“Sadako vs. Kayako” (2016)

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I’ve mentioned several times that I’m a sucker for crossovers and tie-ins. Even if I’m not particularly interested in the franchises involved, for some reason I become exponentially more interested if you mash them together. It’s a weird, pre-rational response. I didn’t care about Freddy or Jason at the time, but you bet I was excited to see Freddy vs. Jason with my college pals back when that was the mixup du jour. (I never did see the Alien vs. Predator ones, though. Dodged a bullet there, from what I hear.) Approached in the universally tongue-in-cheek spirit of crossovers (and fully aware of the cynical money-grab underlying them all), Sadako vs. Kayako is a lot of fun. It’s stupid and cheesy and funny and very entertaining.

The plot is paper-thin, naturally, little more than a vehicle to whisk us through the mandatory setup before the eponymous ladies duke it out. (My summary here is cobbled together from my viewing of the film in Japanese, which I still don’t speak, and Wikipedia.) On one side we have Yuri and Natsumi, two college friends taking a folklore (!) class who learn about Sadako (from Ringu) from their awesome professor. Of course they end up with the actual cursed video, and because they’re terrible students they skip a step that would have allowed them to escape the curse. They enlist their professor’s help, but even his awesome and sexy folklore knowledge is not enough. Their last hope appears in the form of a psychic named Keizo and his partner, a blind, also psychic child named Tamao. Keizo floats the idea that they pit Sadako against another powerful spirit, and hence we have Exposition Part the First.

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Still looks better than when Samara did it.

Meanwhile, another young psychic named Suzuka has encountered Kayako and her son Toshio, the vengeful spirits from Ju-On/The Grudge. They kill a few children, and then Suzuka’s family, and just when Kayako is about to kill Suzuka, Keizo and company show up to rescue her. Now united, our protagonists set about enacting their elaborate plan to have Sadako and Kayako destroy each other. The idea is that by inflicting two victims, Yuri and Suzuka, with the curses of both ghosts, the ghosts will have no choice but to, I guess, ghost-kill each other?

I’ve skipped a lot of details here, but that’s the gist of it. And as you can probably tell, it’s all just deliciously ridiculous. And it’s very, very much a Shiraishi Koji film, with especially clear echoes of the bizarre horror-spoof Karuto. That film features a powerful psychic who also happens to be an impossibly hip, bleached-haired host kind of guy, who calls himself Neo in reference to The Matrix and who has silly anime-style battles with evil spirits. In Sadako vs. Kayako we have Keizo, a similarly hip, leather trenchcoat-wearing trash-talking psychic cowboy. And like many of Shiraishi’s movies, Sadako vs. Kayako drips with ironic genre satire (to the extent that any potential for scariness pretty much goes out the window).The actual fighting between the ghosts, such as it is, comprises a very small part of the film, but it’s kind of hilarious. The ultimate showdown in the final minutes involves Sadako and Kayako running full tilt at each other and colliding mid-air, which is pretty damned ridiculous. (The results of their collision are even sillier.)

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This also happens!

So in the end, Sadako vs. Kayako is best approached, like so much of Shiraishi’s work, as a horror comedy, a deliberate and highly calculated self-spoof that requires a little bit of familiarity with both of the franchises to fully appreciate. On that level it’s moderately successful, and I’d recommend it for a silly, fun, horror-lite movie night. (Having said that, though, I still do want to see these franchises become scary again. Maybe Rings or the Sam Raimi reboot of the Grudge films will deliver, though I’m not holding my breath.)

What really made the movie for me are the numerous marketing tie-ins and promotional videos surrounding it, which abandoned any pretense of horror and embraced the inherent silliness of the crossover concept. The best part of the whole mess is the single by Japanese heavy metal legends, Seikima-II, awesomely entitled “Noroi no Shananana,” or “Curse of Shananana,” and its accompanying music video. I legitimately love the song, and it’s worth watching the whole video, which is a goofy and super-fun tribute to both franchises and by extension everything great in horror. (There’s also an English version of the song, though I don’t know if it’s an official release or a fan-made thing. Sounds pretty good, though.)

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Sadako vs. Kayako trailer!

You’ve all probably seen this by now, but just in case, check out this wicked trailer for Shiraishi Koji’s latest horror opus. While the recent iterations of both franchises have mostly been crap, I admit I’m pretty excited to see this. I hope Shiraishi-san can pull the ghost idols out of their respective slumps.

If you’re not familiar with Shiraishi-san, he’s done some great, funny, and genuinely scary films (and some truly weird ones, too). It looks like this film will go the funny route, and I hope it works. That bit where Kayako smashes Sadako’s cursed tape, and Sadako gets pissed, is pure Freddy vs. Jason-level shtick.

I interviewed Shiraishi-san a few years ago–you can check it out here. I consider his film Noroi to be among the greatest J-horror films ever (though readers may recall that he refused to talk about that film back when I interviewed him). While it seems pretty clear that Sadako vs. Kayako is going to be mostly tongue-in-cheek, I hope it will have at least a little bit of Noroi’s creepiness.