Movie Review: Sadako (貞子)

Hollywood, it seems, is not the only place where old franchises get resurrected. The Japanese are doing it too, this time with the highly successful and, dare I say legendary?, franchise, THE RING (RINGU/リング). The immensely popular supernatural/horror series first hit the big screens in 1998 with director Hideo Nakata’s/中田秀夫, RING, though many would argue that the franchise really debuted three years earlier with the Japanese television film, RING (or RING: KANZENBAN for its home video release). Since that time, the franchise has spawned six Japanese films, one crossover film, five remakes in the US and South Korea, two television series, six manga adaptations and two video games. Now, 21 years later, the hirsute, psychokinetic serial killer is back along with director Nakata in the simply titled, SADAKO.

Rebooted for the digital age we now live in (the original story revolves around a videotape, after all), the malevolent spirit of Sadako is inhabiting the body of a young girl (Himeka Himejima/姫嶋ひめか) whose mother tried to kill her by setting fire to their Tokyo flat. Instead, the woman killed herself and four others. The young girl, who doesn’t remember much of anything, ends up in the most loosely guarded hospital psych ward on the planet under the gentle care of Dr. Mayu Akikawa (Elaiza Ikeda/池田エライザ), herself an abandoned child, we come to learn. Akikawa, though, has plenty on her plate to deal with besides her new patient that she barely treats, from a very needy former patient who is supposedly cured of whatever was affecting her state of mental well-being to her brother, Kazuma (Hiroya Shimizu/清水尋也), who has dropped out of school and is struggling to make it as a social media star (or KOL, in local lingo) by performing dumb stunts for the camera. (I’m not sure how that qualifies him as an influencer but let’s leave that discussion for another time.) Akikawa seems mildly unconcerned that the girl exhibits psychokinetic ability until Kazuma disappears after filming himself at the girl’s burnt out apartment. While watching his video posted online, she notices a ghostly image of a woman in the background, her face hidden by her hair. Through a premonition, Akikawa divines this to be the spirit of Sadako and, with the help of Kazuma’s business manager, the pair heads down to a mysterious shrine on Oshima Island where they believe Kazuma has gone.

This story makes absolutely no sense unless you’re familiar with the original series and, even then, SADAKO is still awfully written with dialogue that is jaw-droppingly stilted. The direction isn’t any better with scenes of the child freely walking around the suddenly deserted hospital one moment and being comatose the next. I’ve seen better work coming from tweens. The film’s only saving grace is reserved for readers of the Chinese subtitles. Whoever wrote them, clearly has a sense of humour judging from all the laughs coming from my audience. One of my colleagues told me after the lights came up that there were many double entendres that didn’t make it into the English translation.

The performances are just as wooden as the dialogue with Ikeda’s sole acting talent being the ability to make herself look like an anime avatar. For little Himejima, it would seem that her only direction was to do the Kubrick Stare every five minutes. Nakata was seriously asleep at the wheel here unless his aim was to kill off the franchise. If so, he nailed it.

Fans of the original films will be sorely disappointed with this entry. And for those who are new to the franchise, they’ll just be left scratching their heads wondering what the excitement was all about. SADAKO is complete rubbish. Don’t waste your time on it.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, September 27th, 8:30 am HK time!

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