Sadako Yamamura (Yamamura Sadako 山村貞子) is the antagonist of the Ring novels, television drama, and films in Japan. Her character has been adapted into American and Korean counterparts for their respective localizations of Hideo Nakata's 1998 film, The Ring and The Ring Virus.
Sadako's name is Japanese for "chaste child" (sada: chaste and ko: child). This may be an indication of her inability to reproduce in the novels due to Testicular Feminization Syndrome and her obsession with procreating in the later novels. In Japan, the name has since been negatively associated with ghosts, though it was once a popular name for girls.
Sadako's evil spirit is based off of the Japanese concept of onryō (怨霊) or "vengeful ghosts." Onryō were thought to be the souls of those who died with extreme hatred, particularly women. They all have a specified appearance: pale women with long, disheveled black hair wearing white burial clothes. (In ancient Japan, women's hair was kept up until death.) Sadako herself is based off of two famous onryō: Okiku of Banchō Sarayashiki (番町皿屋敷, The Dish Mansion at Banchō) who was murdered and thrown down a well by the samurai she spurned, and Oiwa of the Yotsuya Kaidan (四谷怪談) who was fooled into drinking poison and murdered by her husband.
Appearance and Personality
Sadako's cultural appearance is of a woman in a white dress with long black hair covering her face, which has evolved into a trait for other icons of horror films, such as Kayako Saeki of the Ju-On/The Grudge franchise.
In the films, as a child, Sadako split into two different girls after murdering a journalist at her mother's botched psychic demonstration; one was kind and timid, while the other was evil and psychotic. Dr. Ikuma, Sadako's step-father, speculated that the good Sadako took after her human mother, Shizuko, and the evil Sadako took after her inhuman birth father. He allowed the good Sadako twin to live a normal life, and kept the evil Sadako twin imprisoned, feeding her growth-inhibiting drugs to keep her from physically maturing. The evil Sadako's form appears to be an inspiration for her American incarnation, Samara Morgan. Her face is hardly shown in her ghostly form, only an eye appearing in Ring, but her whole face, based on a forensic expert's interpretation, appears in Ring 2. As seen in a flashback sequence in Ring 0, the malformed, drooping eye that Sadako sports as a ghost is unique to her evil side.
The good Sadako is shown to be a quiet and gentle soul, but isolated due to her psychic powers and strange presence, which ultimately led to her death at the hands of the acting troupe she joined. She was shown to be quite caring and apologetic, attempting to aid a disabled man by healing his paralyzed legs. She fell in love with Hiroshi Toyama after he repeatedly protected her from harm and became her confidant, and her eventual lover. Her evil side is shown to be mischievous, and appears to be the embodiment of Sadako's powers and negative emotions. This is the side which takes primary control of her body after her death, exacting her vengeance upon those who watch the Cursed Videotape.
Sadako appears to concede defeat in Ring 2 when Yoichi and Mai escape her in the well, submitting herself to her fate. She comments to Mai why she and Yoichi were able to escape while she could not, and willingly plunges down the well to the bottom.
Sadako is very powerful, inheriting her psychic powers from her mother, and possibly her unknown father in the films. Her most notable power is that of Nensha, an ability which allows her to telekinetically burn images onto surfaces or into a person's mind. This allows her to create the videotape while trapped in the well. Her psychic powers also allow her to manipulate DNA and viruses, creating her mutated smallpox virus in the novels. The virus also carries her DNA, allowing her to be reborn after Mai Takano and Mitsuo Ando sleep together. In Rasen, she resurrects Ryuji Takayama, and Ando's son Takanori.
The cursed tape allows her to appear as a ghost and extend her nensha powers to others, leaving Masami Kurahashi with some degree of powers after killing Tomoko. In one scene in Ring, Ryuji and Reiko Asakawa interrogate Sadako's uncle, Takashi Yamamura, and share a vision of her mother's disastrous public demonstration of her psychic powers, in which a young Sadako approaches Reiko in the vision and leaves a burn mark on her arm. In Ring 0, Sadako has little control of her powers, and unknowingly creates an early version of the cursed tape in the form of a sound recording. Her ghost can appear, most notably showing an ability to crawl out of a television to kill her victims. How she killed Tomoko's friends who weren't near a television at the time remains unknown. However, it is suspected her ability to give people heart attacks caused this.
