Great cinematic matchups include Freddy vs. Jason, Alien vs. Predator, Puppet Master vs. Demonic Toys, but please clear the ring for the Main Event. Ladies and Gentlemen – our feature fight for the evening is Sadako vs. Kayako, a no holds barred battle for vengeance supremecy. Sadako (who fights under the name Samara Morgan in America) is 14-0, and Kayako is 12-0.
I know, it seems ridiculous, because we’ve seen supernatural villians fight it out before to a less than stellar outcome. The movies always end up campy and silly, with rehashed deaths and the breaking of established rules and no one to root for. Sadako vs. Kayako is different and it’s fun and dare I say it, engaging.
Finding an abandoned tape in a video deck, two college kids become the latest target of the “Cursed Video Tape”, an urban legend haunting Japan for “decades”. They enlist the help of their college professor, who only makes matters worse.
On the other side of Tokyo Suzuka and her family move next door to the Saeki House, long abandoned since the original Saeki murders occurred “decades” ago and the subsequent accidents that plagued the property. The omnious “Keep Out” painted on the front fencing only entices dares from the local kids. She dreams of the house as well as the boys who disappeared after taunting each other.
Everyone is brought together by powerful psychics Keizo and young Tameo, who decide the only way to end both curses is to bring both Onryō (venegeful ghost) together to let them battle with the remaining souls as rewards. Only in a movie would this seem like a sane, reasonable idea.
As this film was made with teen audiences in mind, nudity and swearing is absent, but the deaths are original and relatively bloodless. One major tweak that may annoy purists is the timeframe for Sadako’s vengence, from 7 days down to only 2. Explanations as to why, aren’t forthcoming, but since we’re dealing with vengence ghosts and shorter attention spans, the condensed timeframe adds to the immediacy.
I can’t speak to the individual actors, but director Kôji Shiraishi is no stranger to the genre, giving us such gems as Carved – the Slit Mouthed Woman, aka Kuchesake-onna (2007), British Board of Film Classification whipping boy, Grotesque (2009), and Ju-Rei: The Uncanny (2004), which no one talks about because it’s such an awful rip-off.
In Sadako vs. Kayako, he merges tropes and turns what could be nothing but camp (I’m looking at you, Freddy vs. Jason (2003)) into compelling entertainment. While I can always do without the whining we get from that one character in J-Horror (you know the one), and the paralyzed screaming, the movie is paced very well. It’s presented to the viewer as if the franchises never existed and both legends are explained without dumbing them down to simplistic nonsense. Shiraishi has a feel for these movies and he knows his audience. He relies on solid practical effects to get the emotions across. With Takashi Shimizu, the writer of The Grudge series, each knows how to coax the strengths of each legend culminating in a conclusion you may or may not like – depending on your feelings of both series as a whole.
Sadako vs. Kayako is unrated, but the squeamish folks would be strongly cautioned, due to scenes of suidice, neck snapping, kids fighting with rocks, and that irritating croaking noise that Kayako makes.
It is streaming exclusively on Shudder.com.