So what do we call this thing? Is it the second sequel to Ringu? The third? Something else entirely? I’m not exactly sure about that. After all, there was the pseudo-sequel Rasen, released concurrent with Ringu in 1998. Only, Rasen bombed (and rightly so, perhaps) and so the next sequel was simply titled Ringu 2 (1999), which was followed by the prequel Ringu 0 in 2000. Suffice it to say that, whatever we call this picture, the trend of ignoring the narrative revelations of Rasen in the cinematic timeline seems to persist in the franchise’s latest installment, Sadako 3D, which was adapted from the novel S by Kōji Suzuki, whose writings inspired all the films but Ringu 2 (yes, even Rasen). While Sadako benefits from its disassociation from that film and from some rather terrifying character designs utilized later in the picture, Sadako 3D is hardly a masterpiece in its own right. That said, neither were Ringu 2 or 0, but we take what we can get.
Gone is the cursed videotape that perpetuated Sadako’s existence in Ringu. Instead, she persists in the form of a cursed video clip hidden somewhere online, a video that not only shows someone committing suicide, but inevitably drives anyone who views the video to suicide. The purpose of the video is not just to kill, though. It seems that Sadako’s using it to search for a new body, and the only person astute enough to stop her may just be telekinetic high school teacher Akane (Satomi Ishihara, Zatoichi: The Last).
As a horror film, Sadako is at its very best during the climax, in which Sadako’s minions (yep, she has minions now) stalk Akane through a large, vacant building. Although conceptually ill-defined and thoroughly absurd, the design of these things is spot-on, striking an uncomfortable balance of human and inhuman elements that renders them visually disturbing. Prior to that, however, the film proves itself virtually incapable of scaring viewers.
And where the film first stumbles is in the presentation of the cursed video clip. Unlike the eerie, avant-garde montage that defined the videotape in Ringu, the cursed video clip in Sadako is a fairly straightforward webcam video of a man proclaiming that Sadako (who he calls “S”) will destroy mankind once she’s been resurrected. Then, he gets attacked by an unseen force and the image of him dying appears in a series of pop-ups. It’s surprisingly unremarkable and deprives the film of much of what made the first film so effective.
Additionally, as you may have surmised by the title, Sadako 3D was filmed in 3D. The majority of shots throughout that are obviously intended to capitalize on the availability of 3D cinematography only detract from the film’s potential as a horror movie. Many of what should be the most dramatic moments are played in slow motion or linger onscreen for ages and thus quickly lose emotional effectiveness through a relentless pandering to 3D technology. The instance of this that most readily comes to mind is found early in the film, when Sadako’s hand pops out of a computer screen. It’s played as a jump scare, of course, but the hand remains there wiggling its fingers at the camera for what’s probably three to five seconds, but honestly feels more like thirty.
It should go without saying (although I’m writing it here, so maybe it isn’t so clear-cut as I thought) that jump scares should not last numerous seconds. They should be instantaneous, and the editor should quickly cut away from the scene to leave us reeling. Or the situation should be diffused immediately after the scare through the realization that whatever caused the scare is not in fact something scary, as when a horror heroine’s boyfriend startles her. As viewers, diffusing the situation like this lulls us into a false sense of security that can then be exploited by filmmakers in other ways to generate bigger scares. Lingering on a jump scare that’s actually supposed to be scary (i.e. one that involves Sadako), though, has the similar but undesired effect of acclimating us to the threat, creating an unintentional sense of security with regard to the narrative that is contrary to the filmmakers’ intentions (or it should be, if they’re making a horror film). As a result of this tonal instability, there’s even a death scene in Sadako that was so ludicrously executed that I thought it was a prank being played on a character by another, only to find out shockingly that no, the character had actually died there.
That said, the climax makes up for a lot of these earlier fumbles, and as a whole it ultimately stands up there with Ringu 0 as far as the other sequels/prequels are concerned. As such, if you’re even remotely a fan of the sequels, as I am, you’ll find this right up your alley and will likely be able to forgive it its many missteps by virtue of providing yet another chapter in the saga of Sadako. So just enjoy it, and let’s hope that the filmmakers have learned from their mistakes on Sadako and will have rectified these issues in the upcoming Sadako 3D 2, slated for release this fall.
Sadako 3D comes to North American DVD and 3D/2D Blu-ray on June 4, 2013 from Well Go USA.