Sadako vs Kayako Movie Review
Written by Ren Zelen
Released by Shudder
Directed by Kôji Shiraishi
Written by Takashi Shimizu (characters), Kôji Suzuki (characters)
2016, 98 minutes, Not yet rated.
UK FrightFest premiere on 27th August 2016
Mizuki Yamamoto as Yuri Kurahashi
Tina Tamashiro as Suzuka Takagi
Ami Satsukawa as Natsumi
Misato Tanaka as Ayako Takagi
Runa Endo as Kayako
Elly Nanami as Sadako
The murdered mother Kayako, with her marvellously creepy and unnatural, clicking death-rattle and blood-spattered body, crawling brokenly down the stairs of her haunted house - these were the horror images which became instrumental in creating the international J-Horror boom of the early 2000s.
The J- horror enthusiast’s version of Alien vs Predator, the Kôji Shiraishi directed Sadako vs. Kayako is, similarly to that other movie, an attempt to garner together the fans of both The Ring and The Grudge and get them to watch a bit of spooky fun which mashes up their beloved franchises.
First presented as an April Fool’s Joke, the following December it was surprisingly announced that Sadako vs. Kayako was to become reality, premiering in theatres across Japan on June 18th, 2016. The announcement was followed by an appropriately viral marketing campaign, featuring Sadako and Kayako facing off in a baseball stadium and Kayako and her son Toshio’s Instagram page! After disappointing returns for both series’ most recent entries—2012’s Sadako 3D, 2013’s Sadako 3D 2, and 2015’s Ju-On: The Final Curse – it might seem reasonable to be sceptical about such a gimmick as a crossover movie.
In the movie itself, a tech-savvy female student called Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto) attends a lecture about Urban Legends given by a professor obsessed with the ‘Cursed Videotape’ story. Shortly afterwards she and her friend Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa) attempt to transfer an old VHS tape to DVD disc and come across what turns out to be the authentic, original, cursed videotape, stuck in a dusty VCR player in a junk store.
Both Yuri and her friend Natsumi realise what they have in their possession once Natsumi inadvertently watches the tape and receives the dreaded phone call, dooming her to death in just two days. The pair enlist their college professor and urban legend expert Morishige, (Masahiro Komoto) to give them advice and help but, presumably due to his inexplicable obsession, he is strangely keen to fall under Sadako’s curse himself.
In a parallel story, high-school student Suzuka moves to a new town with her parents and finds that she is somehow drawn to the dilapidated house next door, which happens to be the erstwhile residence of the Saeki family, where the homicidally jealous husband killed his wife and son and subsequently committed suicide. Four schoolboys disappear in her neighbourhood and one night Suzuka wanders into the abandoned house looking for them and herself falls victim to the curse of the vengeful Kayako.
Meanwhile, back with the Sadako thread, things reach a climax when a priestess and her acolytes are killed trying to expel the vindictive Sadako from Natsumi’s body during a failed exorcism. Keizo, a famous exorcist and Tamao, a young psychic girl, then step in. They discover Yuri and Suzuka’s dangerous predicaments and hatch a plan to pit Sadako and Kayako against each other and force them to fight over their latest victims.
In this way they hope that the bloodthirsty ghosts may consume each other along with their curses, thus ridding the world of them once and for all. However, is this a plan that will result in the destruction of the two murderous entities, or will it engender something else entirely?
Masanobu Andô (Kazuo Kiriyama in Battle Royale) is especially entertaining as the cocky exorcist Keizo, waving his hands about like a Vegas conjurer and whispering asides to his sidekick, the blind psychic Tamao, played by the 10-year-old Mai Kikuchi.
If you are familiar with Ringu or Ju-On, you will be expecting the mandatory scenes, and you won’t be disappointed. Sadako vs. Kayako employs many of the usual J-Horror tropes and appropriates the distinctive motifs from the earlier films in the franchises – tufts of long black hair appear in unusual places, Sadako casts her evil eye, Kayako employs her classic death croak to announce her approach, and so on. As ever, the terrifying and eerie characters of the ghosts are due to the bodily contortions of the actresses that play them, particularly dancer Runa Endo and her marvellous, jerky physicality as Kayako.
What makes Sadako vs Kayako all the more entertaining is, that although it displays all of the devices we would expect, it still manages to couch them in a coherent story, having said that, the film balances the horror with wry humour. Visual and thematic homages to the past movies abound, but some fun is to be had from the film knowing exactly what it is and what it’s trying to achieve.
Sadako vs. Kayako knowingly and sardonically reminds us that these girls are being haunted by a VHS tape. It also likes to play with the nature of urban legends – poking fun at the Ringu myth - how could this 90s urban legend possibly happen in a world where VHS is a dead format? But then, of course, it finds a way that it might.
This is certainly one of the lushest looking Ringu or Ju-On movies made in a while, offering high production values. Although a jokey, mash-up version can never resonate anything near as vividly as the originals, to fans of Japanese horror, Sadako vs Kayako will offer pleasure in recognition, and succeed in delivering shocks a moment later. (N.B. Don’t miss the post-credits scene).
With all due respect to the Blair Witch, for me anyway, Sadako vs. Kayako contains the real fun horror stuff. Viewing this movie, I didn’t yawn once.