It’s really strange to think that it has been 21 years since the groundbreaking, oft-imitated Japanese horror film Ringu was released. There was, of course, the equally terrifying American remake, The Ring, which was released in 2002. I must admit that I saw the Gore Verbinski remake first but immediately sought out the original afterward. Hideo Nakata had created a modern-day fairytale that stuck with us all throughout the twenty years since the start of the new millennium. There have been several sequels to Ringu including the Japanese films Rasen, Ringu, Ringu 2, Ring 0: Birthday, Sadako 3D, Sadako 3D 2, Sadako vs. Kayako in addition to the American sequels The Ring 2 (also directed by Nakata), and Rings whose only saving grace was a pretty awesome performance by Vincent D’onofrio.
“…the young girl’s mother was a psychic and saw in her visions that her daughter was the reincarnation of Sadako…”
I was particularly excited to hear that Sadako was directing the latest follow up to Ringu since the whole phenomenon of Sadako and of course, that damn video is one of the most terrifying concepts ever to stoke the fires of my imagination. I was terrified after seeing The Ring, finding it hard to sleep in the same room as a television for fear that it would turn on. All the sequels and re-make sequels I’ve seen have encapsulated the general atmosphere of supernatural dread, but haven’t lived up to the straight-out terror of Ringu and The Ring. Unfortunately, Sadako doesn’t quite measure up to the level of fright that the original did. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a great film in its own right.
Sadako starts out with a young girl (Himeka Himejima) locked in a closet, her mother moments away from burning down the apartment with both of them in it. We find out as the story progresses that the young girl’s mother was a psychic and saw in her visions that her daughter was the reincarnation of Sadako…yep, the girl from the well.
“…underneath the creepy crawling girl from the well, is the solidarity that survivors of trauma should share…”
The girl, whose name we never know, arrives at a Tokyo hospital. Her doctors are Dr. Mayu Akikawa (Elaiza Ikeda) and Dr. Minoru Fujii (Ren Kiriyama). The girl won’t talk or eat, and she scares the staff and the other children in the hospital. In the meantime, Dr. Akikawa’s brother, Kazuma (Hiroya Shimizu), is trying to make his way in the world of internet-video stardom. In an attempt to get more views, he visits the site of the arson that the mysterious little girl escaped. Because of the film we’re watching, his visit to the site of the fire was not a good idea and led to some scary supernatural results.
The theme of Sadako, underneath the creepy crawling girl from the well, is the solidarity that survivors of trauma should share in order to make it easier to deal with. We discover that Mayu and Kazuma were also orphans as children, which connect them and the mysterious little girl all to Sadako, who was abandoned by both her mother and father. There are plenty of callbacks to classic Ringu imagery and plot points. A patient at the hospital was present for the events of the original film. There is mention of the curse being spread through internet videos as it was in later sequels. This film is perfect for fans of Ringu and The Ring multiverse, and anyone who loves a good mystery with a dash of creepy horror imagery. As I mentioned previously, you won’t be jumping out of your seat (or maybe you will, I have seen way too many horror movies), but you will be intrigued, and sometimes the best horror is subtle and psychological. You be the judge if you think that’s the case for Sadako. I definitely enjoyed it.
Sadako (2019). Written by Noriaki Sugihara. Directed by Hideo Nakata. Starring Himeka Himejima, Elaiza Ikeda, Ren Kiriyama, Hiroya Shimizu, Rie Tomosaka, Takashi Tsukamoto. Sadako premiered at the 2019 Fantasia Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars