This is a continuation of both my review series on “Ringu/ The Ring: Part 1 (1998 to 2005)” and “Ju-On/ The Grudge: Part 1 (2000-2009)“. As covered in my previous writing, the Japanese horror movie “Ringu” and its American remake “The Ring” were inexplicable international successes, becoming immediate classics that would shape the genre in their own image for awhile… But as is the case with most cultural phenomenon’s, there will be inevitable sequels and rip-offs of declining quality, which gradually began to chip away at their box office draw. The franchise’s international popularity more or less deflated following the critical mauling and box office disappointment of “The Ring Two“, which didn’t only kill the brand in the west, but arguably lead to the decline of its entire genre.
But little did I know, the franchise continued in Japan, where the property was considered both marketable and low risk. I am still baffled that I hadn’t even heard of most of these until I began this marathon, even though I (and many others) certainly would’ve been interested regardless of their quality. I have to assume that there is some sort of licensing problem behind the scenes, which MIGHT — and I stress I don’t really know — be why none of them use “Ring” in their title. Keep in mind that in the United States, we only know the brand as “The Ring” and not its villain (Samara), much less the Japanese version (Sadako). But even though “The Ring Two” did not really effect the franchise’s momentum in Japan, it appears to have undergone a slow death itself. Each subsequent entry using the “Sadako” name would make less money than the last, with the exception of the cross-over with “Ju-On” franchise. If ‘Part 1’ of this review series surrounded the rise of “The Ring“, ‘Part 2’ is about its fall… or at least its aftermath… I am strangely excited about this marathon though, as I haven’t seen any of them, even though my expectations are pretty low.
I’ll also be covering Hollywood’s failed attempt to revive the brand in the west — “Rings“… so there’s that.
SADAKO 3-D (2012)
(Directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa)
(Written by Yoshinobu Fujioka and Tsutomu Hanabusa)
(Starring Satomi Ishihara, Kôji Seto and Ryôsei Tayama)
Every thirty years or so the cinema will be haunted by a demonic entity known as… 3D… The technologies and techniques used to add a third dimension have changed each time, but the end result is always the same — cool for a bit, then it gets annoying and then it goes away. I guess I can kind of see why someone would think the character of Sadako could transition into the 3rd dimension, as she sort of has the habit of emerging from televisions anyway, but “Ringu” and even its sequels relied so much on subtlety, while 3D is anything but. The other problem with the technology in general is that once it has run its course, it becomes difficult to watch the movie in its intended medium. The 3D effects almost always look bad when viewed in a 2D format. “Sadako 3D” might be fun if you have the glasses, as the “scares” were all designed around 3D visuals. Sadako’s hair is all over the place, moths are always flying around for some reason and of course there is all that glass breaking… glass breaking everywhere… I laughed at all the shots of Sadako popping out of monitors, but I don’t know if watching that in 3D would’ve made me jump or simply laugh harder.
I was surprised to learn that “Sadako 3D” is apparently not supposed to be a sequel to “Ringu“, but to “Rasen” instead, although I think it has more to do with both being adaptations of the other books and not necessarily them being part of the same continuity. The story is confusing, as apparently someone is trying to resurrect Sadako because he got flamed on the internet. Sadako requires a vessel though and settles on Ayane (Satomi Ishihara), a teacher with psychic powers… Wait, what the f@ck?! She has f@cking psychic powers!? That should be awesome, but it gets old pretty fast, as Sadako gets her ass beat at every turn, even after she summons a bunch of… grasshopper monsters?! I… um… okay then! But why should we fear Sadako if Ayane is more powerful? Is it because her wet blanket of a boyfriend is in peril?
Much of the narrative hinges on us caring about Ayane’s relationship with Takanori (Kôji Seto), rooted in their troubled childhoods, but was it just me or did they have absolutely no chemistry together? I thought Satomi Ishihara’s performance was very good, almost redeeming the blandness of her character, but I never sensed any spark in her feelings towards her boyfriend. They seemed like they were together more out of a sense of obligation than any kind of passion, making all of the scenes of her moping about him SOOOOO BORING. Satomi Ishihara aside, I thought the acting wasn’t all that great. The cast seemed unsure whether they were supposed to be taking the material seriously or playing it up for the camera. It made for some surreal moments, where an otherwise dramatic scene would be derailed by a campy performance.
