Many years ago, a series of terrible murders took place at a particular hotel. These acts of homicide were executed by a professor undertaking an experiment concerning the idea of reincarnation. Some years later, a horror movie director decides to make a film about the massacre. As he starts the production, a young actress hired to take on the leading role becomes haunted by the souls of the murdered victims. Portraying the little girl who was the final victim of the massacre, the actress, Nagisa, starts to believe that she is in some way the reincarnation of this character. That is, until she goes to the place where the young girl was killed and finds someone else there instead...
The thing I like best about Japanese horror is the sense of atmosphere. The use of lingering, slow burning tension when a character approaches a closed door, and we know they shouldn't open it, but we still want them too, regardless! For me, it's everything that horror should be. No gratuitous gore, no shock MTV style montages, just a slow, lingering feeling of dread that grows with intensity from one scene to the next. It also helps that the majority of these films are directed with flair and imagination, whilst, for the most part, offering us intelligent characters and interesting scenarios. With this in mind, Reincarnation (2005) is really one of the best "J-horror" films I've experienced so far, which is probably to be expected given the fact that it comes from the esteemed producer of The Ring (1998) and the highly acclaimed writer/director of The Grudge (2000). The film builds on the style and ideas we've come to expect from films like Ring or Dark Water (2000), as well as other Asian productions such as The Eye (2002) and Bangkok Haunted (2001); with the bookish central character being drawn into a series of supernatural events that are seemingly beyond their control. Alongside this set up we also have further allusions to Stanley Kubrick's watershed ghost story The Shining (1980), with the use of the old abandoned hotel acting as the central focal point; but with an added texture given to the proceedings with the notion of a film crew capturing the action; creating something of a film within a film motif.
This is something that director Takashi Shimizu developed with the original Japanese version of Ju On: The Grudge 2 (2003), which also involved the supernatural goings on that occur during the shooting of a film about a horrific murder. Alongside this, his 2004 experimental "meta-film" Marebito also involves ideas of sight and perception, with the central character of that particular film capturing his descent into fear and paranoia on a hand-held digital video camera. So, like those films, Reincarnation is playing with the audience's notion of perception and how we see things... all of which is very important when we come to analyse the sub textual implications of the story at the end of the film. There is a also a great deal of doubling going on here; doubling of character and events that we would expect from a film that deals with spirits and reincarnation, as well as more psychological ideas about paranoia, insanity, fear, etc.
Like all the great Asian horror films, or any great horror film in general for that matter, it is the story that pulls us in, but the great use of atmosphere that keeps us enthralled until the very end. Despite a brief setback with the interesting but not entirely successful Marebito, as well as a career sideline in re-making his own films for the American market, Shimizu is still an absolute master when it comes to creating mood and delivering the kind of slow burning chills that creep up on you; as opposed to hitting you over the head. The scene in Ju On: The Grudge, in which the wife crawls down the stairs with that truly horrific look of torture in her eyes is one of the defining horror moments of this decade for me, and Reincarnation comes incredibly close to topping that with a truly intense final thirty-minutes; in which the character's back stories are revealed and retribution dealt out! Although some critical opinion has been mixed; no doubt due to the over-exposure of Japanese/Asian horror cinema over the last five or six years, and in particular from tepid American re-makes, I feel that Reincarnation is a genuinely good supernatural ghost story that should appeal to anyone with an interest in horror that doesn't involve buckets of blood and severed limbs.
Alongside Reincarnation, you can also find two other films from the same producer, Taka Ichise, which both cover similar stories and ideas as the film in question. These films, Infection (2003) directed by Masayuki Ochiai and Premonition (2004) directed by Tsuruta Norio, were meant to be part of the larger "J-horror" collection (involving different supernatural-themed films directed by some of Japan's most creative genre filmmakers), which, at the time of writing, has subsequently been aborted. Regardless, if you like Reincarnation and appreciate the slow-burning sense of psychological and supernatural dread, then Infection and Premonition are both worth checking out. For me though, Reincarnation is probably the best of the bunch, with Shimizu creating a fine little horror film with a cool Kubrickian approach to direction and mise-en-scene, and a slow building and genuinely quite creepy atmosphere of dread and uncertainty.
If you're already fond of Asian supernatural cinema, from classics like Kwaidan (1964), The Face of Another (1966) and Kuroneko (1968), right the way through to recent hallmarks such as The Ring trilogy, Dark Water, The Grudge/The Curse series, The Eye trilogy, The Quiet Family (1998) and a Tale of Two Sisters (2003), then Reincarnation will be one film that is well worth checking out.