Sadako (2019) poster

Sadako (2019)


Japan. 2019.


Director – Hideo Nakata, Screenplay – Noriaki Sugihara, Based on the Novel Tide by Koji Suzuki. Production Company – Kadokawa.


Elaiza Ikeda (Dr Mayu Akikawa), Takashi Tsukamoto (Yusuke Ishida), Hiroya Shimizu (Kazuma Akikawa), Himeka Himejima (Mysterious Girl), Ren Kiriyama (Dr Minoru Fujii), Rie Tomosaka (Hatsuko Sobue)


Mayu Akikawa, a psychologist at a Tokyo hospital, is assigned to a young mystery girl brought in after a fire in her apartment. The girl gives no name other than Sadako and there appear to be no records of her. In the hospital, the girl says little and does not eat. She demonstrates psychic powers when others harass her or threaten Mayu. Mayu’s brother Kazuma runs a video channel where he does absurd stunts. He accepts a challenge to venture into Tokyo’s most haunted sites but vanishes after breaking into the burned apartment. Mayu is drawn in to the story of Sadako and believes it is connected to the little girl and Kazuma’s disappearance.

When it appeared, Ring (1998) changed the Japanese horror film – not just in terms of creating a tide of sequels and imitators but also sparking a wave that would be imitated throughout the Asian region and later by Hollywood. Ring produced several spinoffs – the sequels The Spiral (1998), Ring 2 (1999), the prequel Ring 0: Birthdays (2000), the tv series Ring: The Final Chapter (1999) and the South Korean remake The Ring Virus (1999). There was then the English-language remake The Ring (2002) and its sequels The Ring Two (2005) and Rings (2017). The Japanese series was rebooted with Sadako 3D (2012) and Sadako 3D 2 (2013), followed by Sadako vs Kayako (2016), a crossover with the Ju-on/The Grudge series.

As I sit down to watch Sadako, the thirteenth film in the franchise, I failed to find any enthusiasm for it. Certainly not enough to care about looking up and trying to sort out how everything relates to the tangled weave of continuity between the various sequels. Not even the return of Hideo Nakata, the director of the first two Ring films, served to offer any enthusiasm – Nakata has had a very uneven career since the Ring films (see below for his other films).

In watching Sadako, the challenge is sort of “Okay, so surprise me. We’ve been through this so many times before – do something new and unexpected.” But Sadako quickly slides into a tedium. With the series having just past its 20th year, it has been required to undergo some technological updates. The whole concept of the terrestrial broadcast signal that the first film centred around is a thing of the past, while the haunted videotape that came in with The Ring is now an obsolete technology. Now the heroine’s brother is more contemporarily a vlogger who takes on a haunted house challenge. Indeed, there’s barely anything about haunted videos this time around – at most a couple of ghost images that are found in the background of the brother’s uploads.

Elaiza Ikeda and Himeka Himejima in Sadako (2019)
(l to r) Doctor Elaiza Ikeda and Himeka Himejima as the mystery girl who calls herself Sadako

The plot seems slung together with half-hearted effort. There is no real explanation of the mystery girl and what she was doing in the burned apartment. Crucially, there is no explanation of how this ties to Sadako. Or for that matter connection to the pool on the island that Elaiza Ikeda and Takashi Tsukamoto set out to find in the latter half of the film. There is no sense of how all of this ties to the story of Sadako, and yet everything makes even less sense when you regard Sadako as a standalone film.

The greatest disappointment is that Hideo Nakata does nothing that comes anywhere near approximating the haunted mood of the original. This film’s one big scare scene is when Sadako emerges out of a tv to come up to a crazy patient but that is an exact replication of the climactic scene from the first film. This makes Sadako one the worst of the Japanese Ring films alongside Sadako 3D – although the worst of the entire franchise is the US-made Rings. The disappointment is that it had to come from Hideo Nakata.

Hideo Nakata’s other genre films include:- the ghost story Don’t Look Up (1996); Ring (1998) and its sequel Ring 2 (1999); the ghost story Dark Water (2002); the English-language The Ring Two (2005); the ghost story Kaidan (2007); the Death Note spinoff L: Change the World (2008); the English-language Chatroom (2010); Incite Mill (2010) about a reality tv elimination game; the ghost story The Complex (2013); Monsterz (2014) about a man with mind-control abilities; Ghost Theatre (2015); Stigmatized Properties (2020); and It’s in the Woods (2022).

Trailer here

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