I think the strangest moment has to be when a grown man is possessed by Sadako and he ends up inheriting her long hair. I don’t know if that was supposed to be disturbing or hilarious, but it’s so terrible that it goes full circle and becomes unsettling. “Sadako 3D” is pretty f@cking weird that way, but it usually doesn’t translate into any consistent form of entertainment. I suspect I would’ve enjoyed myself more had I been able to watch it in 3D or even better, with rowdy friends, but without the 3D glasses… or beer… it’s just kind of lame.Rating: 4/10
SADAKO 3D 2 (2013)
(Directed by Tsutomu Hanabusa)
(Written Daisuke Hosaka and Noriaki Sugihara)
(Starring Miori Takimoto, Kokoro Hirasawa and Kôji Seto)
“Sadako 3D 2” is about as “good” as its predecessor, which is a polite way of saying that it’s also pretty bad. In some ways, it’s an improvement, I guess… The cinematography is a lot moodier and I think the acting was overall better, even though the characters aren’t any more interesting. I had mixed thoughts on the 3D effects, as on one hand, they’re a little more refined. One “pop up” even make me jolt and would’ve been great to experience with the 3D glasses. On the other hand though, I think the first “Sadako 3D” had more fun with its medium. I appreciate this sequel for TRYING to be scarier, but 3D is just too campy to ever really be scary, so “Sadako 3D 2” is arguably more boring in its attempts to elevate itself. This is all somewhat a moot point, however, as I was not able to experience “Sadako 3D 2” in its intended form — an actual 3D projection.
The story is still an incomprehensible mess, even though I swear every info dump somehow got an encore at some point during the movie. We even learn about who Sadako is… twice… within like 20 minutes of each-other, as if we wouldn’t know at this point within the franchise who she was. Our new protagonist is Fuko (Miori Takimoto), who has been tasked with taking care of Nagi (Kokoro Hirasawa), the daughter of the protagonists from the previous film. But Nagi is showing some strange behaviors and a series of suicides seem to surround her. The movie relies a lot on you actually remembering the details of “Sadako 3D“, but did it accurately maintain continuity? Characters who clearly died in the first one return without any real explanation and… who the f@ck was that mysterious Priestess who seems to know everything? Was she in the last movie? I swear I only watched it weeks ago, so either “Sadako 3D 2” can’t keep its story straight… or “Sadako 3D” was just that forgettable. I’m also not sure I understand how Sadako’s powers work anymore. In the past, she’d kill you if you watched her cursed video. But now she can apparently use her powers to force you to watch the cursed video, so she can then kill you… So why can’t she just straight up kill you? Why even bother with the cursed video? Finally, what was going on with that ending? I guess the filmmakers were hoping for a “Sadako 3D 3″, which would’ve been a hilarious title, but this didn’t do very good at the box office. 3D was on a decline and… did anyone really want a sequel to “Sadako 3D” in the first place? I don’t know which of these two movies I liked — er, disliked — more. I guess this is better as a horror movie, but “Sadako 3D” was better as a gimmick, although both failed to tell coherent, engaging stories.Rating: 4/10
SADAKO VS KAYAKO (2016)
(Written and Directed by Kôji Shiraishi)
(Starring Mizuki Yamamoto and Masanobu Andô)
I remember renting “The Ring” for my birthday in the early 2000’s, well after it had been released and reshaped the genre. Some friends and I discussed what we would do if we watched the cursed tape. My solution was obvious — On the 7th day, visit the house from “The Grudge” and provoke a battle between the curses. I felt like this was such an ingenious plan that I wrote it down in my notebook of future scripts I would write, only to realize that there was one flaw… How exactly would ‘The Ring girl’ and ‘The Grudge lady’ actually fight? With Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, it makes sense as they are very physical threats, who have been involved in many of battles throughout their respective franchises. We can envision what their showdown would be like, even before we saw it take place in “Freddy Vs Jason“. The same goes for “Alien Vs Predator” or… f@ck me… even “Puppet Master Vs Demonic Toys“, but neither Sadako, Kayako or their Hollywood counterparts have ever fought anybody, as they’re living curses, not monsters. So I dismissed the idea as silly, as all I could come up with was… hair pulling?
Fast forward nearly a decade later, I was shocked to learn that “Sadako Vs Kayako” was actually a thing. My immediate response was “… Does anybody even want this?“, as I had yet to learn that both franchises were still going in Japan. The trailer dropped and I have to admit to feeling some excitement at the sight of Kayako crushing Sadako’s tape, but it looked about as silly as I thought it would be. Even though there wasn’t any hair pulling, there was the almost cartoonish looking visual of Kayako and Sadako charging at their victim, who jumps in the well, causing both to collide into each-other cartoon style. I hadn’t been keeping up with either franchise, so I wasn’t sure if they had descended into self parody, or whether or not this was intended to be goofy. I’m also not an expert on the Japanese box office, nor what constitutes as a financial hit, but “Sadako Vs Kayako” brought in numbers comparable to “Sadako 3D”, for better or worse. The reviews were mixed to lukewarm, but at least it was released in the west through Shrudder. So what do I think of it?
