Sadako vs Kayako | aka The Ring vs The Grudge (2016) Review

"Sadako vs Kayako" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Sadako vs Kayako” Japanese Theatrical Poster

AKA: Ring vs Ju-On
Director: Koji Shiraishi
Writer: Koji Shiraishi
Cast: Mizuki Yamamoto, Tina Tamashiro, Aimi Satsukawa, Masahiro Komoto, Masanobu Ando, Mai Kikuchi, Misato Tanaka, Seiko Ozone
Running Time: 99 min.

By Paul Bramhall

Starting any review of Sadako vs Kayako might as well begin with a recap of the two titular horror movie franchises that they’re a part of.

As the cursed spirit of the Ringu series, this installment notches up Sadako’s twelfth onscreen appearance (soon to be thirteenth, with the 2016 release of the Hollywood production Rings). Based on a novel by Koji Suzuki, Sadako initially appeared to terrify viewers in a 1995 Japanese TV movie, entitled Ringu: Kanzenban, however the character didn’t really catch on until the release of director Hideo Nakata’s 1998 adaption, Ringu. Between 1998 – 2000 there was another Japanese interpretation on the original novel (Rasen), a direct sequel, also helmed by Nakata, a prequel (Ringu 0), a Korean version (The Ring Virus), and a Japanese TV series (Ringu: The Final Chapter). Hollywood then attempted to reinterpret the character for western audiences with a re-make in 2002, which was followed by a sequel in 2005 (interestingly, also directed by Nakata). Then all went quiet on the Sadako front, until 7 years later Japan decided to revive the black haired spirit for the social media generation, with the disastrous efforts that were Sadako 3D and its sequel, both directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa, released in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Kayako, as the equally cursed spirit that haunts the Ju-On series, almost matches Sadako for screen appearances, but not quite. There are eleven movies in the Ju-On series, with Kayako featuring in nine of them. Director Takashi Shimizu was behind the initial entries, which began with the DTV feature Ju-On: The Curse in 2000, and was followed up by a sequel in the same year. With Japanese horror becoming popular, Shimizu went on to make the theatrically released Ju-On: The Grudge in 2002, which was also followed up with a sequel the following year. Like Ringu, Hollywood decided to remake the latter entries, which were released as The Grudge and The Grudge 2 in 2004 and 2006 respectively, also both directed by Shimizu. For those wondering, yes, he’s basically made two of his movies three times over. There was a third Hollywood sequel in 2009, and during the same year two Ju-On movies unrelated to Kayako were released in Japan (White Ghost and Black Ghost). Much like Sadako, Kayako reappeared in Japanese cinemas after a several year absence with the release of 2014’s Ju-On: The Beginning of the End, which was swiftly followed by Ju-On: The Final Curse a year later, both directed by Masayuki Ochiai.

Perhaps then, much like Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees eventually ended up facing off against each other, it’s not such a surprise that a movie has been created which pits the two spirits against each other. While the concept sounds ridiculous, after all both series best entries rely more on a foreboding sense of dread rather than imaginative kills or jump scares, the fact that Koji Shiraishi was announced as director was a sign that this could be an interesting movie. Shiraishi has worked almost exclusively within the horror genre, and is the man behind such titles as The Slit Mouthed Woman (which he manages to work in a reference to in Sadako vs Kayako), and perhaps most notoriously, Grotesque, which was banned from distribution in the UK. When Shiraishi is on form, he’s a director who knows how to balance horror, both visceral and psychological, with fleshed out characters and drama.

Within the first 15 minutes of Sadako vs Kayako, it becomes apparent that this isn’t going to be one of those movies. In fairness, the blame can’t be put entirely on Shiraishi. The whole idea for a movie which sees the infamous pair facing off started as an April Fool’s joke, and eventually became a reality after momentum gained from fans demanding to make it happen. So what we have here is a movie which was supposed to be just a joke. What’s left is a lot of unintentional campiness, more contrived situations than you can shake a stick at, and characters who are so idiotic you actually look forward to the horrible death that they have coming to them.

The plot takes the form of two separate storylines that run in parallel. One focuses on a pair of university students, played by Mizuki Yamamoto and Aimi Satsukawa, who attend the lecture of a mythology teacher who’s obsessed with meeting Sadako. After listening to him explain how the original cursed video tape is considered lost, the two friends visit an old electronics store to try and find a VHS player, as Satsukawa wants to transfer her parents wedding video footage onto DVD. Of course they find an old VHS player to purchase, and what are the chances, the original video just happens to be inside the player! (Not only that, it’s then revealed that the part-time staff member just so happened to check that exact VHS the day before, to make sure it was working, and is soon throwing herself off the top of a storage unit). Yamamoto and Satsukawa innocently decide to watch the video, and in one of the movies few clever moments, Yamamoto misses it due to playing with her smartphone. Satsukawa, on the other hand, is left with the phone call signifying that she has 2 days before she dies, and is understandably quite upset about it.

