Like James Bond, arriving to thwart the schemes of megalomaniacs with “the tedious inevitability of an unloved season”, so too do the implacable spirits of J-horror keep coming back to darken our doors and electronic devices.
In their case, it’s usually to score a few more box-office bucks while dragging unfortunate souls to hell. After all, if the Hollywood version could have its reboot (2017’s Rings), then why not The One That Started It All – Japan’s own Ringu?
And in the case of Sadako, the latest attempt to continue the Ringu cinematic saga that began in 1998 (the book it’s based on came out in 1991 and the first adaptation, for TV, in 1995), “tedious inevitability” is an apt description.
To be honest, I have long since lost track of Sadako’s on-screen hijinks. And Sadako doesn’t seem too worried if series diehards, dabblers or newcomers are viewing it. Even with original Ringu helmer Hideo Nakata back in the director’s chair, Sadako spends too much time wallowing in the series’ well-worn tropes instead of striking out in new directions.
Although the relentless soul-eater Sadako has now ventured from videotape to the Internet, Sadako the movie wastes every opportunity to get creative with the possibilities held out by the notion of cyberspace hauntings.
It revolves (partly) around psychiatrist Dr Mayu Akikawa’s (a wide-eyed Elaiza Ikeda) efforts to reach an amnesiac, anorexic child (Himeki Himejima), whose mother torched their apartment because she was convinced the girl is the reincarnation of Sadako.
In a parallel plotline, Mayu’s brother Kazuma (Hiroya Shimizu) – a YouTuber specialising in outlandish videos, hoping to hit viral paydirt – decides to make a “scary urban experience” video in that very same fire-ravaged home. (He may be a ’tuber, but you won’t carrot all what happens to his dumb @$$.)
To cut a short story even shorter, Sadako does not deviate from the formula of its predecessors and, if it had been made before, say, 2005, it would be a passable horror entry.
But in these more cynical days of post-truth and hijacked narratives, fake news and cybertroopers, it just stands as a monument to wasted opportunity. It doesn’t even try to venture beyond the confines of its settings to see what happens if the curse really does go viral.
With Nakata staying firmly within his comfort zone, Sadako just ends up as a cookie-cutter clone of the films that came before it.
From the little I know of the Koji Suzuki novels that inspired these films, the later books expanded on the cursed videotape premise, bringing in a virus, reincarnation, supercomputers and hybrid beings.
By harping on just one small aspect of all that rich source material, the film series clearly shows a lack of ambition – underestimating its audience while overestimating its own ability to hold our interest by simply splashing about in the shallow end of the pool.
Director: Hideo Nakata
Cast: Elaiza Ikeda, Himeki Himejima, Hiroya Shimizu, Takashi Tsukamoto
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