Blu-Ray Review: “Sadako”

Satomi Ishihara stars in "Sadako," here reviewed by film critic Danny Baldwin.I can only assume that “Sadako” (not to be confused with Sudoku) grossed a whopping $16.8 million in Japan—about the same amount as the American blockbusters “Battleship” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”—because of its loose connection with “Ringu,” which you may remember as the J-Horror hit that Hollywood remade into “The Ring.” But I stress the word “loose.” The films are based on source material by the same novelist and share certain narrative elements—that creepy, ghostly girl in a well (after which this one is named) and a video that causes its viewers to die—but in terms of artistic quality, they have little in common. Put simply, “Ringu” was moderately scary and clever, while “Sadako” is cheap, nonsensical trash.

Here, there’s no deadly VHS tape as there was in “Ringu”—what non-cinephile would have the player to watch one of those?—but rather, the video is available on the Internet, albeit not easily accessible. Still, it has become an overnight urban legend, so youths wade through dead-links and scam videos to find it. One of them is a student of protagonist Akane (Satomi Ishihara), who over a period of days becomes obsessed with the video and may have been targeted by its creator. That creator, by the way, commits suicide in the video — and even though we are ultimately provided an explanation for why he does so, how he got himself into the situation remains thoroughly unclear.

As does basically every question of logic in this amateurish production, which despite its J-Horror classification never appears to be trying to legitimately frighten the audience (though perhaps the 3-D effects, which I was not able to see due to the technological constraints of my home equipment, provide jump-scares with typical in-your-facery). The narrative and the tone both become progressively less cohesive as the film mounts to its climax, which pits Akane against Sadako in a predictably over-literal way. Needless to say, never does director Tsutomu Hanabusa mine the viral video element for any thoughtful social commentary about human self-destruction via the Internet. Instead, “Sadako” exists only to profit off its mere association with “Ringu.” Naturally, there’s a sequel in the works.

Blu-Ray Video and Audio: “Sadako” doesn’t look very good on Blu-Ray, but I’m almost positive that its waxy, clearly-DV aesthetic is a result of the native image (shot on the Red One MX, which is capable of yielding far superior results) and not the transfer by Well Go USA, a distributor known for its product’s exemplary video quality. As I stated above, I didn’t get to sample the 3-D version, but given how chintzy the CG effects look in 2-D, I can only imagine how poorly they come off in the stereoscopic rendering. The DTS-HD 5.1 MA soundtrack fares much better than the image, however, with nice roaring effects and equally clean dialogue.

Special Features: The sole extra on this Blu-Ray release is the film’s trailer, which is best watched before the film, because then you have a chance to come to your senses and skip it altogether. I must say, I was hoping for a filmmaker commentary track just to try to get some insight on what they were going for with what comes across as an utter joke of a movie.

Movie Grade: D-
Disc Grade: C-
The Verdict: Skip it