With the conclusion of the American films, we didn’t hear anything from Sadako Yamamura for several years, until 2012 when it was announced a new Japanese film was being made. It turned out Koji Suzuki had returned to the series and written two new novels called “S” and “Tide”. They haven’t been released yet in English, and I’m still waiting to read them. Yesiree, Sadako was making her return to the land that made her a household name. I like the marketing campaign for Sadako 3D. A giant model of Sadako on the back of a truck drove around Japan, and Sadako herself was invited to provide the opening pitch for a baseball game. Of course, the big event was the movie itself, but the end result is a complete disappointment.
Where to begin? The film feels like a soft reboot of the series, making no references or indication it is a continuation of the trilogy and delves off into its own crooked story. Some have suggested it is a sequel to the retconned film Rasen, but that makes no sense considering what happened in that film. The whole thing was made like people just wanted to make a shoddy 3D film based on an established franchise. Okay, it wouldn’t be the first time a horror franchise has been resurrected to make a quick buck. The story has potential but never really goes anywhere, ignores all parts of the mythos beyond Sadako was thrown down a well, and leaves too many unanswered questions and plotholes – very few are actually answered in Sadako 2.
Sadako 3D’s worst element is, well, the 3D. This was made on the tail end of Hollywood going nuts about 3D following the success of Avatar. None of the 3D looks the least bit well made, there is a strange use of slow motion when characters fall from a great height, and the film constantly relies on Sadako crawling out of televisions to remind the audience what the character is best known for. Again, and again, and again. Sadako is a fully fleshed out character but the film chucks it all out to remind us, the stupid audience, that Sadako is scary because she can slide on out of a TV like someone trying to a squeeze through a cat flap.
Anyway, to the story, based on the fifth novel “S”. The cursed videotape takes the logical step and ends up online, only it isn’t the classic videotape, but rather a suicide video. The video was posted by Seiji Kashiwada, a psychotic artist who plans to use the video to resurrect Sadako. Rather than the seven day limit to copy the tape and show it to someone else, the watcher will suddenly commit suicide, often under Sadako’s control. The death scenes are just weak and weird. Our first casualty walks in front of a truck, but the scene is so unrealistic that it becomes hilarious, and the guy’s laptop floats away into the air like it is a leaf.
Our protagonist is a teacher named Akane Ayukawa, played by Satomi Ishihara. Akane has a troubled past, but is supported by her boyfriend Takanori Ando (who is Mitsuo Ando’s son in the book). Takanori is played by Koji Seto of Kamen Rider fame, a legacy shared with Kashiwada’s actor Yusuke Yamamoto. Akane learns of the suicide video after one of her students allegedly commits suicide by jumping out a window, though actually pushed out by Sadako. We meet a couple of cops named Koiso and Nakamura, who are investigating the suicides, and learn about Kashiwada by speaking to his creepy landlady, who claims the world is a big lie (a nod to Loop?). The cops are the most likeable of the cast, Koiso not being very tech savvy and often is confused by Nakamura’s modern slang. We also meet Takanori’s relative Enoki, who really, really wants to watch the video.
For some reason, whenever people find the website containing the video, an error screen pops up. Why would Sadako and Kashiwada want to hide the video? Anyway, Akane eventually watches the video and starts getting stalked by Sadako, all the while screaming and being accosted by cheap jump scares. There is very little atmosphere beyond a couple of scenes. The CGI is just pitiful. Most of Sadako’s scenes involve awful computer-generated hair trying to ensnare Akane, even looking like tentacles in some shots. Characters start getting killed off in very bizarre ways. Nakamura abruptly dies after watching the video, apparently swallowed by a black wig and then shoots himself. Enoki also dies, hanging himself, but they used a weird mannequin with an extended neck. It looks ridiculous.
We eventually learn why Sadako is targeting Akane. In a surprise twist, it turns out Akane has psychic powers of her own, namely a sonic scream, which she used as a child to defend her classmates from a psychopath but was ostracized as a result. She planned to commit suicide but a young Takanori convinces her not too and they end forming a friendship. Akane is kind of an alternate “what if” take on Sadako, had she had someone there to help with her powers. It turns out Sadako wants to use Akane as host to be reborn and get revenge on the world. Takanori is eventually captured by Sadako, leading Akane and Koiso to locate the well in what I assume is meant to be Izu like in the earlier films.
However, rather than being a holiday resort, an abandoned shopping complex appears to have been built around the well. What continuity are they following? Then, things just get stranger. Sadako’s hand emerges from the well, but it turns out to be a strange CGI grasshopper-like mutated undead woman with ridiculously long legs. See, Kashiwada has been murdering women and chucking them down the well as potential hosts for Sadako, so why the heck are they rising from the grave as mutant monsters straight out of Silent Hill? The film goes into a long-winded yet tense chase sequence, where Akane uses her powers to destroy the Sadako wannabes and even has a brief Buffy moment where she stabs one with a pole.
Sadako eventually shows up, briefly reminding the audience that she is a sympathetic character and tries to find a kindred spirit in Akane, intending on becoming one with her to get revenge on the world. Her actress, Ai Hoshimoto, isn’t bad, but for some reason, Sadako now appears as a human, has demonic red eyes, and wearing classy shoes. She possesses Akane, consuming her in a giant hairball until the captured Takanori breaks the phone containing Sadako. And then the film just ends, aside from a cryptic teaser with Kashiwada’s creepy landlady beside Sadako’s well and a CGI moth flying at the camera. If this is meant to be foreshadowing the sequel’s plot, it is being way too vague.
Sadako 3D is a very flawed movie, attempting to reintroduce the franchise, but it primarily focuses on Sadako’s iconography. The acting is good and you can at least care for a couple of characters. The special effects are terrible and any unresolved plot threads are being deliberately held back for the sequel.