Koji Suzuki's Ring
Little of Sadako's history is revealed in the first novel, save the pivotal events which Kazuyuki Asakawa and Ryuji Takayama discover during their race to trace the origins of the cursed videotape. Born on Sashikiji, Oshima Island, Sadako is the child of psychic Shizuko Yamamura and her lover, Dr. Heihachiro Ikuma, a assistant professor of psychiatry at Taido University in Tokyo. Ikuma met Shizuko when she was hospitalized for migraines related to her powers, which she developed after recovering a statue of En no Ozunu from the ocean. Ikuma was intrigued by her abilities, and the two become involved in an illicit affair which resulted in the conception and birth of Sadako. As a newborn, Shizuko leaves Sadako in the care of her grandmother, and returns to Tokyo to be near Ikuma. She comes back for Sadako when she is three years old, and leaves Oshima Island with her for several years. When Sadako is seven years old, her mother gives birth to a baby boy, who later dies from illness at the age of four months. Sadako was reported to be very fond of her younger brother, who makes an appearance on the novel's version of the cursed videotape.
When Sadako is eight years old, her mother's powers fail as she performs a public demonstration, leading the press to brand her a fraud and Ikuma to resign his position in disgrace. As a result, Shizuko falls into a deep depression, and after returning to Oshima with Sadako, she commits suicide by throwing herself into Mount Mihara. After Shizuko's death, Sadako lives with her mother's cousin, Takashi Yamamura, at the inn that he runs. She accurately predicts the eruption of Mount Mihara when she is nine years old, but later keeps her psychic abilities to herself.
At age eighteen, after finishing high school, Sadako leaves Oshima for Tokyo, and joins an acting troupe. Sadako later disappears from the troupe, and goes to southern Hakone to visit her father, who has developed tuberculosis and been hospitalized. While visiting her father, Sadako is raped by a young doctor, Jotaro Nagao, who is infected with the smallpox virus, on the hospital grounds. After the assault, Nagao discovers that Sadako has Testicular Feminization Syndrome—meaning that, though she has the appearance of a beautiful woman, she is biologically male and has a pair of testes. Ashamed at having her secret discovered, Sadako psychically attacks Nagao, who throttles her in rage and horror, dumping her into a nearby well. Sadako survives the fall, but eventually starves to death with a heart full of hate.
In addition to killing her, Nagao transferred the smallpox virus to Sadako during the rape. Asakawa and Ryuji postulate that Sadako mutated the smallpox virus with her own DNA and her psychic powers, planting it in the tape she made through nensha. The virus passes on to those who watch the tape in the form of a throat tumor which kills the victim within a week, forcing them to hallucinate their own rotting face shortly before death. The virus takes the lives of Asakawa's niece, Tomoko, and her three friends as well as Ryuji by the end of the novel.
(Note: In America, the film tends to go under the title of Ringu in order to distinguish it from the American remake. However, the book and movie originally used the English word “Ring” as their title; the American title is a transliteration of the kana used to spell “Ring”: リング. )
In Hideo Nakata's film adaptation, Sadako's origins remain fundamentally the same. However, her real father is hinted to be an oceanic demon rather than Ikuma. During the botched demonstration, Sadako kills the reporter who first accuses her mother of fraud, a crime which Shizuko is framed for. The film's Sadako is shown to be more powerful than the novel's, as the original Sadako could not kill with her mind alone, but had to fuse her abilities with a virus. In addition, the curse itself seems purely supernatural rather than somewhat biological; it seems to be the product of Sadako's will alone. Instead of death by a fatal tumor on the seventh day, the ghost of Sadako herself crawls out of the television to claim her victims, an idea inspired by David Cronenberg's Videodrome and Steven Spielberg's Poltergeist. This form of Sadako remains the most influential, all later adaptations and remakes drawing from this incarnation.
Additional differences include Sadako's gender, which is fully female. Dr. Nagao disappears from the story; rather than his raping her, Ikuma brains her with an axe out of fear of her evil powers, and dumps her down the well. Sadako survives in spite of her wounds for thirty years, kept alive by pure malice.
Both the film and the novel remove much of the emphasis placed on Sadako in Ring. Ando Mitsuo, a collegue of Ryuji's, performs an autopsy on Ryuji's body and discovers the tumor placed there by the Ring Virus. Sadako makes an appearance under the guise of Mai Takano's sister, Masako, who seduces Ando and forces him to do her bidding. Though apparently reincarnated as a female, Sadako appears to have the ability to inseminate herself and claims to be a perfect fusion of the sexes.
Ring 2 (1999)
The "true" sequel to the first film, directed by Hideo Nakata, differs greatly from the second novel and its film version. Doctors investigate Sadako's retrieved corpse, wherein it is revealed to her uncle, Takashi Yamamura, that she remained alive in the well for thirty years. The forensic experts reconstruct the body and face, and later send it to Takashi, who sets it loose in the ocean.
