Review: Reincarnation

By kevin on September 16, 2006 at 9:28am EDT

Reincarnation Japanese movie poster

I’m a huge fan of Japanese horror to the extent where I even enjoy the stuff that’s obviously sub-par. Creepy crawling female ghosts with long black hair? I’m in. Vengeful ghosts, mass-murdering ghosts, ghosts with a message about their killer, ghosts that don’t even know they’re ghosts? Sign me up. That being said, after watching seven feature-length Ju-On movies that are all fairly similar in the grand scheme of things even my blatant fanboy nature couldn’t stop me from doubting that Takashi Shimizu had the ability to come up with anything original and interesting, or the desire for that matter. That’s why Reincarnation, aka Rinne came as such a pleasant surprise, even if it’s never quite as scary as tensely waiting for Kayako to pop up and bug-eye someone to death.

In the 1970s a Professor murdered 11 people, including his own family while staying at a hotel and recorded the entire event with an 8mm camera. 20 years later Matsumura (Kippei Shiina), a well-known director is attempting to make a film based on the horrific killing-spree called “Memory”. A young unknown actress named Sugiura (Yuka) auditions for a part but doesn’t really expect anything to come of it. To her surprise the director ends up choosing her but for some reason he adjusts the screenplay so that she can play the role of the murderer’s daughter who was a small child at the time. What’s even stranger is that she’s been having visions of this same little girl holding a creepy looking doll even before seeing her picture.

Sugiura isn’t the only one having weird experiences. We’re introduced to several other characters along the periphery of the film that are having frightening visions from the past and being confronted by zombie-like ghosts, only to become ghosts themselves. It seems that the anguish from what happened in that hotel 20 years earlier is somehow manifesting itself once again and Sugiura has to somehow figure out the link between her and that little girl before it’s too late, all while re-enacting the tragic events from the past for Matsumura’s movie.

If that storyline sounds simplistic in any way it’s really not. It’s actually pretty complicated but I’d rather not give too much away in a synopsis. And therein lies the beauty of this film. It’s never quite what you’re expecting because Shimizu weaves this tale by using what we as an audience know about him against us. Just when you think you pretty much have a handle on what’s going on you’ll have an “oh %$#@!” moment that makes the whole thing worthwhile. That’s not to say Reincarnation is particularly scary unless you’re really afraid of dolls or little kids though. Horror fans may be disappointed by the fact that this movie is more about atmosphere and story-telling than nail-biting terror or gore. In fact if it wasn’t chock full of vengeful ghosts one could probably get away with calling it a psychological thriller. It is full of vengeful ghosts though, so I won’t.

Reincarnation was obviously made on a pretty healthy budget compared to the first four Ju-On movies and Shimizu’s other film, Marebito. It’s full of subtle special effects and involves multiple sets which obviously had to be built from scratch but everything is done in a classy way, maintaining low-budget sensibilities while attaining a new level of overall quality not usually seen in Japanese horror titles. Acting performances are very good with one big exception. And unfortunately that exception is Yuka. It’s pretty obvious she wasn’t chosen for her acting talent and her constant horrified gasps are so over the top that they become inappropriately comical. At first I thought maybe she was over-acting on purpose because she’s playing the role of an inexperienced actor but nope, it’s all her. Oh well, her hammyness didn’t detract all that much for me because at times her exaggerated facial expressions were often scarier than the things that were supposed to be scary.

I’d say this film has the potential to breathe new life into a genre that’s been spinning its wheels for a few years now. With Reincarnation, Shimizu has shown he’s not just a one trick pony looking to milk every penny out of his one successful franchise. That’s not to say he won’t milk every penny out of his one successful franchise, but in a strange way coming up with something new and unique sort of validates his right to do so. Personally, I was starting to get kind of fed up with the direction of the Ju-On movies and how every new addition just regurgitates ideas from the previous films. But now I’m hoping Shimizu continues having Hollywood success to fund fresh ideas like Reincarnation for years to come. Who knows, in a few years we may see the cast of the O.C. in the Reincarnation remake and I’ll have something new to complain about.

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