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Kayako Saeki (née:Kawamata) is the main antagonist of the The Grudge series. She serves as the main antagonist of Ju On: The Curse, Ju On: The Curse 2, Ju On: The Grudge, Ju On 2, The Grudge, The Grudge 2, and The Grudge 3, the secondary antagonist of Ju On: Beginning of the End, Ju On: The Final Curse, and Sadako vs Kayako, a minor character of Scary Movie 4, and the overarching antagonist in The Grudge (2020).
Originally a regular housewife, Kayako was killed by her husband after he thought she was having an affair; as a result, she came back an angry and vengeful spirit who only seeks death, destruction, and a continuation of the curse that made her unable to rest.
She was portrayed by:
- Takako Fuji in Katasumi, Ju-on: The Curse, Ju-on: The Curse 2, Ju-on: The Grudge, Ju-on: The Grudge 2, The Grudge, The Grudge 2.
- Aiko Horiuchi in The Grudge 3.
- Misaki Saisho in Ju-on: Beginning of the End, and Ju-on: The Final.
- Runa Endo in Sadako vs. Kayako.
- Anna Moon in Tales from the Grudge.
- Junko Bailey in The Grudge (2020 movie)
- Tomoko Sato in Scary Movie 4 (in pictures)
In both original Ju On film series as well as its American adaptation The Grudge series, Kayako is primarily portrayed as a housewife who was murdered by her husband after he discovered she had feelings for her son's teacher after reading her diary and believed that they were having an affair. He later murdered their son Toshio Saeki because he had witnessed his mother's murder as well as his now-uncertain paternity. After her death, she and her son became vengeful spirits as their violent deaths triggered a horrifying curse that revived them as Onryo. She killed her husband in revenge, causing him to become an evil spirit as well. This led to them killing anybody who set foot in the house they lived in. The curse would spread after more people were killed and became evil spirits.
Japanese Series Timeline (Ju-On Series)
In Ju-on franchise, as revealed in the official novel written by Kei Ohishi, both of Kayako's parents were present albeit highly neglectful, causing Kayako to often feel depressed and lonely. Kayako spent most of her free time with her cat Kuro and was highly anti-social. In the first installment of the Ju-on franchise, Ju-on: The Curse, Kobayashi's wife Manami remarks that she remembers Kayako from high school and that she found her "creepy". Kayako became highly jealous of Manami and even tried to curse her, but failed and eventually gave up. When she attended university, she met Shunsuke Kobayashi, with whom she fell deeply in love. After the accidental deaths of her parents, which didn't seem to faze her, Kayako married Takeo Saeki, the only person who understood and cared for her, and together, they had a son named Toshio (佐伯俊雄). Years later, Kobayashi became Toshio's school teacher, and she fell in love with him again.
She wrote of her feelings for him in the journal she kept all her life, in both franchises, this ultimately led to Takeo finding and reading her diary. He became obsessed with the idea that Kayako was cheating on him with his son's teacher - or worse, Toshio might not have been his son, but Kobayashi's. When she came home that day, he violently attacked her upstairs, pushing her against the wall. Toshio, who was is in his bedroom drawing, heard the noise and, coming outside, watched the violence that was occurring below through the banisters. Kayako tried to run away while Takeo chased her, but he pushed her down. She sprained her ankle, stumbled and fell, and had to go down the stairs by crawling. After much effort, she made it to the front door, only to find Takeo slowly walking behind her, watching her pain. He then snapped her neck to a 90-degree angle and crushed her throat, took her to their bedroom, and put her in a trash bag. Kayako was still alive, but paralyzed, capable only of her characteristic croaking noise. Takeo stared at her just sitting in a trash bag in the bedroom, then stabbed her multiple times (an event that does not occur yet is implied in The Grudge). Then, he put her body in the far corner of the attic, through an attic door in the ceiling of their bedroom closet.
After her death, she became an Onryō because of the painful and torturous nature of her death. Afterward, Takeo killed Toshio (a witness to the murder) by drowning him and his pet cat Mar in the bathtub. He then ran to Kobayashi's house, killing Manami Kobayashi, Kobayashi's pregnant wife, and put her fetus in a sack. As he flew into a fit of rage on the street, Kayako appeared as an Onryō coming out from the garbage dumped nearby and killed Takeo. Sometime later, Kayako's body was found in the attic; Takeo's on the nearby street (his cause of death unknown to the police, they assumed he committed suicide) and Toshio's in a closet.
