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Mixing film franchises is nothing new at the movies and within the horror genre, has produced a number of box office hits, most notably the Freddy versus Jason crossovers. Here, it is Japanese favorites Sadako of the Ringu series (The Ring in the US) and Kayako of the Ju-on franchise (The Grudge in the US), and while their film’s popularity peaked well more than a decade ago, the characters have become some of the most beloved in the genre.
After a brief intro where a woman checks in on an older person and discovers the lady has offed herself in gruesome fashion and then promptly does herself in when the ghostly Sadako appears (hair gleefully still in her eyes), we skip to two college girls attending a lecture by professor Morishige (Masahiro Komoto) teaching about superstitions but claims he believes the one concerning a video tape that after watched will kill the viewer in two days (changed from seven in the original series). He says it’s real and asks anyone who knows of such a tape to give it to him. Later that day, these girls, Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa) and Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto), go to a local thrift shop and purchase an old VHS player and bring it home where they discover a dusty worn out tape inside. Naturally, they play it and sure enough, it’s the tape. When it’s over, Sadako pops in for a quick jump scare, the phone rings and the countdown starts.
We then meet high school girl Suzuka Takagi (Tina Tamashiro) who recently moved into a house next to a rundown and abandoned estate that happens to be where Kayako keeps to the shadows, luring in prey whenever possible. Suzuka is inexplicably drawn to the house and its horrors.
Meanwhile, Natsumi and Yuri bring the tape to Morishige and he, thrilled by the prospect, immediately plays it. His phone rings but Sadako is no a show but he’s convinced he’s cursed now as well, something he seems to actually want. To help Natsumi, who is targeted, he takes her to an exorcist who in turn calls in a Spiritual Medium named Kyozo (Masanobu Andô) and his little blind kid companion. Seeing no other way to stop the murderous Sadako, he decides in order to fight an evil spirit one must use an evil spirit. Time to get Kayako on the job.
Directed by Kôji Shiraishi, Sadako vs Kayako is a surprisingly effective little thriller with a fair number of solid frights though is light in comparison to the originals that had all of us sleeping with the lights on and refusing to ever use our VCR’s again. What Shiraishi is more interested in is pure horror entertainment, stuffing his film to the rafters with tons of fan service for each franchise and loading up on the body count in clever and increasingly ridiculously fun ways. While both series are known for their slow reveals and tension-building plot lines, here, it is virtually a conveyor belt of jump scares and creepy deaths and it’s the right move. In a film titled Sadako vs Kayako, we’re not looking for subtly or nuance. We want a battle.
To be fair, it is a long set up before the two spirits come face-to-face, but up to that point, the two, independently of each other keep themselves busy and how these two spirits are introduced to each other is smart and admittedly a little spine-tingling if you’re fans. What Shiraishi also does well is keep the fun this side of parody, raising the graphic violence up a notch and adding a level of contemporary accountability by putting modern technology and the internet to effective use. Humor is born from situations and never as result of a punchline.
Sadako vs Kayako won’t scare the bejeezums out of you, though you might jump a few times. Mostly you’ll smile at the memories and the clever ways the filmmakers smash up these brands. What it does best is pay respect to the originals while giving them a fresh spin. Blunt, fast-paced, and often chilling, this is a well-made film that should do just what it intends for those invested. Just make sure to find a copy with subtitles as the English dubbed version is a painfully dull experience.
Movie description: Sadako vs Kayako is a 2016 Japanese horror film that combines the iconic vengeful spirits of two classic movie series and has them fight.
Director(s): Kôji Shiraishi
Actor(s): Mizuki Yamamoto, Tina Tamashiro, Aimi Satsukawa