Interior artwork from The Ring vol. 1 (November, 2003 Dark Horse Comics)
Art by Misao Inagaki
|First appearance||Ring (1991)|
|Created by||Koji Suzuki|
Sadako Yamamura (山村 貞子), also known as Park Eun-suh and Samara Morgan, is the central antagonist of Koji Suzuki's Ring novel series and the film franchise of the same name. Her name combines the Japanese words for "chaste" (sada) and "child" (ko). Sadako's fictional history alternates between continuities, but all depict her as the vengeful ghost of a psychic who was murdered and thrown into a well. As a ghost, she uses nensha, her most distinctive power and weapon, to create a cursed video tape that will kill whoever watches it exactly one week later unless the tape is copied and shown to another person, who then must repeat the same process.
Sadako Yamamura has been played by a number of actresses in films, including Rie Inō in Ring and Ring 2, Hinako Saeki in Rasen, Yukie Nakama in Ring 0: Birthday as the villainous protagonist, Ayane Miura in Ring: Kanzenban, Tae Kimura in Ring: The Final Chapter and Rasen, and Ai Hashimoto in Sadako 3D. Foreign adaptations renamed the character, with Bae Doona portraying Park Eun-suh in the South Korean film The Ring Virus, and Daveigh Chase portraying Samara Morgan in the American films The Ring and The Ring Two; Bonnie Morgan would later take over the role in Rings.
Sadako's initial origin story differs between the novels and the films. In the novels, Sadako was born in 1947 to Shizuko Yamamura and Dr. Heichachiro Ikuma in Oshima Island. The year before, Shizuko gained psychic powers after retrieving an ancient statuette of En no Ozuno from the ocean. Shizuko also gave birth to a baby boy but he died four months later due to an illness. Planning to move to Tokyo with Ikuma, she entrusted her mother to take care of baby Sadako. At Tokyo, at Ikuma's encouragement, Shizuko displays her psychic powers during a publicized demonstration. However, Shizuko bows out of the demonstration due to migraines brought on by her powers. The press denounces Shizuko as a fraud because of this. Depressed, Shizuko eventually returns to Oshima Island for Sadako.
At the age of nineteen, Sadako joins a Tokyo-based acting troupe and falls in love with the sound operator, Hiroshi Toyama. He learns of her powers but accepts them. Unfortunately, an early form of the curse is created in the form of a sound recording which kills four people including the troupe's director, resulting in a heartbroken Sadako leaving Toyama. Sadako visits Ikuma in hospital, only to be raped by a doctor named Nagao Jotaro who cared for her father. However, he discovers that she had Testicular Feminization Syndrome, possessing the genitalia of both sexes. When Sadako attacks him with her powers, Nagao throws her down a nearby well and seals her within. Foreseeing herself being reborn years later, Sadako vows revenge on the world before she dies.
As a vengeful ghost, Sadako created a cursed videotape that will kill anyone who watches it 7 days later. Besides wreaking her vengeance upon humanity, Sadako creates the curse to reproduce and ultimately be reborn, something she can not biologically do herself due to being genetically male. The curse is specifically referred to as the "Ring Virus", embedded within the cursed videotape, since she will "live on" in it, as long as her DNA merged with that of a strand of the smallpox virus, which she contracted from the rape, still exists.
In the novel Spiral, it unfolds that Sadako intended on resurrecting herself through the power of her curse, actually a mutated biological virus that cause heart attacks or pregnancy in women if the right requirements are met. After Mitsuo Ando and Mai Takano have sex, the latter goes through a rapid pregnancy, giving birth to Sadako, who grows into her adult self in a matter of hours. She uses the virus to clone and resurrect Ryuji Takayama as well, and convinces Ando to spread the virus in the form of Kazuyuki Asakawa's journal of the curse in return for resurrecting his own son Takanori.
In Loop and its subsequent sequels, the virus was still present in LOOP, a supercomputer project that stimulates the emergence of life and replicates scenes from the previous novels. After LOOP's creator decides to replicate Ryuji's death, by cloning him and inserting him to someone's womb, the virus was unleashed and mutated into Metastatic Human Cancer (MHC), threatening to kill all forms of life.
