Sadako vs Kayako Directed by Koji Shiraishi
Written by Takashi Shimizu & Koji Suzuki
Starring Masahiro Komoto, Mizuki Yamamoto, Aimi Satsukawa, Tina Tamashiro, Maiko Kikuchi, Masanobu Ando, Runa Endo Shudder
Release date: January 26, 2017
King Kong vs. Godzilla! Frankenstein vs. The Wolfman! Freddy vs. Jason! Horror has always managed to take its greatest antagonists and pit them against one another. In 2017 Japan, the battle rages on in Sadako vs Kayako between the two most popular ghosts of the modern J-Horror scene: Sadako, the villainous ghost from Koji Suzuki’s Ring series, and Kayako, the ghost with a grudge from Takashi Shimizu’s Ju-On films. These are the two film series that helped launched J-Horror to the United States signaling a host of remakes, including Gore Verbinski’s adaptation The Ring in 2002 and Shimizu’s own remake The Grudge in 2004. Each of those films were insanely popular, grossing well over $100 million and earning sequels. The third installment of The Ring series, Rings, opens in theaters next week, while Sadako vs Kayako debuts today on Shudder, AMC’s horror streaming service.
The film opens with a welfare attendant showing up to a woman’s home. She lets herself in and finds the woman dead in front of a television, which jumps from still to snowy as a tape starts playing and we see Sadako creeping in the background… jump to a college lecture hall where the Professor Morishige (Masahiro Komoto) is conducting a survey of urban legends, including of course the murder house and cursed videotape And low and behold, he wrote a book about Sadako and said tape. Two students, Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto) and Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa), head for some food, and of course Natsumi has a videotape; her parents’ anniversary video that she needs to convert to DVD. They go to a junk store to find an old VCR/DVD recorder and they buy a dirty one with a tape already inside. There are few surprises here, but anyone watching this movie knows what to expect from the countless films in these series. Yuri convinces Natsumi to watch, but luckily turns away to receive a text while Natsumi watches.
At the same time, we watch another girl, Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro), moves with her family to a house that is right next door to the “murder house” from the lecture. As for Kayako (Runa Endo), her demon is still alive and well in that house when a bunch of kids bully a young boy into the house and all of them are picked off one by one. Suzuka is drawn to the house and the curse inside. The last resort is another seer, Keizo (Masanobu Ando), and his blind young associate Tamao (Maiko Kikuchi).
Based on the title, we inevitably are building towards a demonic showdown and honestly, I love the way they get there here. Turns out the well from the Ring films is deep in the backyard of the Grudge house. Suzuka is cursed by Kayako, and Yuri cursed by Sadako and the videotape. This enables the plan: have each girl be cursed by both spirits and when Sadako and Kayako come for them, they will battle each other instead. I mean, hey it’s essentially the plot of every BLANK vs. BLANK movie, so it’s a proven formula. Get monster A to encounter monster B and boom! And this movie gives the fans what they want.
The elephant in the room here is that the two spirits only end up battling for approximately 10 minutes and even then they’re only in the same lens about 5 – 7 minutes. So the title will likely draw in fans and raise expectations of a mega duel that doesn’t necessarily happen. At some points it did feel like two separate films being merged for the sake of the title. Despite this, fans of the two series should fall right back into the comfort zones of each. Kayako is maybe the only thing more scary coming down a flight of stairs than Regan in The Exorcist and you know Sadako is eventually climbing out of a TV. Fans of The Ring and Ju-On and J-Horror in general will likely not be disappointed however outsiders tuning in to see a classic Kong/Godzilla throwdown may feel ripped off.
Sadako vs Kayako premieres today on AMC’s horror streaming service, Shudder available through Amazon as well as Roku. Shudder, in my opinion is the best horror streaming channel around, blowing the competition away with selection and now beginning to get exclusives like this, and original content as well. Shudder is only $4.99 a month, with a yearly option as well.