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Has it really been nigh on 15 years since the world of horror was changed by a small girl with long black hair and a dirty white dress crawling out of a television set? Apparently so, though the influence of Hideo Nakata’s classic “Ring” is still clearly felt in the genre worldwide, and the series now sees its fifth entry in “Sadako”, released to cinemas with a 3D gimmick. The film was written and directed by Hanabusa Tsutomu (“The Handsome Suit”), based on the new novel by original “Ring” author Suzuki Koji, and updates the formula to modern times and technology, Sadako now haunting victims via the internet and smartphones.
Popular television actress Ishihara Satomi, recently in Hideo Nakata’s “The Incite Mill”, stars as a schoolteacher called Akane, who overhears her students gossiping about a mysterious internet video which drives its viewers to suicide. After one of the girls apparently kills herself, Akane decides to investigate, discovering that the video was made by a now dead online artist called Kashiwada (Yamamoto Yusuke, “Ouran High School Host Club”), who was intent on resurrecting the well-lurking Sadako (Hashimoto Ai, “Confessions”). Things get personal when her boyfriend Takanori (singer and actor Seto Koji, “Runaway Beat”) is spirited away, though thankfully Akane is possessed of a power that might help defeat the troublesome ghoul once and for all.
As a fourth sequel and possible reboot, “Sadako” was always going to have an uphill struggle, and so it’s perhaps not too much of a surprise that the film was largely met with critical disdain on its release. Certainly, the formula is very familiar now, having been copied by countless genre knock offs from Asia and Hollywood alike, and for the first half hour or so things don’t seem too promising, the film coming across like little more than a half hearted update with a likeable though predictably youth-friendly cast. Matters aren’t helped by a focus on jump scares, which though quite entertaining in their own way pale in comparison to the creeping, depressing dread of Nakata’s original and suffer from some poor quality computer effects work, the 3D clutching largely being lame and inadvertently amusing. The film also lacks focus, Akane making for a pretty weak protagonist, leaving most of the investigative work to the police, Sadako herself not getting much to do, and Kashiwada’s stupid scheme smacking heavily of emo-whining.
Thankfully, things pick up around the half way mark, and the film heads off in a pleasingly bizarre direction, that while making little sense is faithful to the essential weirdness of Suzuki Koji’s source novels. Though again this takes things further away from “Ring” and into oddball creature feature territory, it’s all quite fun, and arguably preferable to yet another inevitable investigation leading to the same old well. Though not exactly frightening, the film’s later stages pack in plenty of action and a handful of memorable set pieces, bolstered somewhat by a few flashes of gore and creatively strange moments.
Hanabusa Tsutomu does a decent enough job as writer and director, making good use of the new technology angle (even if iPhones are suspiciously prominent throughout), and whilst by now such themes and tricks are hardly new, the film gets a good amount of mileage out of the omnipresence of screens, giving Sadako lots of excuses to lunge and grab. This helps to keep things running at a fair pace through its wisely short running time, and once it gets going, the film is certainly never dull. Although it doesn’t add anything other than further confusion, viewers should also stick around for the post credits scene.
While it doesn’t come close to replicating the effectiveness and chilling atmosphere of the original “Ring” (something which Hideo Nakata himself has similarly failed to do in his career since), “Sadako” is nevertheless quite enjoyable. Approached with adjusted expectations and an open mind, it stands as an acceptable entry in the uneven and frequently daft franchise, and though it’s hard to imagine it birthing a new generation of Sadako fans, the film should go down well enough with anyone looking for a bit of old fashioned modern Asian ghost action.
Tsutomu Hanabusa (director) / Kôji Suzuki (novel), Yoshinobu Fujioka, Tsutomu Hanabusa (screenplay)
CAST: Satomi Ishihara … Akane Ayukawa
Kôji Seto … Takanori Ando
Yûsuke Yamamoto … Kiyoshi Kashiwada