I love when a movie leaves an impact on me, especially horror movies. It can be anything from one scene to the entire movie, but whatever it may be as long as it’s effective it’ll stay in my brain forever. One of those movies was 2002’s The Ring, a remake of the 1998 Japanese horror film Ringu which is based on the novel of the same name by Koji Suzuki. The instant that Amber Tamblyn’s character Katie is revealed in the closet is a moment that I’ll never forget due to the fact that it scared me so much. To this day, certain scenes from that movie creep into my mind, especially when Samara (or Sadako in the Japanese version) crawls out of the well and subsequently the TV. I bring this all up because, during this year’s Fantasia International Film Festival, I had the chance to review SADAKO, Hideo Nakata’s return to the Ringu franchise.
As mentioned above, SADAKO is directed by Hideo Nakata (Ringu) and written by Noriyuki Sugihara (Nisekoi: False Love), starring Elaiza Ikeda (Isle of Dogs), Himeka Himejima, Ren Kiriyama (Switch Girl!!), Hiroya Shimizu (The Outsider), Rie Tomosaka (Sunny: Our Hearts Beat Together) and Takashi Tsukamoto (Battle Royale). For those not familiar with the synopsis it’s as follows: “A young girl with amnesia is admitted to a Tokyo hospital’s psychiatric wing. Raised in secrecy, she barely managed to survive a fire started by her mother who, because of the former’s telekinetic powers, believed her to be the reincarnated Sadako. Psychologist Mayu Akikawa quickly grows fond of her, seeing herself reflected in her solitary past, a lifetime of loneliness. Meanwhile, Mayu’s brother Kazuma, a producer of absurd online videos, attempts to boost his viewership by broadcasting an excursion into the buried ruins of the girl’s house, when he suddenly disappears. Alarmed by the last-seen images of her only family and by several supernatural events linking her new patient to Sadako’s curse, Mayu sets off in search of Kazuma.” (Fantasia Film Festival)
Full disclosure, I didn’t even put two and two together when I first started watching the film. It was when I was about 20 min in that I realized that this was tied in with the Ringu movies and let me tell you, I felt like an idiot. All that said, I felt like SADAKO was missing a lot of what makes Ringu so great. Though there were moments sprinkled throughout that conveyed a sense of dread, the overall film was most certainly lacking in the terror department. Which is a shame because that’s the reason these films are so impactful. I think another issue was that viewers were following along to three different stories: The young girl that ends up in the hospital, Dr. Akikawa’s uncovering of what/who Sadako is, and Dr. Akikawa’s brother, Kazuma, who disappears. Sure, they all coincide, but how they were presented had a clumsiness to it. Furthermore, for a film that’s only 99 minutes, it sure felt like it dragged on forever. Unfortunately, the overall execution was a mish-mash of too many slow-moving stretches interrupted by brief moments of tension that unfortunately got lost in the narrative.
Some aspects of the film that I did enjoy had to do with more of the artistic choices. This started early on when we meet the young girl in a closet of what seems to be an abandoned apartment building. The scene is washed in an orange filter which, looking back, could be indicative of foreshadowing. Once we transition to Dr. Akikawa’s story, the scenes are bathed in cold blue, giving off a more sterile environment. Lastly, when we are introduced to Kazuma, we are presented with a more chaotic color palette that fits his personality to a T. As with the Ringu/The Ring franchise, the appearance of Sadako (or Samara in the US) is what would be considered the money shot, and that continues to be the case with SADAKO. The scenes that featured Sadako were, by far, the most chilling and effective. I was very much hoping for another iconic scene such as the one featuring the reveal of Amber Tamblyn’s character, however, when we do get it, it’s not anywhere near as impressive or powerful.
I think what Hideo Nakata was trying to evoke through this film was interesting and I believe he had the tools needed to make a terrifying movie, but I think the writing was a massive reason why it wasn’t achieved. I think doing a deep dive into how Sadako truly became what she was is something that most fans of horror, especially of this particular franchise, would want to see so it’s a shame that it didn’t live up to its full potential. As far as the performances, Elaiza Ikeda was definitely the standout, as her character was a combination of empathy and innocence along with a genuine desire to uncover the truth and find her brother. Speaking of Kazuma Akikawa, who is played by Hiroya Shimizu, he was the only character I couldn’t stand. I know the character was meant to resemble the annoying, over-the-top YouTube persona, but watching his scenes was like nails on a chalkboard. I’m not sure if this was due to the writing or because of Shimizu’s portrayal, but it left me feeling agitated rather than sympathetic.
In the endl, I really wish SADAKO had been more than it was. I’m not trying to be mean-spirited because I do truly believe there were good moments, but in the end, those scenes didn’t have the ability to flourish in the way they needed to. I think if the multiple storylines had been scaled back there could have been more of a focus on building the tension and scaring the audience. By far, the strongest aspect of the film was definitely the visuals and the scenes that featured Sadako in all her glory. I’m not sure where the franchise will go from here, but maybe it’s time to leave Sadako in peace and venture on to something new and fresh. SADAKO had its North American Premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival July 11, 2019.