CREEPY CORNER: Sadako from "The Ring," Pop-Culture Icon

Sadako milkshake anyone?
Publish date:
February 12, 2015
fashion, ghosts, creepy corner, pop culture, urban legends, japan

I don't know how I missed it, but in 2012 this happened:

Then it happened AGAIN in 2013. This time Sadako brought some friends:

Maybe I don't follow international baseball closely enough (I'll put that on my "to do" list), or maybe I was just asleep at the Creepy Corner wheel, but when the scary girl from The Ring or Ringu, as it's called in Japan, throws out the first pitch at a baseball game, I SHOULD KNOW.

More importantly, it seems that Sadako (Samara for American audiences) is a Japanese pop culture icon. A quick search reveals fashion, blogs, foreign movies (American and Korean), superstitions, environmental mascots, even MILKSHAKES inspired by the gal who just wants to drag you to Hell. Granted most of her fame coincided with the release of the Ring franchise, including Sadako 3D in 2012, but the fascination with this character seems to be an enduring part of Japanese culture — before and after the Ring movies.

I mean, if I can be a Creepy Cornerista fangirl for a moment, as far as horror movie characters, Sadako is pretty damn cool.

A vengeful, pale, raven-haired-girl spirit with sinister otherworldly powers? An unending cycle of doom that one can only save oneself from by DOOMING another person? A cursed videotape? A well? An expiration date AFTER you watch the video tape? DEATH BY SADAKO CRAWLING OUT OF YOUR TV?

Let's be honest: Whether The Ring scared you or not (I go back and forth), how many of you have wondered, just for a second, if after seeing that disturbing video in the movie, or watching some scratchy VHS tape you find in your mom's basement, Sadako/Samara had you on her schedule?

American, Japanese, Korean, or from Mars, Sadako captures so many of the things we've come to fear in contemporary horror movie culture.

But where did Sadako and the inspiration for The Ring (originally a novel by Koji Suzuki) come from?

Like some of the best horror stories, Sadako's story comes from folklore and, yes, real life.

Remember the story of Oiwa? The ancient story of a faithful wife, turned vengeful when her husband betrays her? Disfigured and murdered by her husband, Oiwa's ghost returns on his wedding day to exact revenge on his new bride, him, and just about everyone else.

According to legend, Oiwa's rage did not end with the death of her husband and his bride, and the curse continues to this day. In fact, I'm not even supposed to be talking about Oiwa, since I did not go to her grave (a real place in Tokyo) and ask for permission. If there's no Creepy Corner next week, you'll know why.

This legend, though also related to the Ju-On or The Grudge movies, is considered a prototype to the Sadako character.

But really, a major inspiration for Sadako is the story of Okiku and the well.

Okiku was married to a powerful samurai. One day when she was cleaning the family's 10 treasured ceramic plates, she broke one. Distraught and knowing that she could be punished by death, she counted them over and over again, of course every time only getting to nine.

When her husband discovered she broke a plate, he killed her and threw her into a well. Like you do.

Every night from then on, Okiku's ghost would rise from the well and count to nine before crumbling into tears. There are a few variations on what eventually happens to Okiku's ghost.

One says that her obsessive counting drove her husband mad and he died. Another says that word of the counting ghost spread, and people came to watch her rise from the well.

Some say Okiku was finally put to rest when a brave soul stepped forward one night and called out "Ten!," thus ending her torment.

Still another telling, my favorite, the one told to me by my Japanese friends, claims that if you're watching Okiku count and you're still there when she gets to nine, she'll grab you and drag you into the well with her. FOREVER.

Apparently Okiku's well still exists at Himeji Castle. It's fenced in and covered with chain link. Stories still float around that you can hear her counting at night.

Paintings of Oiwa and Okiku portray the women with pale skin, a bit disfigured, with long black, unkempt hair. Sound familiar?

But even more fascinating, and somewhat eerie, are the real 19th- and 20th-century women who inspired Sadako and The Ring.

