because....um....and the grandpa dies because he refuses to pass the video tape to someone else believing that he's stopping the curse even though there are more copies because...err.......
I genuinely tried to ignore as many plot holes as I could, until I discovered how they planned to remove Sadako's spirit from Yoichi. In the American version, Nicole Watts simply drowned Aiden until the spirit eventually fled, and then she revived him. Somewhat shockingly abusive, but effective. In the Ring 2-they decide to hook up Yoichi to a swimming pool in the hopes that he will become angry enough and the curse will be absorbed by the water via power cords.
I know I can see this plan working!
There's just one more movie in the series, which is the prequel Ring 0 Birthday, which talks about Sadako's high school days. There's actually not a lot to say about this movie. Out of the entire Japanese series, this is the one most consistent, but it's not exactly groundbreaking. In fact it's very similar to Carrie in terms of story and characters. It is a little creepy, and might be worth looking at just for that.
So that's my overview of the Ring movies. My recommendation? Watch the American version-it makes more sense!
And don't get me started on the novels where it turns out the ghost is a hermaphorite.....