My notes on the Ring-Grudge match Sadako vs Kayako Apparently, this started out as an April Fool’s Day prank announcement – but has wound up as a real film. The J-horror answer to Freddy vs Jason or Alien v Predator or the ghost take on Zatoichi meets Yojimbo or Godzilla vs Mothra, this draws on two extraordinarily complicated franchises – both crowded by sequels, US remakes, US sequels, reboots and spin-offs – and mashes them up. In some sequence, it literally mashes up the title spooks so that a melded Sadako-Kayako crawls Grudge-style out of the Ring-well or into the famous video. The simple premise is that to defeat one evil curse spirit, you need to pit her against another – though, of course, it doesn’t work out well.
In charge of this all is writer-director Kôji Shiraishi, who is new to both series but has been busy with his own one-off or franchise J-horrors for over a decade – indeed, he works in a few mentions of creatures from his won films (the slit-mouthed woman of Kuchisake-onna) as if paving the way for an Avengers Assemble/House of Frankenstein of J-horror urban legend spookery in the future, which might even be a fresh way of reviving the yokai (100 Ghost Stories) format. The film first seems to cut between archetypal Grudge and Ring business: schoolgirl Suzuka (Tina Tamashiro, with a serious fringe) and her family move into a new home opposite the haunted, abandoned house where croaking contortionist Kayako (Rina Endo) and her miaowing son Toshio (Rintaro Shibamoto) throttle anyone who ventures inside (offing three bullies and their victim in one set-piece); and college students Yuri (Mizuki Yamamoto) and Natsumi (Aimi Satsukawa) watch the Sadako video when they buy an old VCR it happens to be inside and take their curse problem to lecturer Morishige (Masahiro Kômoto), who is surprisingly eager to expose himself because he has studied the field and is eager to meet Sadako.
After an exorcism fails to help the students, and prompts Sadako (Elly Nanami) to kill those trying to save her alotted victims (and even those who would kill them before she can get to them), the girls call in Keizo (Masanobu Andô), a floppy-haired master of magic fu with a blind redcoated child sidekick, Tamao (Maiko Kikuchi). Keizo and Tamao are cool enough to .get their own series, but Keizo is the genius who comes up with the idea of Suzuka and Yuri taking on additional curses by watching the Sadako video in the Kayako house so that the spectres will have to fight each other for the privilege of killing victims they both have sights on. The logic is kind of cool, but it’s worth remembering that when King Kong fought Godzilla they managed to flatten even more of Tokyo than they could individually – and just because they’re in a supernatural cat-fight doesn’t mean they’ll cancel each other out.
In the most effective earlier films in the series, there’s an attempt to make the individual victims distinctive characters so audiences can get involved in their fate – here, the kawaii girls are all pretty much token (Natsumi, who behaves badly, probably stands out and she’s doomed to be a second act casualty) and the male adult authority figures are as broadly played (and inept) as Jack MacGowran as Professor Abronsius in Dance of the Vampires. Some of the old scares still work, though Shiraishi almost hastens through the you’ve-seen-this-before stuff (the Ring video is reduced to a single shot and the curse has sped up so that it now gets the agony over with inside two days) to get to the smackdown. Kayako’s instant amputation gambit and Sadako’s slithering hair – which evokes Exte, another Japanese spook show – get a lot of play. It’s nonsensical but embraces the Universal Pictures world where competing monsters have semi-public histories in a way that’s hard to resist. No, it’s not up there with the originals – but House of Frankenstein isn’t James Whale or Tod Browning and generations have loved it for what it is. So, next time, let’s thrown in .Tomie, One Missed Call, Korea’s Whispering Corridors, and Shiraishi’s Noroi, Ada and Teketeke for a Destroy All Monsters of Asian curses.