Saturday, August 17, 2013

Sadako (3D, 2012) Movie Findings

Oh dear..

In the annals of filmdom, there often comes a time when a character makes such a deep impression upon the global stage, that it inevitably becomes a matter of business to continue resurrecting them. This is especially demonstrable when regarding the horror world. And this came about long before the Jasons or Michael Myers' of the neighborhood. The people love a good villain to project their daily fears onto, as well as their own frustrations, and in a horror antagonist, there is often seen a chance to dance with our darker tendencies for another 90s minutes in prepackaged, often diminishing sensations. Far from the initial spark that resonated so well with audiences, it becomes something of a dog and pony act, where the aforementioned monster finds themselves replicated once again, only to lose impact, and become something more akin to something almost safe and cuddly.(and unquestionably financial) How does this happen? Simple. Shock, is something based largely upon our inability to comprehend, and once this is undone by way of repetition, the initial reactions are eventually dulled out like an overused knife. It simply lacks any of the sharpness, the shine, or the mystery that it once may have possessed in order to penetrate our best defenses.

Enter Sadako 3D (Or in the Netflix titling scheme, Sadako), a long belated return to the Ringu franchise that once sailed high as the flagship of Japan's horror boom of the late 1990s. And when we last saw our favorite vengeful spirit, she had been haunting and killing by way of a VHS cassette which cursed any of of its viewers who watched it. The only way to quell this poor girl's wrath, was to either consecrate her, or to pass the tape along in an endless game of killer chain action. Flash forward to the digital era, where streaming video has now become the vessel of choice. And the twisted actions of a male J-pop reject may have disturbed the long-haired menace, sending her back to invade the world of the living once again. Filmed in colorful digital, and originally made for 3D screenings in Japan, Sadako is the very representation of a franchise on artificial life support. But among the strangest things about this Nakata-free entry in the series, is in how much it embraces the tech of now, but seems dead set on sending the three dimensional gimmick back several decades. (More on this soon.)

Satomi Ishihara, is Akane Ayukawa, a teacher of a catholic high school runs afoul of the latest keitai trend, a "Cursed video" that causes suicides to occur to all who find it. As students of her class find themselves dead, and the video seems to be quite legitimate, Akane and local detectives must seek the source before the legendary S returns, ready to wreak greater havoc than ever before. Making matters worse, is that Akane bears a secret past that might just be the key to making this return one the world may never forget. In all, the film is a goofy riff on what has long already been a J-horror staple, which is the "haunted" piece of technology or media. This is where either a video, song, or message via cel phone is an invitation to terror towards mostly young, often clueless technophiles. And with such a tired premise to rely on, the 3D element seemed to be the next logical hook.

You know your franchise is dead when guys like this are to blame.

And, boy. How more capitalistic and mercenary can this possibly be?

This is a piece so obvious. So bald-faced about its intentions, that it almost becomes charming in how it doesn't even bother with pretense as to where things leap out at the audience or why. There is even a 3D jump scare at the opening, that seems to have zero lead up, or context. And why? Because the makers simply do not care. And this lack of care seems to pop in at often strange, inopportune moments. Almost as if to imagine producers looking down upon the makers with a simple, "We paid you good money to give the people what they want. Give it to them! And do it now! Do you think we're making art here?" It knowingly is an unrepentant, prepackaged tourist trap ride, bad candy apples and all. And not all beneficial to what could have been. In fact, there was a genuine chance to finally have real fun with the mythos, and yet this is what we get when investors and filmmakers lack a sense of humor about endless repetition. This is a film that so badly wishes to be a good looking piece of pop silly, but is constantly undercut by a need to make quota. That's right. Where Nakata & Verbinski found themselves an unexpected amount of heart underneath all the creep, this is as manufactured and cold as franchise filmmaking ever gets. And it doesn't help that we are talking an Amityville 3D level of dopeyness in regards to everything on display here. Heck. The film doesn't even really bother with creating a compelling new video with which to introduce new viewers to a major selling point of the original. In so many ways, it seems dead set on being everything Ringu, but in name.

Also amusing, is how much the whole affair seems happy to advertise streaming services like Nico Nico Douga, as well as destroying iPhones. Like a Murakami prophecy, the commoditization level in Sadako could be considered borderline satirical if it were only so aware.

Or perhaps it is..

"Artificial? But everything in this world is artificial." - Possibly the most telling line in the film.

This is a film, where the makers know full well what manner of movie they are making, who their audience is, and yet have no base understanding of how to utilize the 3D in a story sense. And even after all that has been said, this is surprisingly watchable, if only in some morbid sense. It's just a shame that for a film that flirts with being a toss between a Dream Master, and even The New Blood, there's a general lack of either passion for the earlier films, or an ironic sense of fun to make it more than it is, which is a dumb, occasionally nice looking distraction. To think that original Ringu novelist, Koji Suzuki would have sold out his character to this degree with his S book, and help on the screenplay is just depressing.

It's a shame too, taking the teeth out of a character that once had a significant hold on so many of us years ago. Now she has been rendered about as scary as the Hamburglar.

Okay. I take that back. The Hamburglar still kind of scares the crap out of me.

But Sadako 3D, is the movie equivalent to a Happy Meal; Base, colorful, and perhaps capable of holding cement foundations together..

Apologies might just be in order.

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