Born in 1886, Mifune Chizuko supposedly possessed the powers of extra-sensory perception. Studied by Professor Fukurai Tomokichi of Tokyo University, a psychology professor interested in the paranormal, Chizuko's abilities were developed and documented.

According to reports in the early 20th century, Chizuko possessed nensha abilities, that is the power to project images on film or paper using only her mind. While the full extent of Chizuko's actual abilities seems to be unknown, it seems that nensha abilities or not, she was a gifted woman capable of extreme concentration and mental discipline.

Sadly, Chizuko was accused of being a fraud and she committed suicide in 1910 at the age of 25.

Professor Fukurai took on other subjects after Chizuko, one of which was named Takahashi Sadako. Sadako was reported to also have the nensha ability as well as clairvoyance.

Professor Fukurai's studies never really went anywhere, but due to Sadako's abilities he was able to publish a book which, translated, is called, "Clairvoyance and Thoughtography" and establish the Fukurai Institute of Psychology, a paranormal institute that I believe still exists. Fukurai is still considered one of the "fathers" of thoughtography, or psychic photography. Or he's considered a fraud. Depends on what you read.

Just like the movies, the deeper you dig, the stranger it gets, right?

But fast forward to the 2010s, and Sadako (the character not the real woman) continues to evolve. In the six months I've been here, I've randomly seen commercial images of Sadako more often than you'd expect. And honestly, I'm not keeping an eye out for her.

Baseball aside, here are some of the more unique incarnations of Sadako I've found.

Sadako Milkshake


To promote the release of Sadako 3D, Lotteria, a fast food chain in Japan, released a ramune (carbonated lemony drink) milkshake inspired by Sadako.

The chocolate syrup and black straw over the blue milkshake slush was supposed to emulate Sadako's black hair and white clothes. Here's some footage of Sadako "at work." It doesn't get much weirder than this.

Oh yeah, and the Ministry of the Environment in Japan named Sadako as its 2013 summer mascot. Working with Lotteria, the Ministry hoped to encourage "global warming prevention" through Sadako and "cool," "refreshing" milkshakes. Obviously.

Nothing says refreshing like a soggy well ghost.

Sadako's Garden

It kind of makes sense to me that Sadako inspired some high style. I mean come on, her look is nothing if not distinctive.

In 2013, "artist Sokkuan Tye, photographer Lester Lai, floral artist Dan Takeda, hairstylist Ken Hong and stylist CK Koo" collaborated to give Sadako "a high fashion makeover in 'Sadako's Garden.'" The spread was featured in Vulture Magazine.

In the photographs, the collaborators say that Sadako's "hair is her garden." Sokkuan, who also has a blog devoted to Sadako (more on that shortly), says that her notorious hair is a "veil," "a place of hiding."

Sadako's Unfashionable Fashion Diary

Wanna fall down Sadako's rabbit hole (er . . . well?) for a while? Check out artist Sokkuan Tye's blog devoted to her love and strong feelings for Sadako.

In Sadako's Unfashionable Fashion Diary, Sokki (as she calls herself) uses Sadako as an inspiration for fashion, photography, artwork, video — you name it, Sadako does it. As Sokki says, it's a fashion blog that's "not really about fashion."

sokki, secretly a sadako's fan. she has stopped watching any horror movie since The Ring. only recently realised that sadako has still actually left a profound impact within her since then. this contribution is her expressions of fear (and love?) towards this classic horror movie figure with her own unfashionable fashion. through this exercise, she hopes to conquer her inner fear by getting familiar with sadako's spirit. warning: you may not find any substantial value in sadako's diary, read on at your own risk. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

While all the imagery is Sadako-based, not all of it is scary, or even dark. Sadako has a sense of humor and even seems to like bright colors and sightseeing.

Sokkuan has even turned Sadako's Diary into a book. You can order it here.

That Time 50 Sadakos Marched Through Shibuya

Imagine one of the busiest districts in Tokyo being flooded with Sadakos. All of them coming out of TV screens to GET YOU.

Sure this was another promotion for Sadako 3D, but you've got to admit the Japanese know how to make an impact.

I hope you find room for a little Sadako in your life too.

She can't wait to hang with you.