Hideo Nakata “made” Fantasia for me back in 1998, when I did something I rarely do. I paid to see Ringu twice. I watched all the sequels and the Korean remake (with Nakata himself sitting right behind me in the cinema). I eventually bought the DVD box set even though the followup films were not all Nakata works, nor were they all that great. I bought the original soundtracks, and then later gobbled up the US remakes starring Naomi Watts. I even read the original novels by Koji Suzuki. Now 20 years later, I revisited the franchise not with expectation and excitement but with a curious nostalgia.
I was hoping to be wowed but wasn’t expecting much. Sometimes I wish I expected more and that the Universe actually listened to me. Sadako, though not a complete waste of time, is a little middle of the road. Some good points about it? Well, it incorporates new technologies to reawaken the curse of Sadako’s wrath. Said wrath was initially recorded psychically to video tape and traditional printed photos. The curse over the years has touched digital photography (The Ring, Gore Verbinski, 2002), and now Youtube-like online videos.
Nakata, as well as Suzuki who wrote the novel Tide on which Sadako is based, created a somewhat parallel universe without strictly sticking to the past events of the Ringu saga. The cinematography is bathed in a golden glow, which gives everything the kind of dreamy atmosphere of a dwindling summer afternoon. The subtle musical score is an almost caricature-like homage to the main themes of The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) and Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978).
What works less is the mediocre acting and the shiver-inducing yet not quite frightening horror themes. The plot is okay. The casting is okay. The pace too, is okay. But as a 20-year anniversary piece of cinema, Ringu fans might want something with a bit more bite. As a fan myself, I wanted to learn more about a trivial thing the average viewer may not even care about. Perhaps it is wishful thinking, or maybe the creators of Sadako really did include this for people like me who are familiar with the novels and/or Ring 0: Birthday (Norio Tsuruta, 2000). In the opening sequence, there is an ever so tiny nod to the original Suzuki storyline, that placed Sadako among the mythos of a tuberculosis sanatorium. A young telekinetic girl is seen coughing and coughing while her batty mother pours gasoline around the house. One might say, oh, Mom is trying to set her daughter on fire – of course she would be coughing. Before there’s even a wisp of smoke? Could Mom have fiddled with the pilot light to make a lovely CO2 kaboom? Is that why the little one is coughing? Well no, then Mom wouldn’t need that big tank of gasoline. So why else would coughing even be in that scene? Give this critic her jollies, and just accept that Nakata and Co. included this if anything, to get an “ah, I see what you guys did there” reaction from their attentive long-standing viewers.
But hang on a second… I never said what Sadako is about, did I? A little girl is accused of being the reincarnation of the evil blackhaired ghost who climbs out of wells in the Ringu series. She escapes death with the help of her telekinetic powers. Fire. Revenge. Dead people.
Okay, there, Carrie.
Or would that be Firestarter? We can see which Stephen King movie adaptations Nakata is a fan of, in any case.
For the uninitiated, or for those who might be curious if Nakata’s still got it. For old time’s sake.
Sadako – Thursday, July 18th 12:30 PM – J.A, de Seve Theatre