Fans of Gore Verbinski’s The Ring remake know her as “Samara,” haunter Of VHS tapes and protruder from television screens, but without Hideo Nakata’s Ringu, America may have never familiarized themselves with Kôji Suzuki’s literary ghoul. Nakata introduced J-Horror fans to Sadako before she was adopted and madeover stateside, and it was Nakata himself who helmed The Ring Two. Why the digestible history lesson? This year Nakata returns to his beloved Japanese franchise with 2019’s Sadako, which reimagines the titular demon though a YouTube-frenzied lens. Welcome back, you ruiner of fuzzy wavelength static.
In this sequel, revamp – however you define Sadako – Nakata’s cursed entity is unleashed by a view-hungry online vlogger. Elaiza Ikeda stars as psychiatrist Mayu Akikawa, and Hiroya Shimizu her hopefully internet celebrity brother, Kazuma. Mayu’s latest patient is a small abandoned child (played by Himeka Himejima) whose mother tried to burn her alive for Sadako related reasons, and Kazuma’s thirst for fame brings him to the scorched apartment. Instead of becoming a viral video sensation, Kazuma goes missing. At the same time, Mayu’s patient starts randomly passing out. Is it all connected? Of course – and Sadako’s behind it all.
There’s no US release planned yet for Nakata’s latest Sadako incarnation, with its North American premiere taking place last week as Fantasia Film Festival’s opening night film. Until distribution is announced, here are three reasons to fall victim to another J-Horror curse.
1) The Haunting Score Elevates Lulls
Yes, I’m here praising a horror’s films original music over thrills and screenwriting. Think back to your favorite Italian giallo features, maybe something scored by Goblin. Musicianship can add depth to the most mundane moving pictures, Sadako a compelling example. The instrumental backing isn’t as lively as Deep Red aka Profondo Rosso, but it doesn’t need staccato pep. Sadako’s orchestral compositions imbue procedural “ghost detective” investigations with an engaging atmosphere, even when the film dips into hazy lulls sans its namesake apparition.
Imagine the most stereotypical horror drama, where characters ride an island ferry and are caught by the camera gazing past oceanic breaklines. A typical representation of contemplation, but in this case, a more heartfelt tragedy given audible accents that slowly crescendo. Noriaki Sugihara’s screenplay favors familial beats rooted in loneliness over what Americans know to be The Ring branded scares, and the film’s score heightens overtaking doldrums that replace constant thrillers. Sadako‘s score plays a major role in developing characters, building momentum, and ensuring audiences have thematic heft worth following.
2) An Icon Reborn
Admittedly, I’ll warn that Sadako is punching in a lower weight class than we’re used to. I bring up Samara again because those expecting swampy blue video footage to invade their nightmares will be disappointed, given how Nakata employs slower sentiments and less straightforward scares. That said, Sadako revitalizes Ringu’s curse for the modern era by adapting to social media. Viral videos are all the rage, and now Sadako herself can be labeled an influencer. Human influencer hubris leads to foolish undertakings, and then to a brand-new curse with limitless trajectories.
Sadako is a retread in that signature details are swapped or altered, but storytelling remains constant. You’ll be treated to a single throwback sequence where she crawls from out a flickering television set, but otherwise, Sugihara writes fresh backstory lineage that includes an island cavern system, rising tides, and sacrificed children in hopes of appeasing Sadako. Interspliced visions of waterlogged skulls and natural stone openings under moonlight tease fresh beginnings, as talismanic props emphasize old world, mythological backstories. It’s not always successful, failing to tie Kazuma’s ill-fated task with Mayu’s mystery patient, but Nakata’s not just replaying the hits.
3) Horror Built On Storytelling
Nakata’s J-Horror sensibilities veer from what Americans understand mainstream horror to represent. Obvious jump scares are traded for a small psychic child’s entanglement with cursed legends, as Mayu attempts to decipher fact from fiction. When Sadako appears, the cinematography lingers on shots rather than relying on quick cuts. It’s not some cheapo quickie glitch meant for a visual jolt. Horror can be more than the obvious, which Nakata attempts to prove through mythology and shallow milky pools. It’s comfortable for Ringu fans, but opens multiple doors for inexperienced viewers.
For better or worse, Sadako is back in a new nightmare that’s more a grim lullaby. Temper your expectations. Nakata’s return to the franchise builds upon now-iconic tales in a way that 2017’s Rings unsuccessfully attempted. It won’t be for everyone, but those hardcore Ringu franchise faithful should find enough in this 2019 rebirth to worship at their beloved altar. She’s back, creaking rigor mortis joints and all. Just note: mileage will vary based on how much in-your-face horror audiences require.