More of Sadako's history is revealed during the course of the film. Takashi tells Mai of how Shizuko gave birth to Sadako in a cave by the ocean, leaving her there to be carried away by the waves, but bringing her home after she found her still there the next day. Later, the ghosts of both Shizuko and Sadako re-enact a scene from the cursed tape, in which a young Sadako played a prank on her increasingly unstable mother.
During the course of the plot, Asakawa's son Yoichi is somehow possessed by Sadako, gaining several of her psychic abilities. During the climax, Sadako's influence kills the doctor, Takashi, and a nurse. She then transports Yoichi and Mai to the bottom of the well, where she confronts them as they attempt to escape via a rope, asking them "Why is it only you were saved?" Sadako then allows herself to fall back into the well as Yoichi and Mai escape.
Ring 0: Birthday/ "Lemonheart"
"Lemonheart" is part of a compilation of short stories by Koji Suzuki titled Birthday. It chronicles the days of Sadako shortly before her encounter with Nagao. Currently nineteen years old, Sadako joins an acting troupe in Tokyo and falls in love with fellow troupe member, Hiroshi Toyama. She is also about to make her acting debut as the lead in the troupe's upcoming performance, "The Girl in Black". Her happiness is short-lived, however, as an early form of the cursed tape is created in the form of an audio recording of an intimate moment between her and Toyama, which is discovered and broadcast over the sound system by jealous troupe member Okubo. Assuming that Toyama played the recording to make their previously secret relationship public (against her wishes), Sadako disappears from the troupe. Over time, all five troupe members who heard the tape, including director Yusaku Shigemori, mysteriously die of heart failure.
In the 2000 film based off of "Lemonheart" by Norio Tsuruta, Ring 0: Birthday(リング0 バースデイ Ringu 0: Bāsudei), Sadako (Yukie Nakama) leaves her native Izu to join an acting troupe in hope that working in theater will help her recover from the memory of her mother's suicide and her social anxiety. While rehearsing for their upcoming play, "The Mask," the lead actress Aiko dies onset of mysterious circumstances, her face frozen in a rictus of horror akin to the victims in Ring. In spite of the troupe's uneasiness around the quiet Sadako, she is cast as the lead in Aiko's stead. She soon develops a relationship with Toyama, much to costumier Etsuko's jealousy, as suspicions continue to grow around the mutual nightmares several of the troupe have experienced and glimpses of a ghostly little girl roaming the theater. Meanwhile, reporter Akiko Miyaji, hinted to be the widow of the reporter Sadako killed, digs up information on Sadako relating to her supernatural abilities, learning from Sadako's elementary school teacher that Sadako once predicted the drowning of her classmates while on a field trip to the beach.
In the theater, the director of the troupe, Shigemori, convinces Sadako to spend the night with him, promising to further her career. A fight ensues between the director and Toyama in which Shigemori is accidentally killed.Toyama hides the body as the rest of the troupe carries on with the opening night. Miyaji disrupts the performance by playing a sound recording of Shizuko's failed psychic demonstration, causing Sadako to break down into a panic on stage. Sadako--or someone--lashes out with psychic powers, killing the doctor who stepped onto the stage to help her and bringing the light fixtures crashing down. The audience flees in a panic as Sadako retreats. At this moment, Miyaji spots the mysterious little girl and realizes that she is a second Sadako. After the body of Shigemori is discovered, the cast, save for Toyama, corners Sadako in the dressing room and bludgeons her to death. Miyaji arrives soon afterwards and warns them of the second Sadako. They realize that Sadako's father is most likely hiding the alter ego somewhere in his house. With Sadako's body in tow, they depart for Ikuma's home. When they arrive, Ikuma explains that after Sadako killed the journalist at the demonstration, she split into two halves: one good, the other evil. He also explains how he drugged the second Sadako to keep her from reaching maturity. Once within range of her other half, the dead Sadako revives and escapes into the woods aided by Toyama. The troupe pursues her, but all of them, including the sympathetic Toyama, are psychically murdered by the second Sadako, who soon merges with the first.
Afterwards, the good Sadako regains control over herself, and mourns her actions. Ikuma injects Sadako with medicine, which turns out to be poison, as Ikuma fears Sadako's evil powers now that she is again one being. Sadako flees the house, her father close behind. The two struggle in front of the old well, before Ikuma strikes her over the head with a bladed weapon and pushes her into the well, before breaking down in tears afterwards.
Sadako wakes to find herself with Toyama, but this is soon revealed to be a hallucination. She realizes she is at the bottom of the well, letting out a scream as her father seals the opening shut.
- It is pointed out that Sadako's ghostly appearance and famous 'Eye Stare' scene inspired the "Woman in Box" ghost from the horror game, Fatal Frame 2.
- Her incarnation in the American series is Samara Morgan, played by Daveigh Chase, Kelly Stables, and Bonnie Morgan.