Written by: Takashi Shimizu and Masaki Adachi
Directed by: Takashi Shimizu
Starring: Yuka, Karina, Sheppei Shiina, Shun Oguri
Reviewed by: Brett G.
In 2006, After Dark Films announced Horrorfest, an 8 film horror movie festival that would take place in select American cities in November of that year. Dubbed “Eight Films to Die For,” the festival essentially gave eight independent horror films a chance to shine in theaters. Essentially, these were selected by After Dark as the best of the best when it comes to independent horror. Naturally, I was skeptical of the flicks, as they’re essentially direct-to-video material that just happened to play in theaters for a couple of days. However, I couldn’t resist picking up the flicks when they went on sale for $5 apiece late last year, and I’m just now getting around to them.
Next up from the 2006 offerings is Reincarnation, a Japanese film directed by Takashi Shimizu, better known as the director of Ju-On, Marebito, and The Grudge 2. Asian horror has become quite popular during the past few years, perhaps due to the American reinterpretations of the original films. Most notable among these is the Ringu series, which spawned two American films, which opened the door for remakes of other Asian properties: the aforementioned Ju-On, Kairo, The Eye, and One Missed Call. Thus, it should come as no surprise that After Dark would include Reincarnation in their initial Horrorfest, which was essentially a grab bag of horror flavors. We've seen slashers, zombies, and vampires (among other horror staples), and this film provides us with a Japanese ghost story.
In 1970, College Professor Kazuya Omori took the lives of eleven people (including his wife, daughter, and son) before committing suicide at a hotel. Thirty five years later, movie director Ikuo Matsumura has decided to make a film chronicling the massacre. Actress Nagisa Sagiura is tapped to play the Omori's daughter, and she soon becomes haunted by the souls of the dead and even begins having memories of the massacre. Meanwhile, a college student named Yayoi is also having dreams about the hotel in question and begins investigating the events of that fateful day. We soon come to learn that Professor Omori became obsessed with the idea of reincarnation, and both Ikuo and Yayoi will both discover horrifying truths about themselves as a result of the murders.
Fans of Asian horror (and of Shimizu especially) will see a lot of familiar elements here. There's the concurrently running plot lines, lots of creepy imagery, scary kids, and a dash of mystery. Generally speaking, all of this comes together quite nicely, as Shimizu has some really outstanding shots dispersed throughout the film. I usually find that ghost stories are most effective when the ghosts are lurking in the corners of the screen and in the shadows, and that's where there kept for the most part. Along with this, the film has a very tense atmosphere that makes use of strange images (like a creepy doll) and nightmarish sequences. Like most of Shimizu's work, the film has a very desolate and colorless visual quality that's appropriate for the source material, and the creepy score appropriately complements the visuals.
This makes for a very subtle, more psychologically driven film that relies more on suspense than in your face gore. Indeed, there's very little of the red stuff, though there is one scene where it sprays around a bit. This is not to say that the violence here is negligible, however, as there are some disturbing scenes (including the murder of a child) that are unrelenting once they happen. If there is a strength to the film, it's the story. While it's nothing groundbreaking, Shimizu keeps it tightly focused for the most part. The divergent, seemingly unrelated storylines are a bit of a trademark, and it makes for an interesting narrative structure (I think I was one of the few that appreciated it when Shimizu employed it for the American Grudge 2). Each storyline is treated well here, and it all comes together quite nicely at the end. The use of reincarnation to tie everything together is something that's a bit unique, and gives the film its mystery aspect, as there are some red herrings along the way to throw you off.
That said, Reincarnation is a tad predictable, and there's a sense of "been there, done that" by the time you reach the end. Those familiar with Shimizu's work will no doubt enjoy it, and I think this is proof that the director has nearly perfected a formula in his work. Fortunately, Shimizu is still able to keep things interesting despite retreading familiar ground. Despite unfolding in a fairly predictable fashion, the ending is well thought out in its treatment of one of the main characters. The film doesn't feel the need to come right out and explain things to its audience, and instead gives us an end that's almost sinister in its ambiguity. Ultimately, I would say that the film feels like a cross between The Grudge and The Shining, though it's not as memorable as either of those two.
Still, like most of its After Dark counterparts, Reincarnation is at least worth a look. I didn't find it to be an earth shattering film by any means, but it is a well done example of Japanese horror. Once again, Lion's Gate handled the DVD distribution, and the film features a nice transfer that accurately captures the film's cinematography. The 5.1 soundtrack is also very nice and atmospheric, and really delivers during the film's various jump scares. Readers should be aware that the only language available is Japanese (meaning there's no English dub), and both English and Spanish subtitles are available. There are a number of special features, including a "making of" featurette, deleted scenes, and an interview with Shimizu. It's a nice little package, and definitely worth a look. If you need a little Eastern flavor to spice up your horror viewing, head down to your local store and Rent it!
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