Her past alters in the film series. Sadako is not the biological child of Dr. Ikuma and Shizuko but is heavily implied to be the result of sexual intercourse between Shizuko and an enigmatic sea demon after Shizuko spent hours staring at the ocean, which is confirmed by her brother Takashi who spied on her from behind. Takashi later learns of Shizuko's psychic prediction of Mount Mihara's eruption and tells everyone about it, making her an instant celebrity. Dr. Ikuma, eager to prove the existence of ESP, encouraged her to participate in a demonstration at Tokyo. During the demonstration, Shizuko was successfully able to prove her psychic abilities but a spiteful journalist, Miyaji, accused Shizuko of being a fraud, inciting other journalists to join in the slanderous uproar. Sadako, who watched from backstage, snapped and killed Miyaji, to stand up for her mother.
Sadako eventually split into identical twins, one good and innocent, and the other destructive. After Shizuko committed suicide due to severe depression from the infamous ESP demonstration, Ikuma moved to Izu with the twins. The good Sadako grew into an adult and became an actress, while the evil twin was locked up by Ikuma and drugged to stunt her growth. Sadako's evil self haunted her, leading to her beaten her to death by fellow theatre troupe members, aside from Toyama. Akiko Miyaji, the fiancé of the journalist whom Sadako killed, leads an angry mob to kill the evil Sadako, only for the twins to merge into one and slaughter her tormentors. Ikuma then wounded and threw Sadako down the well behind his house. Sadako survived within for thirty years and died shortly before the events of Ring, creating the cursed videotape.
At the end of the Sadako 3D 2, Sadako's daughter is revealed, which is briefly described by Kashiwada as "the seed of despair, growing, and ready to bloom", which is also the real cause of the deaths, not Nagi, Akane Ayukawa's daughter.
Sadako appears in the crossover film Sadako vs. Kayako, encountering Kayako Saeki, the antagonist of the Ju-On films. Sadako's cursed videotape, in this version, is reduced to a 2-day deadline instead of the traditional 7 day deadline. She is also shown to be much stronger and violent this time, forcing people who try to hinder her curse or escape to kill themselves in brutal ways. The two ghosts battle each other to kill two women who are under both of their respective curses, they are lured to an old well with the help of psychics Keizo Tokiwa and Tamao in an attempt to destroy them both. However, it ends up causing the two ghosts to fuse into Sadakaya.
Sadako appears as a young woman whose face is hidden under her long dark hair, and she wears a white dress. This appearance is typical of yūrei. Specifically, Sadako is a type of yūrei known as an onryō, bound by a desire for vengeance. In Sadako 3D, Sadako appears as her human self while still displaying traits of an onryō, in addition to the standard yūrei appearance. Ring: Kanzenban was the only rendition that differs from a traditional yūrei appearance. She is shown similarly as a young woman with Testicular Feminization Syndrome, yet her hair rarely covers her face and is frequently portrayed nude as opposed to a white garment. Sadako is also an amalgamation of two famous Japanese ghosts, Oiwa and Okiku. From Oiwa, Sadako takes the single, misshapen eye. From Okiku, the style of murder, of being thrown down a well and then having the ghost rise from the well to seek vengeance.
The success of the 1998 film Ring brought the image of the yūrei to western popular culture for the first time, although the image has existed in Japan for centuries. This image is often used in J-Horror films, such as Ju-on (and its remake The Grudge), One Missed Call and Dark Water.
Sadako is also based on the life of early-20th century psychic Sadako Takahashi, an apparent practitioner of nensha, the art of projecting images onto film by thought alone. In 1931 Takahashi was studied by psychologist Tomokichi Fukurai for his book, Clairvoyance and Thoughtography. Fukurai also worked with psychic Chizuko Mifune, who inspired the backstory of Sadako and her mother Shizuko.
Sadako has a variety of psychic powers throughout all the Ring cycle books and films. The most famous is her ability to create the "cursed" video tape.
In the films her method of killing with the video curse is not explained, but when someone is killed by it she is seen climbing out of a nearby surface, often a television screen, and approaching them. The corpses are discovered with looks of unearthly anguish on their faces.
In Spiral, the curse is explained in detail, and is discovered to be a virus. When someone watches the cursed tape (or something else carrying the curse) some of their DNA is changed to become that of the Ring Virus (a hybrid of Sadako's DNA and that of the smallpox virus). This travels throughout their body and in most cases causes a sarcoma to form on one of the arteries of their heart. If the curse has not been appeased within seven days, the sarcoma detaches from the artery and clogs it, causing heart failure. Eventually, however, the virus is able to infect people through means other than videotapes, such as a report detailing the events of Ring written by Kazuyuki Asakawa in which the virus had entered from Asakawa's body, a novel version of the report published by Asakawa's brother, a movie based on the novel (which Sadako was cast as herself in), and finally the Metastatic Human Cancer virus that appears in the third novel, Loop.