Since that day, the ghosts of Kayako, Toshio, and Takeo kill anyone who steps into the Saeki House (and anywhere the curse has been transmitted). The cat, Mar, usually appears to forewarn any intruders of their impending doom. The curse is meant to repeat itself as an unending cycle, so the films feature Kayako crawling down the stairs emitting her famous death rattle, cracking her neck around and covered with blood. Although she is usually heard emitting a croaking sound, Kayako is occasionally heard making a strange, eerie moaning instead - she is even heard speaking to Toshio (off-screen) after her death, albeit briefly, and her appearance to Kobayashi during the first Ju-on movie.
Crossover Timeline/Sadako vs Kayako
Kayako serves as one of two titular main antagonists and secondary threat in the film, as she is tricked to challenge another Onryō named Sadako Yamamura.
Through a rumor, it is explained that Kayako was repeatedly stabbed to death by her husband before he drowned their son, Toshio, and hung himself. Ever since then, Kayako's and Toshio's spirits haunt their household, killing anyone who steps foot inside.
Suzuka Takagi moves in next door with her parents, where she already experiences supernatural visions of the foreboding house.
The psychic, Keizo Tokiwa, intends to have Kayako battle Sadako and have them destroy each other to free their current and future victims from their curses. At the same time, however, after spiriting away four schoolboys, Suzuka believes she sees one of them in the house late at night and goes there to check on him, only to have her parents follow after her as well. After Suzuka's father is taken, Kayako appears, taking Suzuka's mother's feet before capturing her. Kayako is quickly thwarted off with an essence of Sadako's spirit for Keizo, Yuri, and Tamao to save Suzuka.
The following night, Suzuka and Yuri enter the house to inflict both curses on themselves – Yuri having previously watched the cursed video two nights prior, and Suzuka setting up a television and VCR to watch it in the house. With this, Kayako and Sadako emerge, and with one in the other's way, they enter a brutal conflict. Initially, Kayako drags Sadako away, only to quickly be overcome and temporarily destroyed.
As Kayako returns, the conflict between the two spirits temporarily allows the girls and Keizo to escape the house. They retreat to a well, where Keizo explains that one of them must sacrifice themselves to trap both Sadako and Kayako in the well, to which Yuri volunteers. Just as she jumps into the well, something horrific happens: Kayako accidentally merges with Sadako into a mass of flesh, giant eyes, and hair. The mass then falls into the well. The mass and Yuri fuse into Sadakaya/Sayako, an all-powerful onryo that possesses all of the powers of the onryos it is composed of.
American Adaptation Timeline
In The Grudge trilogy, Kayako Kawamata was born to Nakagawa Kawamata, an exorcist (or Itako like they call it in Japan). Kayako's mother specialized in removing evil spirits from people. However, she had to leave the spirits somewhere, so she had Kayako 'eat' them, marking her for the rest of her life. She also lacked a fatherly figure in her childhood. Contrary to her Ju-On counterpart, the very curse that ultimately revives her and her son as Onryos was also caused by an accumulation of evil spirits that she was forced to feed upon by her mother after her murder by Takeo.
Later, Kayako attended university, where she fell in love with a man named Peter Kirk (Kobayashi's counterpart). Later. she married Takeo Saeki, the only friend she ever had, and she gave birth to their son, Toshio Saeki.
A few years later, Peter Kirk, the man Kayako fell in love with at the university, was revealed to be Toshio's teacher. Kayako fell in love with him again. But this time, she became obsessed with him and followed him everywhere.
She wrote her feelings for him in a journal that she had been writing in since her childhood. However, her husband was an extremely jealous man and would usually get mad whenever Kayako said something good about a man she saw on TV.
One day, he found her journal when Kayako wasn't home and thought Kayako was cheating on him and might leave him for Peter (who was already married). He was also mad that the idea that Toshio was not his biological son, but rather Peter's. When Kayako came home, Takeo attacked her and sprained her ankle. Kayako tried to escape the house by crawling down the stair to the door, but Takeo grabbed her by her long hair, snapped her neck, and crushed her throat, so the only sound she could make was a croaking noise. Toshio was watching the whole murder from the stairs, so Takeo killed him by drowning him and eventually killed Toshio's cat 'Mar'. As a result, Kayako became an Onryō (Japanese ghost) because of the evil spirits her mother 'fed' her as a child and her violent death. She then killed Takeo by hanging him with her hair. Afterward, Kayako, Takeo, Toshio, and Mar began haunting the house they lived in and Takeo and Kayako killed anyone who entered; Toshio and Mar, who were both victims of the Grudge, tried to warn Takeo and Kayako's victims - usually just before it was too late.