Meanwhile, in the other storyline a family move next to the house that Kayako resides in, which the high-school attending daughter, played by Tina Tamashiro, finds herself inexplicably drawn to. And that’s really it for the Kayako storyline. For those who are watching Sadako vs Kayako as more of a Ju-On fan than a Ringu one, they may understandably feel as if they’ve gotten short thrift. Indeed for most of the runtime the production feels like Sadako’s show, as the script struggles to setup any meaningful narrative for the daughter, other than the fact that her classmates tell her she’s living next to a haunted house, and she feels tempted to go in.

The introduction of a powerful spiritual medium, played as a kind of Mr. Vampire-lite by Masanobu Ando, is what really sends the camp level of the movie soaring. Ando can be considered the only bona fide movie star in the production, with memorable roles in the likes of Takeshi Kitano’s Kids Return, Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale, and Miike Takashi’s Sukiyaki Western Django. Here though his twirling hand gestures, meant to convey the Japanese equivalent of Taoist magic, make him come across as more of a holiday resort magician, than someone who has a chance against a pair of undead femme fatales. Don’t even get me started on his wisecracking blind sidekick, played by child actress Mai Kikuchi, who turns in the least convincing portrayal of a blind person you’ll ever see. When Satsukawa becomes crazy and decides to upload the cursed video onto the internet (apparently for the first time, so the events of the two Sadako 3D movies seem to be being ignored), Ando realises that they have to stop the ‘curse outbreak’ before the whole world sees the video, concluding that the way to end it once and for all is to pit evil spirit against evil spirit.

So we’re setup for the confrontation that the title promises. However to get there involves a ridiculous amount of silliness. After making such a big deal of how it’s impossible to find a VHS player at the beginning of the movie, there are at least three separate scenarios as the movie progresses in which VHS players just happen to be readily at hand. On top of that, when strands of black hair start randomly appearing, the overall feeling is that the place they’ve turned up in is just in need of a good clean, rather than building up any sense of dread. The inescapable fact is that, for those of us who are familiar with the Ringu and Ju-On movies that have come before, Sadako and Kayako simply aren’t scary anymore. Both series rely on a sense of foreboding dread to build up their scares, however at this point the filmmakers have to rely on cheap jump scares and creative character deaths. Basically, they’ve become the Japanese equivalent of Freddy Kruger and Jason Voorhees.

This statement is no more evident than when Sadako makes her trademark crawl out of the TV, and the scene cuts away before she’s even finished, a move which should be considered sacrilegious for any fans of the long haired ghost. But the whole movie is indicative that the threat of Sadako is simply not a big deal anymore. The professor who’s obsessed with meeting her watches the video on purpose, and as soon as his phone rings he excitedly picks it up yelling “Sadako! Sadako, is that you!?” It’s honestly hard to tell if the scene was going for parody, or expecting to be taken seriously, but I have a bad feeling it’s the latter. Another scene feels like the script for Alien has been adapted for vengeful spirits, as one character witnesses Sadako creeping up on another from behind a jammed door, and starts yelling “Move! Get out of there! Move!” I was half expecting a motion sensor to make an appearance.

With that being said, there are some worthy moments amidst the mediocrity. An exorcism scene is particularly fun, as it crams in some creative deaths, including a fantastic head butt, delivered by an exorcist who becomes possessed by Sadako. The appearance of Toshio also delivers a couple of jump in your seat moments, however in an almost 100 minute runtime, they come few and far between. At this point in both of the series, we’re used to the fact that smart protagonists have been replaced by weakly characterised victims, who’s main job is to scream and look terrified, and Sadako vs Kayako doesn’t change any of that. Unfortunately it doesn’t even have a conclusion, as after a frustratingly short face off (which begs the question if the movie’s title is even appropriate), Shiraishi decides to hit us with a surprise ending that involves what can best be described as a CGI take on the finale of John Carpenter’s The Thing (tentacles included), and a cliff-hanger ending. It leaves little doubt that we can expect a Sadako vs Kayako 2, but what’s less certain is if there’ll be anyone that wants to watch it.

Paul Bramhall’s Rating: 5/10

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditShare on TumblrEmail this to someoneShare on Google+

This entry was posted in All, Japanese, News, Reviews and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Sadako vs Kayako | aka The Ring vs The Grudge (2016) Review

  1. Another insightful review! I never knew Ringu started out as a “TV movie” before the 1998 theatrical version. Despite lacking a plot, I always found Ju-On more entertaining (and scarier) than Ringu (judging from the first “movies” of both franchises). As far as remakes, I thought the Hollywood Ring surpassed the 1998 film.

    Looking forward to your thoughts on Weng Weng vs. Kayako!

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      I’d buy that for a dollar!