“Sadako Vs Kayako” is pretty silly, even though it never really becomes parody. It’s definitely kind of dumb, filled with characters who make baffling decisions or say ridiculous things. But I was never bored either, probably because I was spending most of the experience laughing at… everything… “Sadako Vs Kayako” isn’t scary, but there are times when it almost does provoke a chill, only to ruin the moment with a hilarious visual or line of dialogue. There are times when the comedy definitely feels intentional though and I can’t really blame the filmmakers, as you can only see a boy meowing like a cat so many times before it starts to look more adorable than terrifying. But the movie also wants to evoke genuine emotions. When the characters cry, I think I was supposed to be sad for them. When they’re afraid, I think I was supposed to fear for them. Complicating matters is the arrival of Keizo (Masanobu Ando) and Tamao (Mai Kikuchi), a pair of eccentric exorcists who are making light of the situation at hand, seemingly being more amused by the curses than scared of them, which makes it harder for audiences to be afraid. I would normally criticize their inclusion for deflating the tension, but because the “scares” themselves were already doing that, I could just sit back and enjoy watching the exorcists take the piss out of everything. BUT COMPLICATING MATTERS EVEN FURTHER is Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro), the heroine of ‘The Grudge’ plot, who conveys fear so convincingly that it almost becomes contagious, making it even harder to tell if this is all supposed to be funny or not. I liked Suzuka a lot more than Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto), who’s presented as so heroic that she becomes kind of dull.
The story changes a lot of the lore surrounding these curses, so it does feel like we’re watching a reboot of both “The Ring” and “The Grudge“, without any real cross-over until the 3rd act. Because “The Ring” franchise seems to be doing better financially, Sadako is the more prominent threat, so if you’re a fan of “The Grudge“, you might be disappointed that Kayako is really just a glorified plot device. I applaud the filmmakers for doing a great job at setting the stage for their showdown, but said showdown sucked. Even though Sadako is the primary antagonist, Kayako is introduced with the most fanfare and much time is spent on building her up. We see Sadako almost immediately, while Kayako is kept off-screen, with only her iconic death rattle signaling her presence. It’s quite effective… but it almost seemed to me that she was completely outmatched. The movie keeps saying that they’re equal, but it’s showing us otherwise, so I was disappointed in the climax… But don’t worry, if you’re like me and laughing at it more than anything else, the actual conclusion is a comedy goldmine. Even I wasn’t expecting… THAT… so I can’t complain too much. No one is going to argue that “Sadako Vs Kayako” is anything special. People have called it ‘mediocre’ and they’re right, because it really is. People have said it’s boring and they’re also right, because most of the screen-time is spent on rebuilding the lore and hyping up a battle that ends up being a letdown. But I thought it was pretty amusing in an ‘unintentionally comedic’ kind of way, except I don’t know if I’m right because that might’ve been the directors plan all along.
At the absolute least, I enjoyed this more than the “Sadako 3D” flicks.Rating: 5/10
So let’s travel back to Hollywood, where development had begun on “The Ring 3“. By this point, “Saw” and “Paranormal Activity” had come and gone as the dominant horror franchise, with “The Conjuring” taking up the mantle as the ‘next big thing’. No one was really clamoring for a new “Ring” installment. It had simply been too long, but not long enough for nostalgia to kick in. The answer to this was… make it “The Ring 3-D“, even though 3-D had already faded out of the mainstream. Eventually, they figured this out and dropped the gimmick, titling it “Rings” instead.
So… how did it go?
