The film begins with two teenagers, Masami (Hitomi Sato) and Tomoko (Yuko Takeuchi) talking about a videotape recorded by a boy in Izu which is fabled to bear a curse that kills the viewer seven days after watching. Tomoko then reveals that a week ago, she and three of her friends watched a weird tape and received a call after watching it. Unnervingly similar to the storied videotape, Masami realizes that Tomoko was fated to die. After some unsettling moments, Tomoko mysteriously dies with Masami having the horror of watching.
Some days later and Asakawa Reiko (Nanako Matsushima), a reporter investigating the popularity of the video curse among teenagers, discovers that her niece, Tomoko and her three other friends mysteriously died at the same time on the same night with their faces twisted in a rictus of fear. She also discovers that Masami, the girl who was with Tomoko when she died, went crazy and is now in a mental hospital. After stumbling upon Tomoko's photos from the past week, Reiko finds out that the four teenagers stayed in a rental cabin in Izu. Eventually, she flips to a photo of the teens with their faces blurred.
Later, Reiko goes to Izu and finds an unlabeled tape in the reception room of the rental cottage where the teenagers stayed. Watching the tape inside Cabin B4, Reiko sees the tape containing a series of seemingly unrelated disturbing images. As soon as the tape is over, Reiko receives a phone call, a realisation of the tell-tale videotape curse. Then on, she now assumes that she has a week to live.
On the first day, Reiko enlists the help of her ex-husband, Ryuji Takayama (Hiroyuki Sanada), who watches the tape. A day later and Reiko creates a copy for Ryuji for them to study. They find a hidden message embedded within the tape saying that "if you 'shoumon' on seawater, the 'boukon' will come for you." The message is in a form of dialect from Oshima Island. The two sail for Oshima (after Asakawa's son watches the videotape) and discover the history of the great psychic Yamamura Shizuko.
With only a day left, Reiko and Ryuji discovered that Shizuko's lost daughter, Sadako, must have made the videotape. Determined, the two go back to Izu with the assumption that Sadako is dead and it was her vengeful spirit that killed the teenagers. The duo then uncover a well under Cabin B4 and realize, through a vision, that Sadako's father killed her and threw her into the well. They try to empty the well and find Sadako's body in an attempt to appease her spirit. Reiko finds Sadako's body. When nothing happens to her, they believe that the curse is broken.
All seems fine until the next day when Sadako crawls out of Ryuji's TV set and kills him. Desperate to find a cure to save her son, Reiko realized what she did that Ryuji didn't, thus saving her: She copied the tape and showed it to him. With a VCR and Ryuji's copy of the tape, Reiko rides to her son in attempt to save him, realizing that this is a never-ending cycle: The tape must always be copied and passed on to ensure the survival of the viewers.
It garnered mostly positive reviews; Rotten Tomatoes lists it with a freshness rating of 96%, 23 of 24 reviews were positive. IMDb currently has an average rating of 7.6/10.
Critics praised the film for creating a spooky atmosphere. Michael Thomson of BBC films rated it 4 out of 5 stars, saying: "Its story is constructed around a beautifully simple idea, that those who watch an extremely unnerving, grainy video (and receive a phone call immediately afterwards), will die exactly one week later, always with a severely twisted, freaked-out expression on their faces. Christopher Null of filmcritic.com said, "Ringu is very atmospheric and often creepy, especially in its last half hour, but it's hardly chilling enough to keep you up at night.
The international success of the Japanese films launched a revival of horror filmmaking in Japan that resulted in such pictures as Kiyoshi Kurosawa's 2001 film Pulse (known as in Japan), Takashi Shimizu's (2000), Hideo Nakata's , also based on a short story by Suzuki), and Higuchinsky's Uzumaki (2000, aka Vortex, based on the Junji Ito horror manga of the same name).
Most of the Ring stories also appeared as manga novels.