Thanks to some successful past-life regression therapy, Judge Bill Gibron now feels at one with the cosmos. He also enjoyed this solid spook show from the director of Ju-On.
Death is Only the Beginning
When a young actress is cast in her very first film, she turns out to be a little less than enthusiastic. The reason becomes clear very soon: she is playing one of 11 murder victims in the cinematic recreation of a highly publicized (and deadly) hotel killing spree. She is haunted by images of the crime, and of the little child she is proposed to play. The reopening of this long-dormant case is also causing repercussions beyond the film set. Students at a local university are caught up in an unusual web of intrigue and fear, while the director of the movie is suffering from strange hallucinations as well. How all three of these divergent facets come together has something to do with the perpetrator of these grisly acts—a mild-mannered professor who believes that Reincarnation is not only real, but an unseen force that forges destiny out of seemingly pointless lives. In this case, it appears the spirits of the affected individuals are bound to recreate the sickening slaughterfest…or, even worse, endlessly replay their past part in all the death and destruction.
For those of you bored with the already fading fad of J-Horror, Reincarnation will feel like a revelation. Directed by one of the founding fathers of the entire black-haired-girl-ghost phenomenon, Takashi Shimizu (Ju-On/The Grudge), and straying substantially from the entire tradition/superstition-based brand of Asian fear, this eerie tale of the past merging with the present and former lives forcing themselves into our reality is highly reminiscent of 1991's Dead Again. That Kenneth Branagh film, a neo-noir detective thriller about death and dementia, shares a common theme with this intriguing look at a Japanese film production gone wrong. In both, the narrative draws on a horrible crime from the past while superimposing its effects on more modern events. The main difference—aside from Again's sloppy love story—is the fact that the title belief is taken literally, grounded firmly in the religious aspects of Eastern societies. In fact, the entire narrative is founded on the idea that the human body is merely a vessel, ready to be filled up with any entity—good or evil—that wants to take up residence. What happens next drives both the movie's storyline and scares.
For all its moody atmosphere and spook-show scope, Reincarnation is really a mind game metered out in controlled bursts of terror. This is a movie that's more unsettling than shocking, lacking the outrageous histrionics of creepy crawly spirits slinking down stairs or emerging from black water bathtubs. Instead, Shimizu strikes a captivating balance between backstage production intrigue and recreating the incidents of that fateful day at the mysterious resort. One of the best elements of the film is its art direction. We get to see the haunted hotel in both its '70s regality and post-millennial misery, and the difference is stunning. Shimizu allows his camera to cover the entire structure, from rotting façade to dilapidated rooms, generating an unusual ambience that's both fascinating and frightening. Since the characters are established early on, their seeming lack of interconnectivity adding to the depth of the mystery, Shimizu must find something to keep us occupied before he reveals the last-act denouement. By dealing with the scary space and slowly linking all the elements together, Reincarnation prepares us for one helluva finale. That Shimizu delivers in this department is one of the film's major triumphs.
The ending is indeed amazing, a combination of film shoot, tracking shot, recreation of the gruesome day's events, and the explanation of every thread in the knotty narrative. As the pieces begin to fall into place and we begin to understand the situation we are dealing with, previous approaches are reversed and new perspectives are gained. It's rare when a movie can match its foundation material with a fascinating finish, but Reincarnation easily manages such a payoff. Some will complain that Shimizu is too studied in his style, taking far too much time to get to his main contradictory points. Others will wonder where all the fear factors went. Again, this is an experience that rewards patience and settles solidly under your skin. It's not meant to be a post-modern splatter fest where gore and gratuity substitute for dimension and drive. No, Reincarnation wants to play by the rules of old-fashioned cinema, taking warhorse ideals and merging them with millennial conceits to create a new kind of creepiness—a terror that fits in perfectly with our high-tech science society. By avoiding the clichés of his past, Shimizu takes a giant step toward reinventing the genre he helped form. Reincarnation is an excellent salvo in saving J-Horror from itself.
Oddly enough, this feature was presented as part of the After Dark series that swept through theaters last November, an indication that either Lionsgate felt the film had limited Western appeal or that Asian fear has really fallen off the macabre map. Whatever the case, this DVD version of the film is absolutely amazing. The image presented in a pristine 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, is terrific. The use of light and dark (a Shimizu trademark) and the subtle shifts between past and present come across proficiently and professionally. Equally impressive is the Dolby Digital Stereo 5.1 mix, allowing for sound effects and other aural elements to really amplify the dread. The soundtrack is not a dub. It offers the original Japanese, and the English translation is excellent, the subtitles easy to read and unobtrusive.
As for extras, we are treated to an introduction by Shimizu, an in-depth interview with the director, and a documentary focusing on the behind-the-scenes elements of the production. At almost an hour, the making-of gives us access to the cast and crew, getting their take on working within the horror genre, and what it's like on a Shimizu set. Finally, there is nearly a half-hour of deleted scenes (complete with optional director's commentary) and many of the cuts seem obvious. However, the original opening of the film is found here, and it easily illustrates how one minor misstep in the presentation of information could have spoiled the whole film.
Anyone who finds a slower pace to be problematic or wants their video violence ladled on with a shovel, not a spoon, will probably not enjoy Reincarnation. But if you are someone who has given up on the whole Asian horror phenomenon because of its over-reliance on stringy haired spooks with empty eyes and voices like strangled cats, then please give this inventive fright flick a try. It's a wonderfully wicked experiment in subtle scares. Not guilty.
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• "The Making of Reincarnation" Featurette
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