Sadako Vs Kayako finally pits the two black-haired ghouls in white from the Ring and Ju On: The Grudge franchises against one another, answering a question long asked by J-horror fans, “who has the ickiest hair?”
To bastardise the tagline of another movie monster mega-brawl, “whoever wins… we still won’t be able to drain the shower properly.”
There’s little worse when reading a review of a genre film to be confronted with a wall of snark from someone who was never going to like it in the first place. So I will state for the record that Ringu (Hideo Nakata’s original from 1998) is one of my favourite ever films. Definitely my favourite horror. It’s perfect in every terrifying way, and has left a damaging long-term impression on my fragile psyche *eyes TV with suspicion*. So just to reassure you, I was totally on board with this high concept tomfoolery and genuinely wanted Sadako Vs Kayako to be good. However I was also sure to adjust my expectations accordingly. The film is after all based on an April Fools joke taken 98 minutes too far. I should have adjusted them lower.
Sadako Vs Kayako is comparable to other modern creature feature beat-em-ups (Alien Vs Predator, Freddy Vs Jason, Scooby Doo Meets Kiss) in terms of being more gimmicky than remotely scary. But those films tower over Sadako Vs Kayako purely by offering competent attempts at filmmaking with a semblance of narrative arc and internal logic. Sadako Vs Kayako has nothing of the sort. Sadako vs Kayako doesn’t even make sense in the world of either of their franchises.
The unimaginatively simplistic construction does it no favours. Essentially what you have here are two bad remakes of Ring and Ju-On playing out in complete parallel to one another until a final, logic-defying meet-cute (creep-cute).
In the Ring storyline, two university students accidentally find an old VHS player in a junkshop and decide to watch the grimey video found inside for a bit of a laugh. (Bear in mind in the 21st century you have to find more elaborate ways for a character to watch a video-tape, rather than just waiting for it to come on Netflix.)
The tape contains the infamous cursed video, a phone rings announcing the coming of Sadako (via landline. Forget exorcists or rival demons, the major threat to Sadako is technological redundancy) and the students race against time to save themselves. It’s as tired and predictable as you might expect, with the only memorable moments being some ludicrous moments of gore (Ring’s palpable dread is replaced by grotesquely cheap body horror) and changes to the Ring canon designed solely to annoy nerds like me. You have SEVEN days to live after you watch the video, not TWO!?! Also making a copy of the video (the conceit of the ‘ring virus’ itself) no longer removes the curse anymore and the video itself is no longer a Lynchian work of abstract terror, more CCTV footage of an abandoned Jewson’s.
Meanwhile, a family moves next door to the cursed house from the Ju-On films. A house in which the vengeful spirits of Kayako, her young son Toshio and pet cat reside. The family’s daughter Suzuka becomes fearful of the house, especially after witnessing four young boys entering and never returning, but is inexplicably drawn to the evils within. And that’s about it for the Ju-On portion of the film.
After these two storylines play out for as long as you can stand it, we’re introduced to young hip psychic Keizo and his blind companion Tamao (the caustically rude and dispassionate 12 year old girl is the best thing about the film). Keizo is inexplicably gifted with magic fingers that can break Sadako’s evil grip – or at least remove all the hair from someone’s mouth. Even more inexplicable is Keiko’s sudden plan to thwart Sadako once and for all by pitting her against another evil spirit who lives in a certain haunted house nearby.
This leads to a hilarious scene where everyone piles into the Ju-On house, so that one Sadako cursed teenager will catch Kayako’s curse, while the other grudged-up teenager has to sit and watch the cursed Sadako video, inviting both spirits to arrive and fight over the girl’s eternal souls.
A risky plan for sure, especially as there’s no guarantee that Sadako and Kayako won’t get along quite well and decide between themselves who they get to murder. But of course this doesn’t happen, and the movie descends into a finale where the only weapons either demon can use is forcing hair down the other one’s throat. It’s deeply unsatisfying. And then it just sort of ends, and your left with the image of Sadako and Kayako ‘running’ at each other in their own clumsy, farcical way and you realise that these characters may never be scary ever again. It’s a bit like when Freddy Krueger did that music video with The Fat Boys.
So that was Sadako and Kayako, a film that was hard to enjoy even on a trash-watch level. The best thing to come from this experience though is discovering during my research that there’s an official line of Hello Kitty vs Sadako merchandise.