Sadako vs Kayako (2016)

Written and Directed by Koji Shiraishi

Starring Mizuki Yamamoto, Tina Tamashiro, Masanobu Ando, Elly Nanami and Runa Endo

They give us fair warning but we never listen. Don’t watch the cursed video. Don’t enter that haunted house. Don’t attempt to crossover two franchise horror stars. Actually, scratch that last one. There’s money in crossovers and we haven’t seen one this interesting since Sharktopus vs Pteracuda (that’s a real film by the film, because Syfy). In this latest horror IP amalgamation we get two iconic ghosts of J-horror coming together for the first time. It’s Sadako of the Ringu films going up against Kayako and her son Toshio from Ju-On. Whose curse is stronger?

Lets start with the plot elements and how exactly we even get these two angry ghosts together. Much like Freddy vs Jason was a Nightmare on Elm Street tale with Jason shoehorned in, so too is this the latest Ringu film featuring a guest appearance by Kayako and Toshio. The stories barely mesh well together, combining their separate threads as a last ditch effort for cohesion. When it’s over an hour into your crossover film before the two icons even step foot in the same room, you know there’s something off. It honestly isn’t even so much as a “versus” film as there is very little supernatural brawling between the pair, more the two (and a half) doing their own thing and killing off dub people.

So the plot doesn’t really work. Honestly, the overall film is a bit of a letdown considering what could have been. None of the protagonists are very likable. Character motivations are hackneyed and don’t make much sense. The scares are mediocre. There’s also a considerable lack of gore which is fine for a supernatural haunting based film but a movie with THAT title and THAT premise should be embracing its silly nature and going balls-out with the violence and entertainment. It was a misguided decision to make this film a slow paced mystery-investigation style haunted house film. Yet it also occasionally features some silly, Stephen Chow-esque cartoony effects which casts even more doubt into the film and its lack of cohesion or identity.

I didn’t hate this film though, it must be said. Despite its mind bogglingly slow pace, it’s still an interesting film to watch. The two spirits are iconic for a reason and its hard not to be enamored in seeing Sadako emerge from her well or hear Kayako’s signature croaking moan (to say nothing of Toshio’s caterwauling!). By merit alone, it registers as popcorn entertainment even if its not as silly or nutty as it should be.

Horror crossovers, by very definition, are never going to be critical darlings. They are designed almost purely as fan service and, based on that, this film succeeds. It takes too long to get going and it’s too self serious for its own good. But the long awaited confrontation is fun to watch and the concept in and of itself makes for good J-horror viewing.

Mediocre overall but ultimately watchable.

Kayako vs. Sadako is currently (as of June 2017) available exclusively through the Shudder streaming service. It is presented in Japanese with subtitles

2.5/5 Spectral Hairballs

Splatter Factor: 1/5 – Not much to be said here as most violence occurs offscreen. This is more the disturbing image category. Gore is present by way of Kayako’s typically gruesome visage in addition to some graphic neck snaps and bizarrely cartoonish “death by headbutt” (!)

The Collective Speaks: Souls exist on this mortal coil and often pass on to the Bright Land (unless we have something to say about it)… but then, what happens when a soul is released by the act of immense violence and pain? Apparently, they contest their rage in a battle of stretching, spectral hair. We are perplexed. Why would two beings of darkness quarrel amongst themselves? Do they not see this sets a negative precedent for the cat shrieking child among them? Why would they not combine their power to unleash hairfire and brimstone upon the world? Alas, the feud must occur. If we must watch this, then we will do so with malicious glee.

Behold the battle in all its glory:

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