No one has ever accused J-horror films of being straightforward. In fact the non-linear aspect of most productions is one of the most beautifully captivating things about them. It lends a type of dark surrealistic atmosphere to the projects, and often typifies the nightmare world in which the films exist. REINCANATION’S title alone should lay out the film’s premise easily enough for western audiences. In the execution however, director Takashi Shimizu (JU-ON: THE GRUDGE) almost totally abandons narrative structure to relate a tale of fate, film production and mass murder, making the film at times—for lack of a better word—challenging.
35 years ago a family of four traveled for a weekend getaway to a remote hillside hotel. The father ultimately snaps, killing his wife, their two children and several guests and staff, before turning the knife on his jugular and taking his own life. Now hot Japanese director Matsumura (Tetta Sugimoto) is casting a filmed version of the tragic tale. His lead actress Nagisa Sugiura (Yûka) soon discovers, after reading the script, that she is haunted by the presence of the spirits surrounding the murders. The intensity of her visions only increase as Matsumura takes the cast to the real location for a day of scouting. As her sanity rapidly begins to deteriorate, Sugiura becomes increasingly unable to differentiate the reality of the set from the actuality of the location. Is she going mad, or is she in fact a reincarnated soul doomed to repeat the horrors of the past?
Shimizu has very little interest in taking the audience from Point A to Point B. In fact, by setting the film in three milieus, he purposely demands that the audience decide if they are watching the past, present or perhaps even, the future. The film opens with what appear to be a series of murders, a plot point that is not readdressed until well into the third act, when most of the viewers will have already dismissed the pre-credit sequence of over an hour past. The film also contains a subplot that involves another girl—Yayoi—who is also investigating a recurrent memory that links her to the ominous hotel. This section of the film is especially difficult to delineate as it is unclear where this occurs simultaneously with the tale of Sugiura or in its aftermath. Add to that, a torrent of dream sequences, an 8mm film print of the actual murders, and the onslaught that occurs in the final 15-minutes—as reality is completely broken down and all the assorted pieces of the cinematic puzzle come crashing into place—and it’s enough to set even the most celebrated minds reeling.
Amazingly, for a film that relishes in its obtuseness, the conclusion is so well organized that it’s impossible to miss the point. If anything, the climax is shocking in its twisting logic but satisfying and apparent as it unfolds. It makes you want to watch the film again. In fact, it almost demands that you watch the film again. I for one suspect that REINCARNATION is also a project that delivers more on the second viewing—if for no other reason than all the frustration that fills your mind in the initial viewing will be set aside to allow for a more open viewing experience. If the film holds up on repeat viewings it will do much to illustrate that Shimizu is more than simply the man who gave the world a “GRUDGE”.