Reincarnation (2005) aka Rinne aka "No, not the one where Snoop Dog finds out that there's a religion where you get to smoke week"" aka 輪廻
Dir. Takashi Shimizu
Written by Takashi Shimizu, Masaki Adachi
Starring Yuka, Karina Nose, Kippei Shiina, Marika Matsomoto
From the director of THE GRUDGE and JU-ON (THE GRUDGE) and THE GRUDGE 2 and JU-ON (THE GRUDGE 2) not to mention JU-ON: THE CURSE and JU-ON: THE CURSE 2 comes an actual movie which is not the exact same horseshit, and hey, whaddaya know, it’s pretty good. I make fun, but actually I liked both JU-ON and it’s American remake, THE GRUDGE, pretty well. They’re well-directed, sporadically legitimately scary Japanese ghost stories with a strong American horror influence. They’re a little short on imagination (particularly when it comes to the horror, which is pretty much always just a long-haired pale-faced Japanese ghost standing somewhere creepy) but I appreciate the way that both films approach the intersection of past and present.
I mean, all ghost stories do, in a way -- ghosts are by definition the echo of some past life which continues to haunt the modern day. Many ghost movies have a flashback scene where we can see events in the ghost’s prior life. But the GRUDGE films go a little beyond that concept, giving us little vignettes where a living character has ghostly experiences, and then goes on to be a ghost which haunts the next character. It’s not (as you might expect in an American ghost story) simply an unnatural intrusion of the past into the present, but rather the continuation of the long cycle of death and horror which stretches back, presumably, into antiquity.
|These are not helping hands.|
I like those qualities in the GRUDGEs*, so I was particularly glad to see them reappear, in slightly different form, in a more recent Shimizu effort. REINCARNATION is even more literal about the relentless power of the past over the present (hence the title, which is not a metaphor) but it also has a nifty postmodern angle which pleasingly adds a new dimension to the whole dynamic. As you know, I generally regard postmodernism as the last refuge of a scoundrel who doesn’t have any genuinely interesting ideas. But here, it works because it subtly informs the movie’s other subtext, strengthening both.
Allow me to explain: What we’ve got here is Japanese Horror Film director Mr. Matsumura (Kippei Shiina, SHINJUKU TRIAD SOCIETY) deciding to make a film based on the real-life murders which occurred at a rural hotel 35 years in the past. Apparently, a college professor went a little off reservation and murdered his family and a 8 others before committing suicide himself. Rumor has it that he filmed the murders, but mysteriously the footage was never found. Obviously this sounds like a really cheerful production, so it’s no surprise that dozens of identical, peppy young actresses audition for the role, including one particular go-getter who effusively chirps that, having been murdered in a previous life, she’d be the ideal choice to realistically portray a murder victim (talk about your method acting!). Only, once our heroine Nagisa Sigiura (Yuka, just one name like Prince) accepts the part of the professor’s daughter, she finds herself experiencing strange events and remembering things she shouldn’t be able to know. Is she cracking up or is she somehow becoming possessed by... aw fuck it, I think we both know what’s going on here. Things go from bad to worse when the cast visits the scene of the crime, and return back to the studio to find that the director has meticulously reconstructed the entire hotel inside a giant studio set. Pretty soon, the line between the set and the real crime scene start to blur; sometimes things seem to be happening in both places (and maybe both timeframes) at once.
|Free doll, seems legit.|
The possession angle isn’t the freshest horror cliche around, but there is a genuine mystery as to what exactly is happening. There are a bunch of menacing ghosts lurking around, but what’s their end game? Nagisa is being taken over by the past life of the character she’s playing… but to what end? And if he’s the daughter… who is being possessed by the killer? You’d think the actor playing him, right? Well guess what, there is no actor playing the killer, part of the gimmick for Matsumura’s horror movie is that we never see him! It could be anyone! So what does that mean for our poor doomed actresses? To the movie’s credit, a lot of stuff which seems like throwaway horror early on ends up making more sense at the end, when things come together in a surprisingly unexpected and satisfying way, and there’s even a ridiculously creepy scene where the daughter’s bizarre wall-eyed doll menaces our heroine, DEEP-RED style.
The nifty thing, though, is the way the “making a horror movie” conceit informs the more traditional “posession by past life” plot. There’s no jokey SCREAM postmodernism here, just the interesting acknowledgement that these people are giving life and permanence to a tragic event which we would maybe be happier forgetting about. It’s admirably subtle, thankfully, and no one mentions it, but of course the killer himself was filming his actions at the time, and now even though that footage has been lost they’re going back and finishing the job for him. Are they memorializing the dead, or are they just precipitating the same sad cycle of loss by forcing a new generation to relive it? Or, do they even have any choice in the matter? What exactly is being reincarnated here, and can we resist it? These questions flitter around the fringes of the story without needing to be explicitly asked, which is always for the best in a good horror story. You can certainly watch the whole thing without ever directly being confronted by these themes, but it adds some interesting texture to an otherwise engaging but standard ghost story.
|I'm ready for my closeup.|
Shimizu shoots with a pretty restrained style, and the film suffers from a cast of characters who aren’t especially well-developed or interesting when they’re not being menaced by ghosts. But on the other hand, there’s a real sense of disorientation and unease which permeates much of the proceedings, lending them a surreal otherworldliness. Combined with it’s unique subtext and a few unexpected twists on the standard ghost story (not to mention a really, really creepy doll), this adds up to a pretty worthwhile effort. That’s one cycle I wouldn’t mind seeing continue. But let’s lay off the sequels for awhile, OK guy? Don’t be a Don Coscarelli here, Jesus.