After Dark Films
Takashi Shimizu/Japan 2006

Perhaps the fact that this film is in a different language masks any bad acting or cheesy dialogue, but Reincarnation fares slightly better than its fellow After Dark Horrorfest entry The Gravedancers. Reincarnation is an embedded narrative; it’s a horror movie about the making of a movie based on a horrific event that was partially captured on film. Say that three times fast. The plot focuses on the production of a movie inspired by a mass murder in a hotel at the hands of a crazed college professor 35 years ago. As the film enters pre-production, several people around the city begin to have strange visions of ghosts.

During auditions, inexperienced actress Nagisa Sugiura (Yûka) captures director Matsumura’s (Kippei Shiina) attention. Afterward, while on the subway with her agent, she glimpses a strange little girl carrying a doll. Matsumura offers Sugiura the role in the film based on the professor’s young daughter – who was also the last of his victims. As she prepares for the part, Sugiura becomes increasingly disturbed by visions. She begins experiencing the past events as if she were a participant. Things get worse after the director insists on bringing the cast to the now-abandoned Ono Kanko hotel so they can fully identify with the characters they are playing. Sugiura witnesses the professor murdering his son while filming the act with a 8mm camera. When he turns toward her, she runs into room 227 after finding room 237 locked and hides in a closet. The director discovers her and explains that this is where the little girl was finally killed. That night she has another nightmare of the murder and wakes up to find the killer’s camera in her bed.

It’s clear that director Takashi Shimizu was influenced by The Shining, considering his reference to its infamous room 237 and the use of a hotel for the setting of mass murders. However, he also previously explored the effects violent trauma upon a building – the psychic residue that remains and how it changes the people in it – in his debut film Ju-On. Shimizu likes to use multiple stories and timelines in his films, which is a novel technique in a genre that usually focuses on the struggle of one (female) protagonist. In Reincarnation, he juggles several focalizations: the victims on the day of the murder, the present day filming, the 8mm film, and the framing narrative focused on Sugiura. However, the breadth of his stories tend to sacrifice coherence and any meaningful characterization.

The conceit of Reincarnation – the process of accumulating karma and how people carry memories from one life to the next – is compelling. The foreboding atmosphere, solid acting, and terrific score contribute to the meditative creepiness of the piece. But ultimately, the film raises more logistical questions than it answers. If the diegetic film’s characters are the present incarnations of the murdered spirits, then who is haunting them? Why do some of the characters seem to remember a lot about their lives and others are clueless? How could someone get away with killing 10 people while holding a camera the entire time? Finally, if the movie-within-a-movie hadn’t been made, would any of these issues resurfaced?

I’ve always considered Shimizu to be one of the lesser talents of Japanese horror. He lacks Takashi Miike’s flair, Kenji Fukusaku’s social critique or Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s existential depth. By his finale, Reincarnation’s sluggish pacing and convoluted plots simply run out of steam.

To be fair, Reincarnation and The Gravedancers are only two of the eight films in the After Dark Horrorfest, but if they are representative of the rest then surely the “too graphic and disturbing for mainstream audiences” claim was a marketing ploy to procure a theatrical release for otherwise straight-to-video films. Honestly, episodes of The Twilight Zone are more disturbing and one can find more blood and gore in CSI.

© 2006 Robyn Citizen. All rights reserved.

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