(Directed by F. Javier Gutiérrez)
(Written by David Loucka, Jacob Estes and Akiva Goldsman)
(Starring Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz, Alex Roe and Vincent D’Onofrio)
“Rings” sucked so badly that not only did it end its own franchise (in the west), it somehow ended up killing off the “Friday the 13th” franchise as well. The strange thing is… it actually performed alright at the box office, but no one noticed because of how hostile the reception was. “Rings” apparently went through a troubled production, experiencing script revisions, re-shoots and delays. I can’t quite decide whether it was violated on the editing room floor during the two years it spent in post, or if it was inflicted with bad genes upon its conception. Either way, the final product was a new franchise low, for both sides of the coast. Duller than the dull “The Ring Two“, more incomprehensible than the incomprehensible 3-D entries. The only thing “Rings” has over some of the lesser sequels is a budget and maybe… MAYBE… a decent cast, although these things you won’t really appreciate because production value doesn’t necessarily translate into interesting set design, moody cinematography or suspenseful direction… nor does adequate performances make for engaging characters. I have to confess though that I sometimes wished “Rings” looked cheap or was poorly acted, as then I might’ve found some entertainment making fun of it. As is, “Rings” almost seems deliberately designed to be as boring as possible, completely wasting whatever resources or potential it had at its disposal.
The story is a cocktail of the previous movies, the good and the bad ones. Our protagonists are trying to set Samara’s soul free, so they spend the bulk of the narrative searching for her body… even though Rachael (Naomi Watts) had previously attempted this in the first film. They expand on Samara’s origins… again… Samara is trying to find a new host… again… They encounter a creepy old man who knows more about Samara than he initially let on… again… The well truly has run dry, as “Rings” really is just coasting off the laurels of its predecessors. But even when the writers try to do their own thing, the material doesn’t make any damn sense. Professor Gabriel (Johnny Galecki) immediately determines that Samara’s soul can only be set free if her body is burned, based on…there being some shots of fire in the cursed footage. Characters will exposit to themselves while they’re alone in a room. Julia (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) would run headfirst into a situation where she inevitably would fall victim to a dream sequence, like…crawling into a crypt alone…going to a creepy dudes house alone…breaking into a dilapidated church alone…The narrative is constantly repeating this, with nightmare scenes making up the majority of the scares. Speaking of which, why is Samara impeding Julia’s quest, regardless of what her motivations are? She clearly wants Julia to figure out something, yet is constantly (trying to pad out the movie by) frightening her. Samara’s powers don’t make any sense either, as she brings down a f@cking plane in order to kill one guy…She can do that? Later on, she causes a car accident that kills a character who wasn’t cursed, so why the f@ck does she even need her curse? She apparently has the power of a god and has no limitations, which becomes especially confusing during the finale. The film ends up betraying its own logic and it’s hard not to wonder why Samara didn’t do any of this before. The filmmakers do update the technology for Samara to exploit, but they do so in this absurdly convoluted way where the professor is showing his students the tape and I’m still trying to understand what he was trying to do.
The scares are about as inspired as the story. There is literally a scene where a character bends over, only to reveal Samara standing behind her (cue dramatic “scare chord”), even though I’m pretty sure that was also a gag in “Scary Movie 3“. I remember finding the trailers mostly underwhelming, but that the ‘cursed plane’ was an intriguing idea. I dreaded that it would be the final shot of the movie, but it’s actually the prologue and pretty disappointing, as the trailers pretty much showed everything. The filmmakers attempt to make Samara more sympathetic, but all this does is make her less threatening instead, meaning that we don’t feel any suspense. Julia is an odd heroine because she never seems afraid. The story finds a way to justify this, but if the characters aren’t afraid… why should we be? “Rings” is paced like it’s in a hurry to get itself over with, but it’s shockingly boring because we have a horror film with a villain whom the writers are trying to make less scary and a heroine who isn’t scared at all.
“Rings” might not seem unwatchable at first glance, but it really is a miserable experience. It somehow feels both processed and clumsily stitched together, safe yet confusing, laughable and yet… not very amusing. Now that I’ve completed the franchise, I can safely confirm that “Rings” is the worst of them.Rating: 2.5/10
Now let’s return back to Japan for the final entry in the long running film series, “Sadako (2019)“.
(Directed by Hideo Nakata)
(Written by Noriaki Sugihara)
(Starring Elaiza Ikeda, Hiroya Shimizu and Himeka Himejima)
The health of the franchise had been… anemic to say the least, by the time “Sadako (2019)” entered production. “Sadako 3D 2” showed a decline in ticket sales, either because 3D was fading away or because no one liked “Sadako 3D“. Hollywood attempted to dust off the brand with “Rings“, but… no… Just no… There was one hand they could still play though, one that kept the franchise from becoming a one hit wonder in the first place — the return of “Ringu” director Hideo Nakata. This wasn’t any kind of guarantee, as the once touted ‘Master of Horror’ had himself arguably fallen into obscurity (at least internationally). He never seemed to recover from “The Ring Two“, with his subsequent Japanese efforts barely getting any worldwide distribution and their reviews ranged from mixed to outright hostile. His “Death Note” prequel, “L: Change the world“, brought in a lot of money but received a lukewarm reception (I didn’t think it was very good myself). Nevertheless, he never seemed out of work and perhaps a return to the saga that made him famous in the first place could potentially redeem both Nakata and the brand.
