Sadako vs Kayako Review (2016) | The Ring vs The Grudge

Sadako vs Kayako Review (2016) | The Ring vs The Grudge

English Title Sadako vs. Kayako
Japanese Title Sadako vs. Kayako
Kana Title 貞子 vs. 伽椰子
Director Koji Shiraishi
Release Date 2016
Distributor Kadokawa
Series Ringu, ju on
Sub Genre Ghost

“Whoever wins, we lose”. A tag line designed to evoke the terror of two titans of sci fi horror coming together for the first time. As time has gone on however it’s come to stand as an ironic statement regarding the triteness of a great number of vs. movies. As recent as last year we received Batman vs Superman with horror. A film which despite almost a century’s worth of source material to draw from failed to please almost anyone. So now we have Sadako vs Kayako. The two queens of j horror, both of which have seen much better days than the past decade have afforded them. It’s reasonable to say that expectations were very low. So how is it?

The film follows two separate narratives. One part Juon sequel, and a slightly larger ringu meta-remake. Both stories featuring their own protagonists, neither of which meet for long enough to say much of anything to each other. Two friends Yuri and Natsumi find themselves enveloped in Sadako’s grip after finding the infamous cursed video at a second hand store. Desperately searching to a way to escape grisly murder at the hands of Sadako they enlist the help of Keizo Tokiwa who convinces them that sometimes two curses is better than one. Meanwhile Suzuka Takagi has moved in opposite the haunted Kayako house from the Ju-on franchise. Experiencing nightmarish premonitions regarding the disappearance of 4 young boys she finds herself drawn to the haunted house of horrors.

Ringu is already quite the chronologically confused series. With four separate adaptations of the original novel, a sequel once removed, then reinstated in to continuity replacing its own replacement. Not to mention two sequels following on from said sequel Rasen which in the West has never been seen as the official ‘sequel’, and then a prequel which acts as a prequel to all timelines, and you can say the series is pretty darn muddled.  So, along comes Sadako vs Kayako and despite referencing past ‘Sadako’ curses the rules are now completely different, giving victims only 2 days instead of 7, and a completely different videotape, portraying none of the tragedy that makes up the backstory of Sadako.

Does it hurt this movie as a standalone experience? Not necessarily, and it seems entirely possibly Shiraishi intentionally tore up the ‘rules’ of the series in order to strengthen the urban legend aspect of the story in which there is no ‘true’ interpretation of the curse.  But while it doesn’t exactly harm the movie, it does lessen its intent, which is supposedly ‘Sadako vs Kayako’, because this isn’t the Sadako we knew from the past movies. That said, would viewers want the Sadako that left off from Sadako 3D 2, or Ringu 2? Honestly, it doesn’t really matter, but it’s worth making fans aware that again, continuity barely applies with this movie.

Initially the Ringu and Ju-on sides of the story have little to do with each other, with most characters on each side being little more than a revolving door of victims. It’s no understatement that the film has more death scenes than almost every movie from each franchise and with the run time being split between two different ghosts Shiraishi makes sure to hit the requisite ‘horror moments’ of each series often and consistently, cutting out all the fat and investigation in between. This doesn’t exactly make for the classiest of horror films, or even scariest, but it does it does make it easily the most ‘fun’ film of either series.

That said, having Kayako murder 4 ten year olds in the space of 2 minutes and Sadako causing serial suicides by neck snapping and throat stabbing isn’t what makes the film as entertaining or energetic as it is. It’s Koji Shiraishi’s directing. The past two or three entries from both franchises have for all the world looked like DTV movies that not even the late Halloween and Friday the 13th sequels stooped to. It’s ironic then that a director mostly known for found footage movies is the one to kick some cinematic life back in to these two corpses. It’s because Shiraishi knows horror, and leaning on urban legends and teen slasher tropes reinvents old tropes and clichés in a way that makes them entertaining if not scary. It’s clear that Sadako vs Kayako doesn’t take itself as seriously as the original Ringu or Ju-on, but nor does it poke fun at either movie, instead finding a nice middle ground. It’s clear as day popcorn horror for better or for worse.

For the first hour or so Sadako vs Kayako tonally feels like a late 90s American slasher film, ramping up the death count and doubling down on the urban legend nature that would naturally arise if both franchises were to exist in real life. This is set up in the first five minutes as the cursed videotape is compared to ‘real life’ urban legends Akamanto, Hanako and Kuchisake Onna. Given Koji Shiraishi’s obvious love for urban legends having directed Kuchisake Onna and two Teke Teke movies, there’s surprisingly some passion behind a project that on paper would be viewed as a cash in.

But the film evokes 90s slasher films more than just in content but also style. Given that the original Ringu was one of the nails in the coffin on the 90s slasher revival it’s interesting to see a Sadako film that seemingly intentionally follows the style of those movies. Sadako vs Kayako jumps from an opening murder, straight to hip teens in a lecture gall learning about urban legends. Cue a group of kids standing outside the old Meyers, uh hum, I mean Kayako house where those murders took place 20 years ago. It’s a narrative progression straight from Urban Legend, Scream 2 and Halloween H20, and also shares the teen horror lens of those films.

As for the title fight? Honestly, there isn’t really much of one but it was to be expected. Unlike Freddy vs Jason the Sadako vs Kayako fight being ghosts could not possibly pack the same visceral punch or brutality for it to last more than a few minutes. Similarly, again with the twisting of canon the mcguffin created that enables the two title characters to fight isn’t something that has ever been present in the rules of either series up until now, but with the seeming abandonment of previous continuity doesn’t cause too many issues.

Sadako vs Kayako isn’t a film that is going to please everyone, but it’s a clear upswing for the two franchises, not to mention a j horror scene that has had a pretty rough decade. Koji Shiraishi doesn’t shoot for the moon with the premise but makes sure to deliver a film that is at least entertaining and a real crowd pleaser.

Sadako vs Kayako is currently streaming on Shudder.

Relevant Links


Previous Rasen / Spiral Review (Koji Suzuki, 1995)
Next Four Things Netflix's Castlevania Series Must Get Right

About author

Craig 41 posts

Horror Japan is Craig Hatch, a Brit currently living in Tokyo, Japan. Horror Japan is a project that aims to review and collate media from all aspects of Japanese horror culture.

View all posts by this author →

Editor review




Sadako vs Kayako isn’t a film that is going to please everyone, but it’s a clear upswing for the two franchises, not to mention a horror scene that have had a rough past decade. Koji Shiraishi doesn’t shoot for the moon with the premise, but absolutely makes sure to deliver a film that is at least entertaining and a real crowd pleaser.