Reviewed by Alicia Glass
Spoilers haunt your everything!
Most of us of the Horror fan world are aware of the huge J-Horror craze that went out years back, the triple threat of the films Ringu, Ju-On, and The Eye had everyone talking. And if there’s one thing the U.S. does well, or at least a lot of, is remakes. The Americanized The Ring, The Grudge and the controversial The Eye, spawned a new generation of Horror remakes, often touted as nothing other than huge epic American loving tributes, riiight, to some wildly popular Asian film. This actually turned out to be unfortunate for the American Horror market, as the remake has literally been done to death now, and many of us are heartily sick of it. Horror is the one place in the movie-making world with literally no boundaries – fear is, after all, one of the most basic human instincts. So imagine my surprise when Sadako vs. Kayako turns out to be the exact same thing, but from the opposite direction – an Asian version of the highly notable hugely popular American mashup film Freddy vs. Jason.
Generally from mashup films, at least from American ones, you can expect a certain zany feel and some comedy somewhere, and SvK struggles with that concept, because there’s never been a thing funny about either of their origin stories or subsequent films. There are a few wacky moments, mostly from the flippant priest Keizo, but of comedy there can be easily said none. But that’s not what made Ringu and Ju-On great, right?
So what do we know? The Professor in the movie, Morishige (Masahiro Komoto), teaching an urban legends class (how many of them did you know?) reminds us briefly of the origins of Kayako (Runa Endo), the rage house, a cursed house with the cat child and the contortionist ghost his mother, with her ever-creepy iconic door-closing moan, yes them. But he prefers to focus rather on the story of Sadako (Elly Nanami) and the cursed video tape, hell, he even wrote an entire book on the subject and blatantly entices students to purchase and read it during his lecture. Sadako and the cursed video, she comes from the well and shadow walks out of your television to execute those who don’t do her bidding in two days’ time, often in the most horrific way unimaginable.
Okay, so we’ve introduced the wise character who knows all about one of our opponents, now what? This seemingly-random mess begins with college student Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa) asking her friend Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto) for help with transferring her parents old wedding VCR tape to a DVD. No-one uses VCR players anymore, so they have to go to a used shop to find a deck, and sure enough, an unlabeled tattered older video sits in it already.
Meanwhile elsewhere, Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro) is silent because her family had to move recently and the house across the way, well damnit, it’s all condemned and boarded up and calls to Suzuka in the creepiest way. These moron children, wanting to rag on the runt of the group who somehow insulted their leader, send him in to the condemned house with a backpack full of rocks, and I bet you can guess how that turned out. Actually, wait. I guess we could say we found one, rather unintentional it seems, moment of humor in Sadako vs. Kayako – the small boy, insulted and put upon, trembling with borrowed rage from the cursed house, as he unerringly lobs a rock into the center of the forehead of the leader – POW.
This is kind of fast but we need to pick up the pace if we want to have origin story, current bloodshed and Sadako and Kayako duking it out in here somewhere too. Only Natsumi ended up watching the cursed video, Yuri was watching her phone, okay, sure. This becomes important later, because her voluntary sacrifice is supposed to give her more power or purity of purpose or something, I’m guessing. So Natsumis on the clock, now we’ve infected the Professor, he wants to send the girls to a Japanese onmyouji, or exorcist priest, to see if she can get the ghost now haunting Natsumi out. This is something I failed to understand, since I never thought Sadako ever tried to eat another person, Kayako did that – cursed video woman would literally frighten you to death and that was all. (However, the latest Americanized version of the Ring legacy, Rings, does address this very issue, so maybe that’s another tribute.) Doesn’t matter, onward we go!
The exorcism scene is one of the better ones of the movie, and it does get darkly wacky when Sadako rises in Natsumis body and proceeds to just wreak bloody fucking havoc with her own two bare hands. After the execution of the poor exorcist too, we’re introduced to mischievous priest Keizo (Masanobu Ando) and his little blind red assistant Tamao (Mai Kikuchi), who, for all his saucy attitude, rather reminded me of Constantine from the TV show. This is another bastardized American tribute kind of thing, because for all his bluster, just like Constantine, Keizo is still a completely competent priest and quite capable of performing exorcisms and planning to trap ghosts, all the while ready with a quick quip that makes you feel about five for asking such a question. And with the help of little red blinding hood there, Keizo hatches a daring plan – pit Sadako and Kayako against each-other in the ultimate ghost-off that will hopefully cancel out all the curses being lobbed everywhere.
This plan, too, is a very American thing to do; I can’t help thinking that Asian spirit folklore honestly wouldn’t have room for this sort of out-of-the-box thinking. And hey, it turns out that out behind the Grudge house is a disused well, what a coincidence, which Keizo and pals prepare for use as a last resort trap, just in case. Here I get to remind us the audience that Freddy vs. Jason did the same exact thing, learn the baddies origin stories and attempt to use the environment against them, and that didn’t turn out particularly stellar for them, either.
So we’ve come down to the wire and the attempt to trap a pair of ghosts that have long-spanning legacies and a string of movies to attest to this. Suzuka and Yuri will enter the Grudge house and play the cursed tape inside, thereby squaring and sharing the curses between both of them, in the hopes that when the two baddest wraith mommas come for their collective prizes, they’ll be too preoccupied fighting each-other to care much about their prey escaping. But it’s not working and Keizo proceeds to announce very calmly that one of them needs to sacrifice herself so Sadako and Kayako can merge together in her inhabited body. Think about that for a moment – these killing spirits, these onryo yurei, are going to slam together, mix their incredible power, and then eat and inhabit her living body. ‘Oh shit,’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.
This brand new entity, the utter twist of Sadako and Kayako merging, is now apparently called Sadakaya and for the most part (to me anyway) Kayako looks the most dominant in the equation. That iconic noise and the contortions, plus the prehensile hair Sadako is noted for, proceed to flat dominate Keizo and his magic, and even the blessed and sealed well can’t stop Sadakaya (also Mizuki Yamamoto) now. Everyone’s dead, or about to be disappeared-dead like they do in Ju-On, the cursed women have merged and have a brand new young body to inhabit and wreak havoc with, and a new generation of fear can be born. There’s even an easter egg way at the end of the credits, much in the style of the severed Freddy-head wink, so make of that what you will.
For something that began life as an April Fool’s joke, the fan response to Sadako vs. Kayako has been as encouraging as possible. It’s hard to do the enduring legacy of both movies justice in one mashup film, but I think director Koji Shiraishi made a fine attempt. Did he succeed? Only you can tell me if Sadakaya is the ultimate curse.
You can twist in the mashup of Sadako vs. Kayako on Shudder.com right now!