Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Koji Shiraishi
Writer: Koji Shiraishi
Producer: Shinichiro Inoue, Jim Takagi
Stars: Mizuki Yamamoto, Tina Tamashiro, Aimi Satsukawa, Misato Tanaka, Masahiro Komoto, Masanobu Ando
Two vengeful ghosts are forced into conflict when competing curses afflict two teenage girls.
For some, “Sadako vs. Kayako” falls between “Alien vs. Predator” and “Batman v Superman” in the field of mighty movie matchups not meeting a mightier mind’s expectations. Specifically with those latter two, the marquee bout follows a bloated buildup where one can’t help wondering what’s taking so long, and who greenlit scripts where the main men don’t trade blows until end credits are almost rolling?
I get why there are those who feel the same about “Sadako vs. Kayako,” though I don’t share their disappointment. Here’s why.
If a supernatural slugfest is all anyone is after, “Sadako vs. Kayako” doesn’t have it. The two creepy crawly juggernauts of J-horror don’t pit gaping mouth against tentacle hair until nearly 90 minutes has elapsed, and the movie only runs 98. That’s a long way to go and a short window remaining for the brief battle we finally witness in the climax.
But barely living up to its title is the only serious sin committed by “Sadako vs. Kayako.” Anticipation would be calibrated more correctly if the movie were called “The Ring Meets The Grudge,” since it really isn’t about the titular women, though that alternative name doesn’t have the same snap.
Remember those “wouldn’t it be cool if…” ideas you had as a kid? Seven-year-old me brilliantly wondered, “what if someone was bitten by a vampire AND a werewolf?” for instance.
Now remember those monster mashes that played in Saturday afternoon syndication? The ones where Universal’s classic characters went at it in a shared universe that only somewhat made sense? Or when Godzilla would go up against some crazy creature and just when your imagination thought it couldn’t get any cooler, out comes a metal monster, twin fairies, or something just as wildly ridiculous yet exciting?
That is “Sadako vs. Kayako.” Someone essentially asked, “what if somebody watched Sadako’s cursed video while inside the house haunted by Kayako?” Then the filmmakers loaded up on an attitude that takes its spookiness seriously while retaining an air of carnival barker showmanship. The result isn’t the hardcore horror of icon against icon some want. But creative energy puts fun into the frights, capturing the kind of ‘anything goes’ enthusiasm that makes us want to see two franchises fused in the first place.
Fresh out of their professor’s urban legend lecture on Sadako’s cursed video, Natsumi coerces classmate Yuri into helping her transfer a wedding video onto DVD for her parents’ upcoming anniversary. This being 2016, VCRs of course aren’t readily available. So the girls hit a secondhand store and pick up a dusty old deck. Guess what they find inside the player when they bring it all home?
If I cup my hand to my ear, I can hear harrumphers harrumphing, “ain’t that convenient!” Sure. Except this is where “Sadako vs. Kayako” overcomes illogical bits by valuing entertainment above all else.
Cut corners are compensated with well-placed humor that says, “just play along.” Things are never quite comedic. The film only wants you to know that no standards are lowered by giving yourself up to a good time. You undermine your own experience by dwelling on anything in the way. Besides, is this any more unbelievable of a premise than how Freddy met Jason?
While the two friends deal with Sadako, a third schoolgirl moves across the street from the now abandoned “Ju-On” house. Visions of pale croaker Toshio soon start plaguing Suzuka, positioning her for a curse of her own.
Things get worse for everyone involved. When all hope is lost, a casual spiritualist with “too cool for school” charm comes up with a radical plan. Give the girls both curses, and let the ghosts collide over who can claim the kills. However, if Sadako and Kayako don’t take the bait to destroy each other, everyone is going to have even deadlier trouble to deal with.
“Sadako vs. Kayako” is basically a “Ringu” sequel with a dash of “The Grudge” added for flavor. While I’d argue that those who wanted the aforementioned supernatural slugfest should still sample what writer/director Koji Shiraishi came up with instead, I concede that Kayako content is scarce, which is the bigger drag for “Ju-On” fans. Hazarding a ballpark guess, I don’t think Kayako is onscreen for more than two minutes total.
Regardless, the setup is solid. It’s just that it occupies most of the movie, which doesn’t work for all audiences. There is still a story, more than one actually, so at least it never feels like the plot is padding to delay the inevitable.
Other than the title being moderately misleading, “Sadako vs. Kayako” is a biting blend of “The Ring” and “The Grudge.” In spite of contrivances and a deliberate dose of goofiness here and there, the jump scares are good, imagery is eerie, and there are enough grim moments to make for a uniquely spirited haunter. Maybe it isn’t the mashup many wanted. But maybe it’s the J-horror jam we deserve.
NOTE: There is a post-credits scene.
Review Score: 75