Each version of the video tape contains disturbing imagery. The novel version features messages at the start and end of the tape, though the method to removing the curse was recorded over. Most of the footage is from Sadako's perspective, including being sexually assaulted by Nagao Jotaro. The films' incarnation has more abstract imagery, and features an enigmatic figure whose face is obscured by a towel, pointing out to something off-screen. He is collectively referred to as the "Towel Man", and is speculated to symbolise Sadako's unknown, possibly otherworldly biological father. He appears in Ring, directing Reiko to Yoichi watching the tape, and later points out the copy she made of the tape, implying he may actually be Ryuji Takayama following his death. The final shot of the tape is of the well, which extends with each viewing, until the deadline of the curse where Sadako emerges from the well and then crawls out of the nearest reflective surface to kill her victim.
An alternate version of the tape was featured in Ring: The Final Chapter, portrayed as being recorded during pop singer Nao Matsuzaki's music video, and the deadline for the curse was extended to thirteen days. The American film incarnation is probably the longest, and mostly consists of abstract imagery or exaggerated visions that Samara Morgan has seen, but still adapts a lot from the Japanese version including the infamous final sequence where Samara emerges from a television to kill her victims.
Park Eun-Suh more closely resembles the Sadako from the novels. She appears to be about the same age as Sadako, though her age is never confirmed; she is only said to have disappeared after high school. She and her mother both had supernatural powers (similar to Sadako and Shizuko) and were rumored to be witches. After Eun-Suh's mother throws herself off a cliff into the sea, Eun-Suh's powers mysteriously disappear. As she grows older, she works at a nightclub under the name "Sunny Park". Her powers return. She is able to turn on an unplugged TV, and murders a man with her abilities after she catches him peeping on her showering.
Eun-Suh is raped by her half brother shortly before her death, during which he discovers that she is a hermaphrodite. She is ashamed, and telepathically threatens him. Horrified, he chokes her unconscious and drops her in a nearby well at the Sanitarium he was staying at for smallpox.
Sadako was the main influence on Samara Morgan from the 2002 American remake, The Ring and its sequels, The Ring Two and Rings. She was played by Daveigh Chase, Kelly Stables and Bonnie Morgan, respectively. Samara Morgan is depicted as an otherworldly little girl, responsible for the creation of the cursed videotape from the American version of the Ring story. Her usual appearance is of a girl with long, dark hair covering her face and wearing a white dress. Samara possesses the power of nensha like Sadako, capable of burning images onto surfaces and into the minds of others. Unlike Sadako, Samara psychically disfigures her victims' faces before they finally die of a heart attack.
Samara's history is covered through the American films. The Ring explains that Samara is adopted by Anna and Richard Morgan (Shannon Cochran and Brian Cox), who own a horse ranch on Moesko Island, Washington. As Samara grows older, her powers burn horrible images into her adoptive mother's mind, nearly driving her insane. Richard banishes Samara to live in the ranch's barn, but she uses her powers to drive Anna's beloved horses to suicide. At some point, Samara is taken to a psychiatric hospital but the doctors are unable to explain how she created the images. During a family vacation on Shelter Mountain, Anna attacks Samara as she stands before an old well, suffocating her with a garbage bag and then dropping her down the well. Anna then commits suicide by jumping off a cliff. However, Samara clings to life for seven days alone in the well before dying from a combination of starvation and hypothermia. Eventually, a set of rental cabins are built near the well, one on top of it. This allows Samara to project her visions into a VCR tape, creating the seven-day curse. Samara's curse kills Katie (Amber Tamblyn), the niece of journalist Rachel Keller (Naomi Watts), who investigates the tape's origins. Rachel, her ex-boyfriend Noah Clay (Martin Henderson) and their son Aidan (David Dorfman) all watch the video. Rachel meets Richard, who warns her to stay away and then kills himself via electrocution. Rachel and Noah eventually find Samara's corpse in the well and bury it. Unfortunately, this releases a corporeal, grotesque form of Samara's spirit and she kills Noah as per the rules of the curse. Rachel destroys the original video cassette in a fit of rage, but uses a copied version of the video to continue the curse in order to save Aidan.
