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Review: SADAKO (2019) – Fantasia 2019

It’s hard to believe it’s been 21 years since the original Ringu was released in Japan. Since then there have been sequels, reboots, a Korean remake, an American remake, and its sequels. There’s even been a crossover with the Ju-on franchise Sadako vs. Kayako. Now Hideo Nakata who directed the original has returned to the series for the first time since helming the second films in both the original and American franchises with Sadako. Can he resurrect the franchise he created?

A young therapist Mayu (Elaiza Ikeda) gets a new patient, a young girl (Himeka Himejima) whose mother died in a fire in their apartment. She has apparently been hidden away since birth and is now suffering from amnesia.

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© 2019 “Sadako” Film Partners

Adding to her problems, her brother Kazuma (Hiroya Shimizu) has vanished after shooting a video in that apartment. A video that caught a glimpse of a familiar long-haired specter. What is the connection between the Mysterious Girl, (as she’s referred to in the credits) and Sadako? And can her curse be stopped before it spreads?

Saduko suffers from a curse, and a familiar one at that. The curse of the long-running franchise. By this point, it’s all very familiar. We’ve seen it, and we know what to expect. At this point the choices are to either break with continuity, change things around and/or introduce new elements. Or try to drastically up your game with the familiar elements.

Bringing Nakata back was certainly a logical step towards upping Sadako’s game. He not only started the film franchise, but he’s also made films like Dark Water and Don’t Look Up. Unfortunately, by this point the material is so played out there’s not much even he can do with it. I’ve been sporadic about following these films, and I could still tell what was going to happen next. It’s still fun to see Sadako emerge from a TV, but the effect has been dulled by familiarity. It’s still not as bad as Children Of The Corn: Runaway, but the warning signs are all there.

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© 2019 “Sadako” Film Partners

Obviously, if you’re one of the fans who have kept the films going this long, that isn’t going to matter. And if you’re relatively unfamiliar with the franchise, Sadako is certainly made well enough to entertain you. But others will probably find it too familiar to hold their interest. Nakata does add a theme of parental, and especially maternal, responsibilities. This could have given the film a new dimension. But it gets pushed aside for most of the final act, undercutting it badly.

If you’re a fan of the Ringu/Ring films or J Horror, in general, you’ll want to see Sadako. Others should approach with caution. Me, I’m going to re-watch Sadako vs. Kayako.

Sadako makes its North American premiere as the opening film at Fantasia 2019 on July 11th with a second showing on the 18th.

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