Director/Screenplay – Koji Shiraishi, Photography – Hidetoshi Shinomiya, Music – Koji Endo, Production Design – Norifumi Ataka. Production Company – Kadokawa.
Mizuki Yamamoto (Yuri Kurahishi), Tina Tamashiro (Suzuka Takagi), Aimi Satsukawa (Natsumi Ueno), Masanobu Ando (Keizo Toiwa),Masahiro Komoto (Professor Shinichi Morishige), Misato Tanaka (Ayako Takagi), Mai Kikuchi (Tamao), Misato Tanaka (Fumiko Takagi), Masayoshi Matsushima (Sukeru Takagi)
Kurashishi is asked by her best friend Natsumi to transfer a copy of her parents’ wedding video from VHS to dvd. Yuri goes to a second-hand store and buys an old VCR player. Back home, she and Natsumi find a tape in it. While Yuri is not looking, Natsumi plays the tape and is shocked to find it is the legendary cursed tape of Sadako that they have learned about in class. Moments later, she receives a phone call and realises that she has two days to live. At the same time, Suzuka Takagi ventures into the house neighbouring hers and discovers the ghosts of Kayako and the young boy Toshio. Yuri and Natsumi go with the tape to their professor who becomes obsessed with talking to Sadako. He takes them to an exorcist but Sadako emerges from out of Natsumi and kills them all. In her dying breath, the exorcist urges them to find Keizo Toiwa. Once they do so, Keizo comes up with the idea of nullifying the two curses by setting Sadako and Kyoko against one another.
Ring (1998) was the film that created the modern Japanese ghost story. It spawned a huge line of spinoffs and remakes that has so far included two sequels, The Spiral (1998) and Ring 2 (1999), a prequel Ring 0: Birthdays (2000) and a 12-episode tv series Ring: The Final Chapter (1999); a South Korean remake The Ring Virus (1999); a Hollywood remake The Ring (2002) that spawned two sequels The Ring Two (2005) and Rings (2017); and a Japanese reboot series Sadako 3D (2012) and Sadako 3D 2 (2013), and following this Sadako (2019).
The Ju-on/The Grudge series was one of the better attempts at exploiting the popularity of Ring and has undergone about as many variations. It originally started with the tv movie School Ghost Story G (1998) from which director Takashi Shimizu expanded the basics out with two video-released films Ju-on (2000) and Ju-on 2 (2000), followed by the theatrically-released Ju-on: the Grudge (2003) and its sequel Ju-on: The Grudge 2 (2003). This was followed by an English-language series with The Grudge (2004), The Grudge 2 (2006) and The Grudge 3 (2009); a duo of Japanese spinoff films Ju-on: Girl in Black (2009) and Ju-on: Old Lady in White (2009); and a Japanese reboot series Ju-on: The Beginning of the End (2014) and Ju-on: The Final Curse (2015), and the tv series Ju-on: The Curse (2020- ). The Grudge (2020) was a reboot of the US series.
Sadako vs Kayako was originally floated as an April Fool’s joke but the response was so popular that Kadokawa, the copyright holders of the Ring franchise, went ahead and made the film. The result is a stunt film in much the same way that Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), King Kong Vs. Godzilla (1962), Freddy vs. Jason (2003), AVP: Alien vs Predator (2004) and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) operate in drawing audiences in with the novelty of seeing two popular franchises coming together. For other examples see Crossovers.
Both of the original franchises worked on a sense of intense uncanniness. What you end up with when both are brought together is a diluted version of that at best. In particular, the Ring curse is brought down from seven days to two days, no doubt in order to have the story take place in a more condensed timeframe. The Ju-on series always specialises in non-linear plots that jump back and forward across time, following various victims affected by the curse, but that has likewise been curtailed.
Also in the original Ring films, it was a haunted video broadcast, whereas it has now become a haunted video recording, something that only came in in the English-language remake The Ring. Certainly, we do get the amusing sense of the Ring franchise updating with the times where we have gone from a haunted videotape (a now obsolete technology in the eighteen years since Ring premiered) to the curse now being spread by a viral internet video.
The film assumes that people are familiar with either series and so the appearances of Sadako, Kyoko and associated phenomena are stripped down to a few spooky scenes without much wider rationale beyond that. Director Koji Shiraishi produces a fair facsimile of the spooky scenes that we get in the other films. In particular, there is a fine sequence where the spirit of Sadako takes over Aimi Satsukawa during the exorcism to slaughter the exorcist and attendants, and another where Aimi goes to hang herself and Sadako’s ghost appears. One fine addition to the franchise(s) is the character of the exorcist Keizo and his accompaniment by the blind girl Tamao.
In actuality, two stories, one about a revenant who curses people who watch a videotape and the other about a ghostly woman and a boy in a house, have no real purpose merging. The film strains to bring them together, coming up with some nonsense about using one curse to negate the other. The great disappointment of the film is the playing out of its title promise. We never get much of Sadako and Kayako going head to head and duking it out. At the climax, we get few wide-angle shots of them fighting around the well and then the show is over is very short course.
Director Koji Shiraishi is a regular J-horror director with films such as Ju-rei: The Uncanny (2004), Noroi: The Curse (2005), Carved: A Slit-Mouthed Woman (2007), Yurei Zombie (2007), Grotesque (2009), Occult (2009), Teketeke (2009), Teketeke 2 (2009), Shirome (2010), Ada Part 1 (2013), Ada Part 2 (2013), Cult (2013), A Record of Sweet Murderer (2014) and Hell Girl (2019).