Sadako Vs Kayako

Sadako Vs. Kayakosadakovskayako
Released: 2016
Directed by: Koji Shiraishi

I don’t know why we love to take cultural titans and pit them against each other so much. What is it about characters who are able to dominate their genre so well that makes us want to watch them compete for our attention? From Batman V Superman to Freddy Vs. Jason, and all of the Godzilla Vs Monster-of-the-Day films, this has long been a tradition of film making. This time, it was the chance for some of our favorite Japanese ghost ladies to take the spotlight.

Sadako Vs Kayako is as much of a mess as you’d expect it to be, and you’ll love it all the more for that.

Sadako Vs Kayako begins its story with friends Yuri and Natsumi; after attending a class discussing urban legends, including one involving a cursed video tape, Yuri finds herself roped into helping Natsumi with a VHS transferring project she’s working on. When they go to purchase a VHS player from the store, they find it already has a tape inside. Curious, they decide to give it a watch, and soon wish that they hadn’t.

With Koji Shiraishi, the director of the film Noroi: The Curse, at the helm, this film was a tall order to fill. Not only is Noroi one of my favorite horror films made, but Sadako and Kayako are venerable icons of horror. Their depictions would not be without criticism if it wasn’t handled correctly. And while the characters themselves are serious, the concept behind this film initially started as a joke, as was most of its promotion. Clearly, there was a line that needed to be walked when it came to the tone the film needed to project – just how seriously should it take itself?

To be honest, I think the balance in the tone was the best part about this movie. Some of the failed attempts at these match ups have either taken themselves far too seriously (Batman V Superman), and sucked the fun out of the concept, or not taken themselves seriously enough (Freddy Vs Jason), making it impossible to care much about the outcome. Sadako Vs Kayako knows it’s a ridiculous film, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to try and make you care about its characters. But just when you begin to fall into the trap of treating this like a normal horror film, something will remind you of what a joke it all really is, and it will allow you to laugh and break the tension. The film isn’t trying to be anything more than what it is, and it makes the whole experience an enjoyable ride.

Yuri is the main character, and she is a good one to anchor the story. After making the initial mistake of insisting they watch the unmarked video tape that came with the VCR she and her friend, Natsumi, purchased, she becomes distracted and doesn’t actually witness the tape. This is an interesting character choice, because it immediately gives her a way out of the story’s chaos, yet she chooses to stay involved. She endears herself to the audience by being smart and savvy enough to make some of the correct immediate choices: contacting a professor whose expertise is in urban legends, and then working with several paranormal experts/exorcists, using every resource she can to combat the curse on her friend’s behalf. She then earns the audience’s further affection by choosing to become cursed in an effort to save Natsumi. By characterizing Yuri this way, the film actually makes you care about her and want her to survive.

Don’t let your sympathetic main character fool you into thinking that this film isn’t over the top, though – there are more than enough characters making stupid decisions to balance out our more rational Yuri. Natsumi makes potentially apocalyptic choices midway through the movie, and their attempt at an exorcism is performed by amateurs who mostly recite Harry Potter spells. Keizo’s entire character has a bravado that is hard not to laugh at, and is performed with such audacity by the actor that it somehow works.

The decision to keep Sadako and Kayako from appearing too much until the very end was actually a very wise choice, because it allows the tension to build, and for us to spend time with our human characters and get invested in their survival first. And wanting our main characters to survive is the whole basis of the ghostly showdown, which gives it a purpose within the plot. Plus, the more time we spend waiting to find out exactly how Sadako and Kayako are going to meet, the more amped you feel when you finally reach the time for everything to come to a head. The battle between them doesn’t last very long, but I wouldn’t say it’s disappointing either – the movie throws a handful of very good visuals at you, and then resists the urge to turn it into a total blowout.

The biggest criticism I have of the film is the changes it made to the mythos of the characters. As I understand, some things perhaps needed to be changed due to this being something of an unofficial spinoff (such as the contents of the tape itself), but others felt a bit more baffling. Sadako’s curse lasting only two days was purely a way to speed up the pace of the film, and felt like a confusing and unnecessary change. The use of Toshio felt off as well – while there is a logic behind him targeting the bullies early in the film, he is rarely a character that is particularly violent in previous appearances, and yet he kills more characters in this than even Kayako does.

Overall, this movie was a great surprise in how much I enjoyed myself. You’re not going to witness any groundbreaking writing, characters, or cinematic achievement, and that’s okay. It avoided the danger of turning this into a supernatural cat fight, and showed a good reverence for its titular characters while still offering camp in spades.  It makes for a fun movie night with friends, especially if you want to discuss whether or not there’s any actual “winner” to this match up.

Rating: 3 out of 5. A super fun and enjoyable ride. Watch it!

Violence level: There’s about what you’d expect if you’ve seen any previous Ju-On or Ring films. Perhaps more decapitation than I remember happening in them previously, but this film had to up the ante somehow.

Scariness level: Sadako and Kayako are creepy as ever, made less so mostly by the silly context of the film more than anything. The new version of the cursed video tape used in this is unfortunately far less creepy than any of its other counterparts, which was disappointing. Toshio manages to be more creepy in this than usual, because he takes a more active role in the hauntings than previously.

Bechdel test: Passes! Yuri and her friend discuss the video and Sadako quite a bit.

Mako Mori test: Most of Yuri’s story starts as wanting to save her friend, and then to save herself, so yes.

Posted on January 24, 2017, in Films and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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