I was originally going to begin this review by saying “Thank God that Takashi Shimizu has stopped making those bloody Ju-on movies”, but whadda ya know, there’s going to be a third hitting Japan in 2007. Or rather that’s Ju-on 3, as opposed to it being the seventh in an overly obsessive series made up of unnecessary remakes, although one hopes that this will provide a new direction for him to go in, but will also probably herald a U.S. adaptation at some point. So what’s wrong with him? I have no idea, I can but only speculate. It’s not as if the guy has run out of ideas; he’s managed to squeeze in a couple of other projects in-between his multiplying creation, with one of those being the third in this six-part J-Horror Theatre project, from producer Takashige Ichise. Also, I’m pleased to say, is that Reincarnation isn’t half bad.
The story sees aspiring young actress Nagisa Sugiura (Yuuka) win her first major acting role for a new film being directed by Kondo Matsumura (Kippei Shiina). His film is based upon the real events that shook Japan thirty years ago (not in real life that is), when a lunatic professor murdered his family in a hotel they were vacationing at, before knifing other guests and staff members - and then himself. Sugiura, along with the other actors soon begin filming and they’re even taken to the original site of where the horrific events took place, but Sugiura is having a difficult time getting into the role. Recently she’s been having visions of a young girl, turning up on the train, at home, even on set. She worries and so too does her agent but this gig is too good an opportunity to pass up. When Sugiura is told which character she’ll be playing in the film things get worse for her. She knows that face, but how can she put it behind her?
So no, Shimizu’s brain hasn’t completely dried up as I suspected, but that doesn’t stop him from revisiting his past work and throwing in a few slight nods. While undeniably the director has a hard time letting go of the stale franchise that made his name he is able to break away to a certain degree and try out new things. In many ways Reincarnation feels like an extension of his earlier film Ju-on: The Grudge 2, being that it shares more than a passing resemblence, though thankfully sans blue boy, all the while continuing some theme about bad grudges. And while the concept of reincarnation has also been done to death in Japan throughout the years, at least his 2005 effort brings with it an interesting and coherent enough narrative. Naturally Reincarnation is littered with familiar characteristics. Evidently the Japanese never get tired of young girl apparitions, because there’s yet another one at the centre of this tale; the same goes for dolls. In addition it sets up many of its “scares” rather ominously, replete with fairly standard scoring and the usual slew of cheap shock tactics and clichés, which include ringing mobile phones, moody faces and wispiness. Likewise it uses CG and even stop-motion to its advantage, and I say advantage in a complimentary manner. The film doesn’t go too far out of its way to show off lots of fancy CG. While it’s noticeable all the same it’s never done intrusively and for that it achieves what it sets out to do remarkably well.
Moving on to the actual plotting though we discover that Reincarnation confidently carries itself, despite many of its predictable inclusions. There’s still a whiff of self-superiority about it, as is often the case with these films, and when it strays from the central character’s story and moves on to some side threads involving others it comes close to endangering itself due to being a little off pace. However, most of what we witness ties together quite nicely. As a psychological horror it does the usual by laying down the clues before us, only in this instance it’s rather cleverly executed, being just subtle enough in approach so that the final twist can genuinely feel surprising. That’s not to say that viewers won’t get it sooner, because once we’ve seen it all everything becomes quite obvious - it’s all signposted - but it’s well structured and provides enough in the way of tragedy to work. Still, Shimizu forgoes certain aspects, presumably because the basis of his film is one that’s taken seriously enough in Asia for it to be common knowledge already, and it’s something that naturally plays a huge part in proceedings here. With that said one can’t help but be disparaged by the unfairness of it all as it nears its conclusion. Forgive my ambiguity, but to say any more would be to spoil it.
Aesthetically it’s a nice piece of work; the change of location certainly makes for a pleasant shift. I’m going to assume that Shimizu digs Kubrick’s The Shining, because once we arrive at the Ono Kanko Hotel the picture takes on a very similar guise: the director’s camera lingering and leering, the POV chases and quiet, elongated hallways presenting a foreboding enough atmosphere. He also experiments with his lenses a little more than usual and attempts to create a seventies vibe with several transitional periods which look suitably grim and grainy, which indeed enlivens things to no end. Throughout all of this his cast do their jobs admirably well. Newcomer Yuuka makes for a pleasing lead as the hapless protagonist. She has the most to work with and practically carries the film by herself, which isn’t exactly an easy task with Shimizu dishing out the tricks and conjuring up disorienting scenarios for her to become entwined in. Karina is also notable as Yayoi, who serves as our guide throughout the piece; the obligatory detective as it were.
Reincarnation is part of Tartan’s J Horror series which collects six films from producer Takashige Ichise.
Those interested will be pleased to learn that Premonition comes with a very solid presentation. The format is a straight film to PAL transfer. I picked up no traces of a standards conversion with this disc, and I’m actually happy that my PC accepted it for a change. Funnily enough, as of late, my player refuses playback of NTSC-PAL discs from the distributor, but allows Tartan’s proper conversions. It looks like Tartan has sourced Lions Gate’s print, due to the logo that plays before the film. Anyway, the film is presented in an anamorphic ratio of 1.85:1. The image is detailed and extremely colourful, far from the drabness that a fair few recent J-horrors have been showing off. Despite a serious tone and creepy underpinnings Shimizu keeps things fairly bright, mixing colours, playing with different filters and only diffusing the palette when he needs to. Flesh tones are pleasant, outdoor scenes fare well with strong greens and nice skies, while night time interior shots are nicely handled with strong black levels and decent contrasts. There is a hint of edge enhancement, although it’s not particularly distracting and the occasional shimmer, but in all a very good effort which once more proves that Tartan can deliver the goods when they try.
For sound we have DD2.0, DD 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1. The latter two don’t have a great deal between them, although naturally the DTS has the edge with a strong bass. There aren’t many opportunities for the film to truly unnerve the viewer and I guess depending on your disposition will depend on how scared you get. But it does have its moments, particularly when the well worn clichés come into play, with phones suddenly ringing and the air getting moodier.
Optional English subtitles are available and they’re fine, with no errors to report.
Very light, even by Tartan’s standards. A theatrical trailer accompanies the release, although it isn’t the original theatrical trailer. It’s Lions Gate’s promo, which runs for approximately one and a half minutes.
Reincarnation is a surprisingly good film, and I’ll be honest, I was expecting it to be a piece of shit. For all its worn tricks and ideas it manages to rise above them and present an interesting story with characterisations that work well, even though we don’t particularly feel the need to invest ourselves in them. I wonder when Takashi Shimizu will go and make that comedy film he’s spoken of in the past? Maybe after Ju-on 10: The Grudge’s Grudge. Until then let’s try to be patient. It’s funny how Reincarnation is marginally better than his famed series, and yet it’ll probably be one of his most overlooked. I guess he’s only got himself to blame for that though.