Except it didn’t. “Sadako (2019)” was a new financial low for the franchise, drawing less money than “Sadako 3D 2” and receiving the most scathing reviews, probably heralding the end of Sadako’s journey. But was it really that bad?
Before I begin, I should warn you that “Sadako” has yet to receive any real worldwide distribution, so the version I watched had some bizarrely incorrect subtitles. The pronouns always seemed wrong, with men being referred to as ‘she’, women being referred to as ‘he’, etc. The sentences were often incomprehensible and some words were just gibberish. This obviously is going to effect the overall experience, as “Sadako” is very talky. The official plot summaries tell me that the curse is transmitted through viral videos, but Sadako herself doesn’t seem to be restricted by them, popping out to terrorize people whenever she damn well pleases. She does emerge from a television, but it felt more like fanservice than an actual plot device. I’m also still not sure if “Sadako (2019)” was supposed to be reboot or a sequel. While I was often confused as to what was going on, I did occasionally have a good laugh at the expense of the subtitles. I’ll take entertainment wherever I can find it. But I’m at a disadvantage from a critical standpoint, as I can’t call “Sadako” incomprehensible because a formal translation with either English dubbing or cleaner subtitles could easily clear the story up.
Or maybe the story really is just incomprehensible. I dunno.
I didn’t hate “Sadako (2019)“, but I can’t call it a particularly good movie either. It was strangely derivative of “Sadako 3D 2“, presumably because they share the same screen-writer. Or perhaps they were both adapting the same book? I was somewhat invested in Mayu’s (Elaiza Ikeda) search for her idiot brother, who vanished after investigating a haunted house. Anything surrounding the mysterious little girl and… strangely, Sadako herself… felt routine and dull. The different story-threads were disjointed though and there was never a clear passage of time. Did this story take place over the course of months or days? I couldn’t tell. The finale was was weak, too campy to be scary, but not campy enough to be entertaining. This isn’t to say that “Sadako (2019)” is without merit. The cast turn in spirited performances, almost redeeming their bland characterizations. It might’ve been awhile since Hideo Nakata made a great movie, but he can still craft a feeling of unease and provide creepy visuals. The scares aren’t bad, they’re just unable make a significant impact when the overall narrative is lacking. “Sadako (2019)” works better in parts than as a cohesive whole, but once again… It’s sort of hard to work as a cohesive whole when the subtitles are sabotaging the story all the time. I probably would’ve thought it to be a middling effort if I knew exactly what the characters were saying.Rating: 4.5/10
While the rise of “The Ring” film series was somewhat unconventional… as it’s not often a franchise with two separate continuities from two different countries achieve international success and conquer the entire genre… it’s downfall was pretty standard. The formula simply ran its course and all it could do is either change with the times or remain in the past — or go dormant. The obvious option would be “change with the times”, but it’s not always that simple, as tampering with the established formula too much can alienate the core base. But sticking with the formula past its expiration date will keep the franchise from growing. Audiences can potentially dwindle either way.
The problem with “The Ring” is that you can’t really update the story without stripping away what made it compelling to begin with. The ‘cursed tape’ concept relied so much on the mysteriousness of VHS culture, but that’s… just gone in this day and age… replaced with the diabolical web and social media, which has its own entirely different baggage that is simply at odds with what made Sadako and Samara scary. If you saw the ‘cursed tape’ in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, you’d think “that’s disturbing”. But today? You’d admire the editing because the internet is filled with supposedly ‘cursed’ videos and we’ve become desensitized to them — not helped by “The Ring” probably inspiring all of them in the first place. I personally feel that the internet is only scary (in the context of cinema) when it’s grounded in reality. You can find videos of real people being murdered, even without looking for them. You can ruin someone by leaking their home address. You can impulsively upload provocative pictures and they will haunt you for the rest of your life. But ghosts and shit? I see that on youtube all the time. “The Ring” had to at least try to tap into this medium, but unless they completely reinvented Sadako or Samara, it was never going to work… and even if they did completely reinvent her, she might just end up feeling like whatever ghost of the week is in theaters. I have said it once and I’ll say it many times more, “The Ring“was never very ‘franchise’ friendly.