Movie Review: Sadako vs Kayako

Why does this movie exist? It shouldn’t exist. Why does it exist?

If you haven’t already watched the J-horror masterpieces that are Ringu and Ju-On, then this movie is not going to be of interest to you, since it essentially is a blending of the two of them. And not even a good blending. Honestly, if you are fans of the original franchises, you’d probably be happiest to avoid Sadako vs Kayako entirely, since this movie is a total mockery of what made those movies so good in the first place.

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As you might imagine from the movie’s title, Sadako vs Kayako is a movie about the two yuurei spirits from their respective movies fighting each other because reasons. To be fair, I suppose, there is a reason given in the movie, but it’s a rather ridiculous one: after watching Sakado’s cursed tape, a young woman seeks help from an exorcist, who tells her that the best way to get rid of the curse is to bring in another curse, and have the two fight it out for possession of the woman’s life, destroying each other in the process. So they involve Kayako by watching the cursed tape inside the cursed house, summoning both Sadako and Kayako, and friends, it actually hurts me to type out this ridiculous premise.

But you know, I think I could have enjoyed this movie a good bit more, and found it less ridiculous, if it didn’t throw nearly all of the established lore out the window as soon as possible. For instance, in Ringu, it was established that if you watch the cursed tape, which is filled with images symbolic to Sadako’s life and death, you get a creepy phone call, and you’ll die 7 days later when Sadako comes to claim you. You can escape the curse by making a copy of the tape and getting somebody else to watch it, passing the curse from you to them. In the original novel (and the Korean movie adaptation), this was explained due to the curse very literally being viral, as Sadako’s psychic powers merged with a smallpox infection at the moment of her death, so the 7-day window is a sort of incubation period, and like all good viruses, its greatest need is to find new hosts. It will leave you alone, giving you immunity, if you find it a new host. That information wasn’t really in the Japanese movie adaptation, mind you, but I feel it’s an interesting piece of lore.

How does Sadako vs Kayako do it? You watch the cursed tape (or video, if you upload it to the Internet), which is completely different than the original, you’ll get a creepy phone call where Sadako actually appears for a moment, just sor of sands there creepily, and then you die within 2 days. Typically by suicide, for some reason, though at a later point in the movie, one of the cursed women tries to fill herself rather than face Sadako at the end, only to have Sadako kill her because “she’ll kill anything that stops her curse from spreading.”

I just… I’m sorry, but what? “She wants to kill you! If you try and kill yourself first, she’ll kill you for it! Because it denies her the chance to kill you!”

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My thoughts exactly, screenshot. My thoughts exactly.

Now, I will give the movie some potential credit: the change in lore might have been intentional, because one of the characters is a folklorist, and one of the major points about folklore is that information spreads from person to person, and that variation inevitably creeps in because without an original source at hand to check your facts with, that’s what will happen. Variation will happen over time and with numerous tellings, with people adding or taking away certain elements to fit their audience and their desired effect, and then that version of the story spreads and twists, and so on. So in that regard, it would be easy to handwave the changes by saying that it’s been a couple of decades since the whole “cursed tape” urban legend started, and things changed over time, and isn’t it interesting how that happens?

The problem with that theory is that Sadako herself has absolutely no reason to adhere to the changes in people’s perceptions of her story. The images on the original cursed tape existed because Sadako’s psychic energy burned them onto the film, symbolic snapshots of important events that happened in her life. The 7-day timeline, as I mentioned, was due to a viral element that was introduced at the moment of her death, an incubation period for a viral curse. In this movie, the images on the tape have all been replaced by one image of a hallway in an abandoned building, and then Sadako starts walking out from a darkened doorway. That’s it. No symbolism, no meaning, no sense. It could perhaps be argued that her viral cursed mutated, as viruses can do, but that interpretation is a real stretch, and requires you to know about the viral element in the first place, which wasn’t brought up in the original Japanese movie.

Next, Kayako’s house in Tokyo is apparently very close to the well where Sadako died. Which originally was quite far from Tokyo, so how it transplanted itself elsewhere is a damn mystery. Kayako and Toshio still haunt the house, of course, and Toshio is still associated with sounding like a cat, only the actor playing him here seems to have decided to just keep his mouth open and wiggle his tongue around a lot, because… hell if I know. It’s creepy, but it’s also senseless. Trust me, Kayako is creepy enough on her own; Toshio didn’t need to get tongue-wiggly to add to that.

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Anyway, there’s a girl who watched the cursed tape, and who doesn’t want to die at any point over the next week, let alone in 2 days, so she enlists the help of her folklorist university professor, who seems fascinated by the cursed tape story. He watches it, hoping to see Sadako, coming across as suitably obsessed. Despite apparently having a death wish, he agrees to help his student, and calls in an exorcist to try and cleanse the curse.

It seems the curse is too strong, however, and the exorcist becomes possessed by Sadako… somehow. She and the folklorist grapple with each other, and… Okay, do you know how in the original movie, when people were cursed, if they had pictures taken of them their faces would be blurred and distorted? This movie seems to have taken that a step further, since during that grapple-fight, the possessed exorcist delivers a mighty headbutt to the folklorist and…

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…transfers a Photoshop smear effect to him? I think this is supposed to be referencing the blurred faces in photos from the original movie, but this is the only explanation I can come up with for this laughable effect. And given that this is the only place such an effect occurs, understanding the reference would mean already knowing what the original movie had established, which would mean wondering why the hell so much was changed.

The first exorcist, before dying, mentioned that she had called in another exorcist for backup, one that was famous enough to get reactions from some of the characters. Which made me wonder if this character and his sidekick were from yet another franchise prior to appearing here, but if so, I can’t find anything out about them. He’s the one who gets the idea to make Sadako’s curse and Kayako’s curse stand off against each other, assuming that they will destroy each other in the process and thus remove the curse from the woman I mentioned earlier.

The idea that one might actually be stronger than the other and that the fight might still leave one standing, thus still leaving the woman cursed, apparently just isn’t something that enters into this guy’s head, apparently.

Neither is the twist ending, in which both Sadako and Kayako fall into Sadako’s well, still attacking each other, and then somehow merge into one super-yuurei and start targeting the survivors of this endeavour, and then the movie ends, and I’m sure I was supposed to be scared at some point in there, but really, I was just confused.

Sadako vs Kayako‘s biggest problem, no matter how I look at it, is that it attempted to take two franchises and meld them. But in so doing, it destroyed so much of what had been previously established. Had it been a standalone movie about someone falling under a curse and someone coming up with the idea to pit two curses/ghosts against each other in an attempt to remove the primary curse, then honestly, I think it could have done okay, could have been better received. Getting two yuurei to fight each other was, admittedly, a rather original approach, one that I hadn’t seen done before in all my years of watching Asian horror movies. Had it been done with original characters and an original setup, it might have been an entertaining and creepy movie. Instead, it just felt like a visual representation of everything people hate about fanfiction.

There’s a reason that the announcement of this movie was originally taken to be an April Fools prank. It lived up to expectations, but not in a good way. And now I need to somehow purge it from my memories.

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One comment on “Movie Review: Sadako vs Kayako

  1. Pingback: January 2020 in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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