Powers and Abilities
As an Onryō, Kayako has numerous abilities that make her a supernatural force, with the rage and sadness she had resulting in her return as a powerful ghost that carries the titular Ju-On curse. Aside from allowing her to track down and kill her victims, the curse gives her unusual abilities such as:
- Supernatural Speed: Being an Onryo, Kayako is so inhumanly fast that no one can outrun her.
- Supernatural Strength: Kayako is inhumanely strong as a ghost. The limit of her strength is unknown, but she can break the bones of her victim like a twig and easily tear human jaws off.
- Hair Attack: Kayako's primary weapon is her hair. She used it to kill her husband after he killed her and she uses it to strangle, blind, or bind others. In the game, she is also revealed to stab her victims with her hair.
- Killing Intent: Because of her frightening killing intent, most victims are paralyzed of fear when they see her, making them unable to defend themselves.
- Regeneration: In Sadako vs. Kayako, Kayako's ghostly form can heal from damage even after other ghosts tear her into pieces.
- Teleportation: Seen in every movie when she haunts people who enter the house. She is capable of appearing out of everyplace possible (be it briefly as a vision or in her natural ghost form), like in The Grudge, she appears in a bus window, at the foot of a stairwell in front of Susan Williams, and then moments after appears at the top of the stairwell trying to get through a door; and in The Grudge 2, she appears in a photograph, which turns into a reality portal, with Kayako climbing out of the photograph.
- Shapeshifting: Kayako possesses the ability to shapeshift into other forms, be it her former human form or shadow wraith-like form. Her human disguise is usually her former self as a human or her late victims: i.e. she presumably assumes the form of Matthew Williams who at that time was already dead (if his appearance was not among apparations of her victims that occasionally appeared around the still-living victims) just before killing his sister Susan.
- Possession: Kayako can possess someone, usually to recreate the murders that gathered Ju On curse that turned her into a vengeful ghost herself in the first place. (ex. Trish Kimble in The Grudge 2.). Kayako's possession ability also takes an important role in Sadakaya's creation, where her mixed essence with Sadako falls onto Yuri and possesses her completely in Sadako vs. Kayako, creating a more powerful curse.
- Reality Warping: Ghosts who carry Ju-On curse like Kayako can warp reality around them to improve their leverage in tormenting and eventually killing their victim to the point that only a few know that they are responsible for deaths that they cause. In The Grudge, she drags Susan straight into the underworld through her bed with no trace. In The Grudge 2, she drags Miyuki into a mirror. Other feats that Kayako can perform through this power are:
- Illusions: Kayako can make others hear sounds that aren't there, such as Matthews' voice on the intercom of Susan's apartment to lure her. In The Grudge 2, she also makes every photograph in his darkroom resemble her face. She makes more illusions throughout the series (most of them are from her past).
- Technology Interference and Manipulation: In the house, she sometimes makes the lights switch. In The Grudge 2, she turns off the TV when Eason sees her on the TV. She also blacks out the card reader in The Grudge 3 so that Dr. Sullivan can't escape her. This ability also allows her to communicate through electronic devices, cassette records, cell phones, etc.
- Curse Removal: In Sadako vs. Kayako, Kayako's spiritual powers can overpower other curses, which explains why when she tries to break one of Sadako's cursed tape, Sadako tries to stop her.
- Selective Invisibility: Kayako's ability to become invisible is very potent that she can choose to become invisible to anyone she chooses: Those who are not inflicted by nor are related with anyone who has been inflicted by her curse cannot see her and thus will be spared. This explains why, when Kayako chases Vanessa Cassidy while she is running towards the crowded street, none of the bystanders see the onryo nor are attacked on sight.
- Reincarnation: Despite being an Onryo, Kayako can reincarnate through taking over a mother's still developing fetus in her womb. In Sadako vs. Kayako, Kayako reincarnates into a more powerful onryo as a result of a freak accident where her essence accidentally fuses with Sadako's and Yuri.
- Haunting: Due to Ju-On curse, Kayako can cause any area where she kills her victims to become haunted, but the primary area that she haunts is her home. After killing her victims, apparitions of her late victims will haunt them wherever they go, leaving them vulnerable.
- Telepathy: Kayako can also perform telepathy, which can also be used to psychologically confuse her victims further.
- Takako Fuji stated in an interview while filming The Grudge 2 (the sixth time she played the character), that, at that time, she already felt "difficult sometimes to keep up the motivation, because I've played her so many times". Fuji-san eventually passed on the role to Aiko Horiuchi in The Grudge 3, and Misaki Saisho portrayed the ghost in Beginning of the End. An unknown actress portrayed the ghost in a promo for the Korean release of Beginning of the End.