Here’s where I admit something I generally don’t talk about: I’m not the world’s biggest fan of either Ringu or Ju-On: The Grudge. Sure, I’ve seen both, and Ringu did manage to creep me out some 15 years ago now, but honestly, they aren’t franchises I revisit. The same could be said for their American counterparts. While The Ring is easily one of the best remakes of the last two decades, the initial creepiness that came from my first viewing has worn off by now, and I flat out disliked The Grudge when I saw it on opening weekend. I’m an awful person, yes.
With that said, I wasn’t all that excited about seeing Sadako vs Kayako while at Fantastic Fest, but by the end, director Kôji Shiraishi won me over with his tongue-in-cheek approach to these two now iconic horror villains. Sadako vs Kayako may not end on a strong note by any means (more on that to come), but Shiraishi clearly has a ridiculous amount of fun at the helm here, as he has a field day playing with several tropes from their respective cinematic mythologies, giving this well-treaded terrain some new twists.
Instead of taking the traditional J-horror route, Shiraishi smartly subverts any expectations we might have going into Sadako vs Kayako by going with a somewhat meta route by grounding the story within the context of an urban legends class. Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto) isn’t all that thrilled by the material she’s learning, but her
professor (Masahiro Kômoto) is consumed by the thought of proving that urban legends are real, especially a certain “cursed video tape” lore that is a part of their modern culture. Yuri is tasked with helping her friend Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa) transfer her parents’ wedding video to DVD, and since VCRs have become almost obsolete, they have to purchase one at a second-hand retailer. As you may have expected, the girls get a bit more than they bargained for with their purchase, which contains a dusty old VHS tape. Curiosity gets the best of them… and I’m sure you can guess where this is all going. Sadako is back, and she’s not leaving without claiming a few victims first.
Meanwhile, we are introduced to a young girl named Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro), who moves into her new house that just happens to be right next door to the place Kayako (and his kitty-like growl) calls home. She finds herself inexplicably drawn to the house, especially after a group of young boys go missing after daring each other to go inside the ill-fated home. Soon enough, these two storylines collide with the help of an exorcist (Masanobu Andô) and his pint-sized sidekick (the scene-stealing Maiko Kikuchi), and we eventually get the supernatural smackdown we’ve all been waiting for once Sadako shows up in Kayako’s territory and the two entities go head-to-head.
As mentioned, Shiraishi knew precisely the type of movie he was making when he crafted Sadako vs Kayako, and his humorous slant on the material serves the film rather well. Shiraishi also makes some mythology tweaks that may or may not upset Ringu purists (moving up the death timeline being the biggest aspect), but the sense of urgency with which these characters are forced to act is one of the movie’s biggest assets. Nothing ever drags here, and Sadako vs Kayako moves rather briskly, keeping the energy high and the story engaging.
My biggest issue was with the final act of Sadako vs Kayako. It feels like Shiraishi may not have had an “exit strategy” in place, making the movie’s conclusion come across as nonsensical and underwhelming. Also, if we’re being honest, Kayako gets the short stick here, as all the Sadako-related segments are far more fun and interesting than anything our favorite howling ghost boy gets to do, and that unevenness is painfully obvious throughout the film.
For the most part, though, Shiraishi’s genuine affection for these characters, as well as his desire to create something that was not only clever, but also hilarious, is apparent in Sadako vs Kayako. While it may be missing that epic feeling we’d hope for in a cinematic fight like this, it’s still an entertaining endeavor that I’d recommend to fans looking for some goofy, supernatural fun.
Movie Score: 3/5