After about a hundred remakes, sequels, prequels and spinoffs it’s difficult to understand what new territory the Ring and Grudge series could possibly broach. The solution, it would seem, lies in bridging the gap between the two and forcing the vengeful spirits at the heart of each – Sadako and Kayako respectively – into a fight to the death. Together at last, like nuts and gum.
We open with a decent little bit of exposition, via a college lecture concerning urban legends. It’s a nice way to re-introduce the audience to the two demons while simultaneously filling in the gaps for anyone who somehow managed to avoid the multitude of movies they’ve inspired/starred in over the years. Excited lecturer Morishige (Masahiro Komoto) believes wholeheartedly and he wants his students to follow suit.
Two of said pupils, bored Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto) and wide-eyed Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa) look on, only to subsequently fall victim to Sadako herself after purchasing an old VCR, with a spooky tape inside, from a charity shop. Meanwhile, across town, Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro) is moving into a new home with her parents that, conveniently, happens to be located right next to Kayako’s old stomping ground. And chances are she’s still on the premises.
Sadako Vs Kayako, refreshingly, makes no bones about the kind of movie it is. Rather than wallowing in the importance with a capital I of the big bust-up, like this year’s Batman V Superman, or simply letting the fight go on in the background while characters we don’t care about run around screaming, as with Freddy V Jason, the flick establishes its wild premise from the outset and runs with it.
It helps matters considerably that the laughs come thick and fast, courtesy, in particular, of over-eager Morishige (who is just dying to meet Sadako – pun intended) and, later, the requisite paranormal odd couple in the form of leather-jacketed Matrix wannabe Kyozo (Masanobu Andô) and his red-coated, blind psychic assistant Tamao (Mai Kikuchi). The tone is consistently goofy and fun throughout, which makes the supernatural elements easier to swallow.
Of those, once again, Sadako’s mythology is stronger. She’s the focus here, and rightly so (let’s face it, Kayako isn’t particularly scary, nor does she even feature much with Toshio, who kind of sounds like a cute little kitty, taking the lead). Her presentation is better, she looks scarier, and more imposing, and her powers seem stronger. A possession sequence, during which a character breaks her own nose, is a standout while a head smushing (the only really gory moment) is cringe-inducing.
Kayako kind of gets one good kill in, but it’s in the publicity materials so it doesn’t make as much of an impact. Otherwise, she’s kind of a background character while Sadako, and her much more interesting side of the story, takes centre-stage. This may annoy Grudge purists, but it’s the best course of action in a movie as self-aware as this is, during which a character notes “Sadako didn’t call” and her iPhone (nice touch) immediately lights up with a call from an Unknown Caller (another nice touch).
It’s funny, because surely with VHS all but obsolete, wouldn’t Sadako be rendered irrelevant also? Sadako Vs Kayako cleverly tackles this head on by immediately acknowledging the demon would live online (a character later uploads the video herself, naturally). Where Kayako is kind of stuck in the house, waiting to prey on stupid, annoying youngsters, Sadako inhabits everywhere, from the VCR to, in one memorable sequence, someone’s mouth.
If only it all led to a memorable final battle, Sadako Vs Kayako would be arguably the most effective versus movie yet. But it falls apart when the two spirits finally meet, the anticlimactic battle a mish-mash of bad CGI (a problem throughout), non-existent stakes and zero scares (also an ongoing issue here). An attempt is made to do something different, and the filmmakers at least follow through with the idea, but frankly it’s all a bit of a wash in the end.
It’s a real shame because, for the most part, Sadako Vs Kayako is good fun. Yuri is a formidable Final Girl (unlike the drippy Suzuka) and she’s more than a match for the bizarrely shiny-haired Sadako (which conditioner do demons even use?). The movie’s difficulty lies with the tricky balancing act of selling us on the big final fight while also trying not to overstay its welcome. An hour and forty minutes feels long when you’re flitting between two stories and only one of them is any way compelling, but it’s a real slog considering the final battle is lacking in any real action.
Considering we’ve got Sam Raimi’s re-imagining of Ju-On, along with further Japanese sequel Ju-On: The Final and US sequel Rings all on the way shortly, there’s no lack of content starring Sadako and Kayako. However, considering it’s likely the least derivative, or needlessly earnest, of the four movies, Sadako Vs Kayako may prove to be the most effective, if not the addition with the most staying power.
WICKED RATING: 6/10
Director(s): Kôji Shiraishi
Writer(s): Kôji Shiraishi, Kôji Suzuki
Stars: Mizuki Yamamoto, Tina Tamashiro, Aimi Satsukawa, Masanobu Andô
Release: TBC (via Shudder)
Studio/ Production Co: Kadokawa
Length: 108 minutes