      ‘Ringu’ was one of the very first Japanese horror movies I watched back in ’99, which was a year after it came out, so it holds a special nostalgia value for me and was a terrifying experience on its initial viewing. For me the Hollywood version didn’t do anything, in fact the only thing I can remember about it is some horses running around on a boat.

      Now a Techno Warriors vs Sadako movie I’d be up for seeing!

  2. eunice says:

    I hate reviews. You should stop doing them.
    I used to love this site because it was all about action and Asian movies, but if I have to read someone I don’t even know shitting on a movie, then no, thanks.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      “…but if I have to read someone I don’t even know shitting on a movie” – the good news is that you don’t “have to”. If you don’t enjoy reading reviews and see one on the site, you can simply scroll past it. You’re welcome.

      • eunice says:

        Wow, what a childish answer, something I expect from a random kid on the internet.
        The good news is that I can still read news on this site and ignoring articles when I see your name.

        • Paul Bramhall says:

          Hi eunice, congratulations on finding a solution to the issue yourself & sharing it here (although if I wanted to be facetious, I’d argue that you’re essentially agreeing with my suggestion). This discussion has at least served the purpose to show that, what might be obvious to one person, should never be taken for granted as being obvious to another.

          On a serious note though, I hope you get to check out ‘Sadako vs Kayako’ & enjoy it more than I did. If you do, I’d definitely look forward to hearing your opinions. The world would be a boring place if we all felt the same way!

          • Jason says:

            Eunice sounds like a self entitled lonely cat lady either waiting for death or to be touched for the very first time lol… Back to your review, I think it’s precise, eloquent and maturely considered which is why I would understand how some readers wouldn’t be able to level with it. Keep it up

  3. Kyle Warner says:

    Very respectful review for a horror movie that apparently started out as an April Fool’s joke. When I saw the movie announced, I thought it looked insanely silly… but I still wanna see it. I’m a fan of both series (more Ringu). I even quite like Shimizu’s first Hollywood Grudge film and I think Verbinski’s The Ring is the best of the Asian horror remakes. But the Ringu and Ju-On series quickly went down hill, both in Japan and abroad. I mean, Sadako 3D and Ju-On Black Ghost/White Ghost are pretty damn lame in comparison to how well each series started. I think it’s like you said, the ghosts of both series aren’t scary anymore, and neither series found much new to do with the material. I’m still curious to see this and the other new films (including Hollywood’s Rings). Like Freddy and Jason, though they may not scare us quite the same anymore, sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye to well-liked horror monsters for good.

    • Paul Bramhall says:

      Hi Kyle, glad you enjoyed the review. Like you I’m more of a fan of the ‘Ringu’ series, and I agree that it’s difficult to find new directions for the material to go in. I think that’s probably the major factor why for most people, the first version of the series that audiences see will likely to remain their favorite. I feel lucky in that I watched Hideo Nakata’s ‘Ringu’ and ‘Ringu 2’ at the time they came out, so for me they’ll always be the definitive versions of Sadako. But I know many people who’s first exposure was through Verbinski’s re-make, and upon watching Nakata’s version afterwards, insisted that the Hollywood version was much better. Again, I think it’s because in many respects Sadako is a one-trick pony, if you know the movie is going to end with her coming out of the TV, you’re just waiting for it to get there. Who knows, the millennial generation who checked out ‘Sadako 3D’ may have been really into it, but it’s not really an audience I can relate to.

  4. rgv says:

    Interesting review
    More interesting comments
    Keep on writing PB
    Am a reader

  5. stigma says:

    I actually somewhat liked this movie. Sure, it was silly but what “VS” movie isn’t? I also liked that it went back to basics without any baggage from the endless sequels. This was actually more like a stand-alone movie or spinoff. You could actually watch Ringu 1 and Ju-On 1 and go straight to this movie. This is exactly the opposite of what Freddy vs Jason did. Both of these movies have their weaknesses and strong points, but those are polar opposites of each other. If that makes sense lol

    I agree that the original Ringu, and the american remake for that matter, had a sense of creeping foreboding dread and took things slow. But, you can’t seriously say that about the Ju-On (The Grudge) movies. They are literally thee epitome of jumpscare horrors. Sure, they are creepy, but there’s a jumpscare every other minute in those movies. These movies keep jumping from story to story where the main character always die… I suggest you rewatch those movies….
    No offense 😉

    But for all of this movie’s silliness, they actually did a pretty good job of making Sadako and Kayako pretty scary again. That’s a huge accomplishment!

    Too bad the movie focused far more on Sadako than Kayako. Utterly wasted opportunity. And where was Kayako’s husband? He’s pretty crucial to the story…

    Also, is it just me or does every single “VS” movie seem to favor one of the characters over the other??

    They could easily have gotten rid of the medium and thrown in much more of Kayako. i felt pretty cheated by that.

    Otherwise, a nice throwback but could have been better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *