Back on home turf after the Hollywood version of “The Grudge,” helmer Takashi Shimizu conjures up plenty of bad karma and strong atmosphere in “Reincarnation.” J-Horror fans may be disappointed by low scare count, but what the pic lacks in frights, it makes up for with a well-realized yarn. Local and international success look certain, particularly on ancillary — but the degree of theatrical success will depend on positive word-of-mouth.
Producer Taka Ichise, who was responsible for the “Ring” franchise and steered “The Grudge” (aka “Ju-on”) to global attention, wisely kept international rights to this latest venture. Plan is to release the Japanese version worldwide (via Lions Gate) and then proceed with a remake deal. Any reservations about the film’s lack of violence can be rectified in subsequent versions.
Pre-credit sequence promises mayhem as several people, from schoolgirls to salarymen, find themselves haunted by ghosts, including one dressed as a bellboy. A radio report alerts viewers that film director Ikuo Matsumara (Kippei Shiina) is making a movie about a 1970 murder spree at a hotel north of Tokyo. The perp was a professor who killed his wife, nine hotel guests and finally his young daughter, Chisato (Mao Sasaki).
Cut to room 227 of the Ono Kanko Hotel, where the last atrocity was committed, and the camera reveals a wall-eyed doll which who pops one of its eye sockets and utters the mechanical motto: “Together forever.”
Post-main title, pic introduces its central protag, novice actress Nagisa Sugiura (mono-monikered Yuka). Thinking she’s failed her audition for Matsumara’s film, the actress catches the subway home and notices a small, doll-toting, ghostly girl.
To her surprise and trepidation, Nagisa lands a role in the film. She is to play the murderer’s daughter, which has been rewritten to accommodate the fact that Nagisa is a grown woman.
During pre-production at the now-dilapidated Ono Kanko, Nagisa has a vision and finds herself running through the corridors of the hotel in its pristine state. Terrified, she experiences the 1970 murders as if they’re happening around her and sees the professor filming his victims even as he killed them. When her nightmare ceases, Nagisa is in room 227 where the murdered daughter was found 35 years prior. That night, in her bed, she finds the 8mm camera she saw in her vision; she arranges to have the film processed.
Shimizu handles the multiple strands expertly and, given the open-ended nature of his previous pics, “Reincarnation” reps an artistic advance. However, the script doesn’t play entirely fair with the audience when it comes down to details.
In the impressive, cross-cut finale, multiple strands (8mm, POV; 1970, victim’s POV; present day) converge to tell stories of the past and present simultaneously. Ultimate twist — which positions the movie more as a supernatural whodunit than a horror item — is both clever and, retrospectively, obvious.
Performances are solid, but the characters, particularly the pivotal Nagisa, are too distant to relate to. Lensing is pro and Kenji Kawai’s music pushes all the right buttons. Other credits are polished.