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Sadako [2019]: ‘Fantasia’ Review – A linear, uninspiring horror drama

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The Cult of Ringu & Sadako

Hideo Nakata rose to fame with his chilling cult-horror film ‘Ringu’, based on the novel of the same name by novelist Koji Suzuki. The story of a cursed videotape that kills any viewer within seven days became a worldwide cultural phenomenon. A young girl, Sadako, in a well left to die alone in the deepest and darkest of the place. Long hair sprawling in all the directions, tear up the tv to crawl out of it. It was a terrifying world of psychics, ritual sacrifice, and premonition. It instilled a fear in the hearts of kids and adults alike. The franchise then spawned ‘The Ring’ and, for the first time, Americans showed interest in low budget Japanese horror movies.




In Sadako, ‘Hideo Nakata’ blend in the folklore of ‘Ringu’ with millennials’ problems. He tries to leverage the character without the grim texture and spine-chilling milieu of Ringu. Unfortunately, he never finds the solid ground to root the horror drama centred around ‘Sadako’ and horrific satire around millennials’ quest for instant fame and money. He leaves both the ideas half-baked to focus on the banalest and cringe drama of a determined younger brother and a lonely older sister.

Mayu Akikawa (Elaiza Ikeda) in Sadako
(C)2019 “Sadako” Film Partners

Sadako reincarnates in a muddled narrative

A young girl, believed to be the reincarnation of Sadako, holds psychokinesis abilities. She is possessed by the spirit of the ghost from the VHS tape known as “Sadako.” Her mother keeps her locked in a small cabinet in secrecy. One day, she tries to burn her. Instead, five people, including the mother, die in the apartment except for the girl. The girl is brought to the Tokyo hospital’s psychiatric wing where a downcast psychologist Mayu Akikawa (Elaiza Ikeda) works.




She worries for her dropout brother Kazuma Akikawa (Hiroya Shimizu). Kazuma is looking for instant money, and like any other millennials, he dreams of being a social media influencer. The desperation to revive his failing channel drives Kazuma into doing an outrageous act of exploring the haunted places in Tokyo. Of all the places in Tokyo, he zeros on the burned-out apartment of the “Sadako” possessed-girl. Kazuma disappears without a trace after returning from the apartment.

The first act tries to establish all the key characters and their backstories. Even though it hardly manages to scratch the surface, except for throwing ‘Sadako’ in the mix, it manages to keep you invested in the characters. Kazuma’s subplot is more intriguing than the other plot involving the possessed girl. It’s in the second act that Hideo Nakata starts losing his grounds. Completely excusing himself from the Kazuma’s subplot, he pursues the plot involving Mayu Akikawa investigating the disappearance of his brother.

An uninspiring Horror Drama that never realises the absolute potential of Ringu’s mythology

What could have been a perfect amalgamation of modern scathing satire on instant fame and money with creepy lore, Sadako is reduced to a linear, uninspiring horror drama that never realises the absolute potential of Ringu’s mythology. As the incoherent and directionless narrative tries to pick itself up, the characters become more obscure and feel disinterested. Even the tension in the third act that it builds up to lacks the nerve-wracking horror factor with a pedestrian twist thrown in.




It’s not that Sadako fails on every front. The disquiet score, reminiscent of “Tubular Bells” from ‘The Exorcist’, and certain obscure images near the cave are terrific. Regrettably, it doesn’t make up for the overall flat tone, baffling last two acts and inconsistent narrative. Though I do not believe in abandoning anyone, I wish Hideo Nakata had abandoned the child and let her chill alone in the well.

Check out the Video Essay Exploring why “Ringu” is a relevant horror film in an era of Clickbait

★★

‘Sadako’ was screened at 2019 Fantasia International Film Festival.
Click here for our complete Fantasia Coverage.

Cast: Elaiza Ikeda, Himeka Himejima, Ren Kiriyama, Hiroya Shimizu, Rie Tomosaka, Takashi Tsukamoto
Director: Hideo Nakata
Writer: Noriyuki Sugihara
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Links: IMDb

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