As I have said many times in the past, in my book, J-horror is dead, and the 2010s entries in the “Ring” franchise (“Sadako 3D”, “Sadako 3D 2” and “Sadako vs Kayako”) did nothing to change my opinion. This time however, the return of the original director of the iconic trilogy, Hideo Nakata, seems to move the newest title towards a more interesting approach, in essence by returning it to its roots.
The script is based on Koji Suzuki’s novel “Tide” and revolves around a young girl with amnesia, who is admitted to a Tokyo hospital’s psychiatric wing. Raised in secrecy, she barely managed to survive a fire started by her mother and ended up killing her and five more people, who, because of the former’s telekinetic powers, believed her to be the reincarnated Sadako. Psychologist Mayu Akikawa quickly grows fond of the girl, seeing herself reflected in her, particularly when she finds out that her mother kept her in solitary for years. However, a series of strange and dangerous occurrences soon start taking place in the hospital, all of which seem to revolve around the girl.
Meanwhile, Mayu’s brother Kazuma, a producer of absurd online videos, attempts to boost his viewership by broadcasting an excursion into the burned ruins of the girl’s house, when he suddenly disappears. Alarmed by the last-seen images of her only family and by several supernatural events linking her new patient to Sadako’s curse, Mayu sets off in search of Kazuma, with the help of a colleague, Minoru Fujii. Their search eventually brings them to the island where it all started.
As I mentioned in the prologue, the best thing Nakata did for the film was to return it to the roots of its aesthetics, which, in essence, means on focusing on the atmosphere and the story, rather than the special effect and the attempt to impress. In that fashion, the buildup of the story is quite good, particularly in the way the two arcs eventually combine and the way Nakata uses them to present his social comments. The consequences of social media and especially the concepts of the “star of Youtube” and of how far people are willing to go for “the clicks”, family and the theme of abuse, and loneliness and alienation in the urban centers are the main ones, with their combined presentation adding much depth to the narrative.
The aforementioned, however, do not mean that the horror element is pushed to the fore. On the contrary, Nakata creates an atmosphere of agony and omnipresent danger, sometimes more subtly, sometimes more in-your-face with gore and jump scares, that actually carries the film for most of its duration. I also enjoyed the retro aspect on the flashbacks, where the hues of green give a 70’s exploitation essence to the film, at least visually.
The production values in general are on a very good level, with the cinematography capturing the essence of most of the film’s themes, the sound “servicing” the horror aspect artfully, the SFX being more than adequate and the editing inducing the film with a very fitting mid-tempo.
Elaiza Ikeda as Mayu is quite good in expressing her psychological status subtly but eloquently, Hiroya Shimizu is convincing as the naive clown, while Himeka Himejima gives an impressively measured performance as the mystery girl, at least for the most part.
On the other hand, the melodrama elements, the occasionally far-fetched story, and most of all, the fact that the story and the category seem to have been done to death are the negatives of Nakata’s effort.
“Sadako” is an interesting movie, and will not disappoint its viewer, at least for the most part, I daresay it is a success, considering how preterit the category is.