The Ring Two expands upon Samara's backstory: her mother, a woman named Evelyn (Sissy Spacek and Mary Elizabeth Winstead), believed that her daughter had a demon inside her and tried to drown the girl, but she was prevented by nuns. Evelyn is sent to an insane asylum, while Samara was put up for adoption. In the film's present timeline, Samara deliberately manipulates the tape to get back to Rachel, having decided to make Rachel her new mother. After Rachel burns the tape, Samara possesses Aidan. Rachel drugs Samara and then nearly drowns Aidan to exorcise her. Samara retreats to a television set, Rachel being willingly pulled into Samara's visionary world and down the well. Rachel climbs out of the well with Samara pursuing her, but Rachel covers the seal on the well just in time.
In Rings, expands further back on Evelyn's backstory, Evelyn, (Kayli Carter), was kidnapped by a local priest, Galen Burke (Vincent D'Onofrio), who raped and impregnated her which led to Samara's conception during Evelyn's captivity. Years after his daughter's death, Burke sealed Samara's remains in a wall of his house at some point after the events of the first film, knowing her spirit still plagues those who have encountered her. He also blinded himself so Samara couldn't kill him.
Samara has been looking for a compassionate host in order to be reborn, which she finds in the high school graduate, Julia (Matilda Lutz). Burke tries to kill Julia, but Samara rises out of Julia's iPhone, restores Burke's sight, and kills him. After the cremation of her remains, Samara's spirit now resides in Julia. In the film's closing scenes, Samara's video begins spreading online and goes viral.
A number of actresses have portrayed Sadako in the numerous films and television adaptations of the novels, as well as in foreign adaptations.
- Rie Inō – Ring, Ring 2
- Hinako Saeki – Rasen
- Ayane Miura – Ring: Kanzenban
- Tae Kimura – Ring: The Final Chapter, Rasen
- Yukie Nakama – Ring 0: Birthday
- Ai Hashimoto – Sadako 3D
- Elly Nanami – Sadako vs. Kayako
- Daveigh Chase – The Ring (The Ring Two & Rings (2017) (archival footage))
- Kelly Stables – The Ring (stunts), The Ring Two and Rings (2005)
- Bonnie Morgan – The Ring Two (stunts) and Rings (2017)
The character of Sadako and particularly Samara Morgan have been well received by audiences and film critics alike. The Movie Book describes Sadako as influencing the whole Japanese horror genre, making the mythological image of the yurei popular in film. British film critic Mark Kermode lists Sadako's iconic crawl out of a television set as his seventh scariest moment from the horror film genre. The scene also came sixth in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Scary Moments. On August 10, 2002, Sadako was given a public funeral at the Laforet Museum in Harajuku, Tokyo, to tie-in with the opening of a Ring exhibit at the museum and the release of The Ring, with Koji Suzuki attending the funeral. Empire's Mark Dinning described Samara as one of the film industry's most "unrelenting, unreasonable, plain uncontrollable baddies ever." Brandon Santiago has cited Samara Morgan as the inspiration for his Tapas webcomic series Erma. Daveigh Chase has been praised for her performance as Samara Morgan, and won the MTV Movie Award for Best Villain at the 2003 ceremony.
- Takahashi Hiroshi, "Ring", translated by J. Lopez, [unpublished, from http://www.curseofthering.com/RingText.txt]
- Suzuki, Koji (1995). Spiral. Ring. Vertical Inc.
- Frey, Mark (2013). "Sadako's Secrets: Explaining "Ringu" at the Asian Art Museum". JETAANC. Retrieved 4 January 2015.
- "Not only was Koji Suzuki -- the author of the Ring novels -- familiar with the history of Japanese parapsychology, but the story of Tomokichi Fukurai significantly influenced him as he wrote the first novel in the Ring trilogy." Kristen Lacefield, ed., The Scary Screen: Media Anxiety in 'The Ring'. Surrey, England and Burlington, VT, USA: Ashgate, 2010.
- Lopez, J. (2006). "FAQ - The original Japanese series". Internet Archive. Curse of the Ring. Retrieved 8 July 2018.
- "Ring Saishusho Cursed Videotape". The Ring Area. 2005. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
- Baxter, Louis; Farndon, John; Grant, Kieran (2015). Danny Leigh (ed.). The Movie Book. Damon Wise. DK Publishing. pp. 288–289. ISBN 978-0-2411-8802-6.
- Kermode, Mark (2003). "All Fright On the Night". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
- "Shining Tops Screen Horrors". BBC News. 2003. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
- Lopez, J. (2006). "The Ring exhibit". Internet Archive. Curse of the Ring. Retrieved 8 July 2018.
- Dinning, Mark. "The Ring Movie Review". Empire Online. Retrieved 8 January 2015.
- "2003 MTV Movie Awards". MTV Awards. 2003. Retrieved 8 January 2015.