directed by Kôji Shiraishi
by Bill Chambers A professor (Masahiro Komoto) teaching a course on urban legends beseeches his class to get him a copy of the cursed video that summons Sadako, the vengeful spirit of Ringu and its sequels/prequels (this is the seventh film in the Japanese iteration of the series)...and also to buy his book. Not long after, the tape surfaces, and a young woman who watched it dies in the midst of joking with her co-workers about all the inexplicably terrifying things that have happened to her since. Needless to say, Sadako vs. Kayako has a sense of humour about itself--how could it not, given that what its title promises is like herding cats: Sadako only visits those with a working VHS player and Ju-on: The Grudge villainess Kayako never leaves the house. In parallel storylines, the professor and one of his students (Aimi Satsukawa) inherit the Sadako curse and the Grudge place beckons a teenage girl (Tina Tamashiro) who's moved in next door, although Sadako is the de facto star of this show. While the film might not be a conventional entry in either franchise, it's very much in a Japanese tradition, that of kaijū eiga movies featuring experts who sic monsters on other monsters, old-lady-who-swallowed-the-fly-like, when their other defenses prove ineffectual. No cities are levelled here, though.
Having long ago burned out on the solemn pretenses of J-horror, I found Sadako vs. Kayako's cheek to be a refreshing change of pace, and let it be said that the filmmakers still manage a bit of spookiness, especially in a queasily satisfying sequence that finds Kayako's mewling son Toshio taking out a pack of schoolboys hazing their sad little classmate (who's heartlessly saved for last). The violence, too, is surprisingly effective despite a lack of gore, with a disturbing emphasis on broken necks. Where the movie's irreverence will undoubtedly alienate fans is in how it alters some well-established ground rules--such as the length of Sadako's curse, reduced from seven to two days--to serve its own narrative agenda and crudely commercial instincts. (I don't recall Toshio having the serial bloodthirst of Jason Voorhees.) Sadako vs. Kayako is not a particularly clever or imaginative film--that much is clear from its pathetic rendering of the Sadako video--and most of the titular battle is deferred to a sequel, prolonging the yoking of these characters in a way that feels unfair to both their legacies, like Bugs Bunny being forced to make Space Jam 2. Coinciding with Japan manufacturing the last VCR, the timing of this picture is interesting, to be sure, as Sadako's days are numbered without a digital intervention, but Sadako vs. Kayako is too larkish to portray her inevitable uploading into the cloud as anything other than an abstract hypothetical. Here's hoping the upcoming U.S. Rings picks up that ball and really runs with it. Programme: Midnight Madness