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Reincarnation   B-

Lions Gate Entertainment / Toho Co.

Year Released: 2006 (USA: 2007)
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Takashi Shimizu
Writers: Takashi Shimizu, Masanori Adachi
Cast: Yûka, Karina, Kippei Shiina, Tetta Sugimoto, Marika Matsumoto, Shun Oguri, Mantarô Koichi, Atsushi Haruta, Miki Sanjo.

Review by Jim Harper

After two mediocre installments, Infection and Premonition (both 2004), the J-Horror Theater series finally manages to raise the standards a little with Takashi Shimizu's Reincarnation. Unlike Marebito (2004), the director's last Japanese-language film, it's a big-budget commercial picture that stays close to the niche Shimizu has created with the Ju-On/The Grudge series, something that has lead critics to herald it as further evidence of the decline of Japanese horror.

Despite being a relative unknown, Nagisa Sugiura (Yûka) has managed to secure a prominent part in the latest movie from Ikuo Matsumara (Kippei Shiina), a director with a reputation for grotesque and gory films. His next project is based on the real-life massacre of eleven people -- including the killer's own wife and daughter -- at a Tokyo hotel in 1970. As she prepares for the role of the killer's daughter (converted in the movie to a teenager), Nagisa begins to see visions of her real-life counterpart everywhere she goes. Eventually these visions become full-blown flashbacks, and the young actress starts to doubt her sanity. But she's not alone: a college student (Karina) has been seeing the same images since she was a child, and now she's trying to track the source.

As the synopsis shows, Reincarnation doesn't stray too far from mainstream Japanese horror territory, and has a fair amount in common with Shimizu's other films. Once again, the catalyst is a father who slaughters his family, and the "haunting force" is primarily attached to the site of the murders. Ju-On: The Grudge 2 (2003) also focused on a film crew. As if underscore the point, there are cameos from Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Shimizu's film-school tutor, and Tarô Suwa, perhaps the busiest man in Japanese genre cinema (he's appeared in most of Hideo Nakata's films, for a start). More than anything else, it's this lack of originality that has provoked poor reviews from international critics, even though the film performed reasonably well at the domestic box office.

However, looking beyond the shortcomings of the material, Reincarnation is a well-crafted and effective ghost story that works considerably better than recent English-language efforts like The Fog and Skeleton Key. For a start, Shimizu's visual sense is just as sharp as ever, resulting in several eye-catching images, including my favorite, a sea of Exorcist-type faces floating behind a line of trees. The increased budget allows for a number of CGI effects -- something of a rarity in Japanese horror films -- such as digital dissolves and image manipulations. Mercifully Shimizu resists the urge to go overboard with these, and keeps them to a relative minimum. Ringu (1997) and Ghost in the Machine (1995) composer Kenji Kawai supplies the score, helping to crank up the tension admirably.

How much you get from Reincarnation depends entirely on your tolerance for the Japanese horror movies that have followed in the wake of Ringu. It's not the next Kairo, but fans of the Ju-On series are likely to be entertained. After shooting, Shimizu headed for Hollywood to begin preproduction on The Grudge 2, an even more commercial picture; with that completed, perhaps he'll return to Japan and start another low-budget project like Marebito. I hope he does, but until then Reincarnation will do nicely.

Review published 08.29.2006.

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